Castles of Beara

Dunboy Castle 

Dunboy Castle, overlooking the harbour at Berehaven, was the principal stronghold of the O’Sullivan Beare clan.  

After the defeat of the Irish and French forces at the Battle of Kinsale in 1602, the English, under George Carew, pursued Dónal Cam O’Sullivan Beare back to Beara and laid siege to Dunboy. The defense of the castle was commanded by a soldier named Richard MacGeoghan; the attackers numbered 4,000, the defenders just 140. On June 17th, the English pummelled the castle with cannon, and then charged the breach, forcing the defenders into the basement. MacGeoghan, though heavily wounded, was discovered trying to blow up a store of gunpowder, and was killed on the spot. The remaining defenders were executed, and the castle walls were levelled with cannon. 

At the time of the siege, Dónal Cam is believed to have been at another O’Sullivan Beare castle at Ardea, waiting on a fleet of ships with an army from Spain. To his great disappointment, only one vessel ever arrived. For the next six months, he led his supporters in a series of guerilla actions against the English. Towards the end of the year, while camped in a valley outside Glengarriff, all his livestock was seized. Knowing his people could not survive the winter, Dónal Cam led them on the Long March to Leitrim; of the 1,000 who set out, only thirty-five arrived at the castle of the O’Rourkes in Breifne a fortnight later. 

Dónal Cam O’Sullivan Beare was the only Irish chieftain refused a pardon by Elizabeth I or her successor, James I. He fled to Spain, settling first in Santiago and later in Madrid, where he found favour with King Philip III. He was awarded a pension of 300 gold pieces a month and the title Count of Berehaven. 

Dónal Cam hoped always to return to Beara, but it was not to be. On July 16th, 1618 he was coming from mass in Plaza de Santo Domingo in Madrid when he saw his nephew Philip O’Sullivan engaged in a swordfight with a man named John Bathe, who is often remembered as being English, but had actually grown up in Dublin. Dónal Cam went to break up the fight, and Bathe slashed at him with his weapon, cutting his throat. He died on the spot. 

Dónal Cam was buried in a church nearby that was later demolished, so that there is not even a grave for his Irish relatives to visit. A portrait he had commissioned for the Irish College he helped establish in Santiago now hangs in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. 

The title Count of Berehaven was inherited by Dónal Cam’s son Dermot, who became an important figure in the Spanish court, serving as Chamberlain, Councillor of the Exchequor and Majordomo to King Philip VI. He was a contemporary of the great Spanish painter Diego Velazquez, who produced numerous portraits of the royal family and their retinue, including his masterpiece Las Meninas. 

The ruins of Dunboy Castle may still be seen today, along with those of a star-shaped fort believed to date to Cromwellian times.


The Puxley Mansion 

Henry and John Puxley moved to Castletownbere around 1723, initially as agents of the Eyres of Galway, who owned large tracts of land in Beara. They became involved in the smuggling trade, initially co-operating with the O’Sullivans. On the death of Henry Puxley, his brother John became his heir, acquiring substantial land holdings in the area, and making his home at Dunboy. He also became a revenue officer, and came into direct conflict with the O’Sullivans, supposedly because he objected to their involvement in recruiting young men to the French army. John Puxley was shot dead by Murtaí Óg O’Sullivan in March 1754. 

John Puxley’s son Henry (1744 – 1803) expanded the family’s land holdings in Beara. He married Sarah Lavallin of Cork, and their son John Lavallin Puxley (1772 – 1856) inherited what was by now a substantial estate.  

John Lavallin Puxley pioneered the mining of copper in Allihies, which boosted the family’s wealth, and paid for improvements to their mansion at Dunboy. He died at the family’s primary residence, at Tenby in Wales, in 1856. His heir, his eldest grandson, John Simon Lavallin Puxley, died just three years later, and the estate passed to his brother Henry. 

Henry Lavallin Puxley eventually sold his claim in the Allihies Mines for £100,000, and embarked on another lavish extension to the Puxley Mansion. This was left uncompleted on the death of his wife Katherine in 1872, when he departed for Wales and never again returned to Ireland. 

The Puxley family papers inspired Daphne du Maurier’s novel, Hungry Hill.  

Some of the family continued to use the mansion at Dunboy as a holiday home until it was burned down by the IRA in 1920, in reprisal for the burning of local cottages by British forces. The mansion remained a shell until it was renovated in the early 20th century, but the economic downturn halted plans to open it as a five-star hotel, and it currently sits empty. 

Ardea Castle 

Ardea Castle is believed to date to the 7th century AD, and was named after Aed Beanan, a king of West Munster. It was occupied by his descendants, the Moriarty clan, until they surrendered it to the O’Sullivans, who arrived in Beara from Tipperary around 125O.  

Along with Dunboy and Carriganass, Ardea was one of three castles occupied by the O’Sullivan Beare clan until the early 1600s. At the time of the Siege of Dunboy in 1602, Ardea was home to the clan’s Tánaiste, Dónal Cam’s uncle Philip. The castle was surrendered to the English, and then re-granted to those of the O’Sullivans who pledged loyalty to the Crown. It was destroyed by Cromwellian forces around fifty years later.