Many travellers passing through Glenbeigh along the Ring of Kerry will have noticed the ruins of the castle-like house on the outskirts of the village.
This building, known by many names including Glenbeigh Castle, Winn or Wynn’s Castle and Wynne’s Folly, had an ignominious history, and this week marks the centenary of its destruction on the night of Saturday 5th June 1920 at the hands of a unit of Irish Volunteers. Most online references record the date of the fire – incorrectly – as either 1921 or 1922, but research in the Irish Newspaper Archive has confirmed the earlier date, as demonstrated in the cuttings from contemporary newspapers shown below.
The house had been built in the late 1860s by Rowland Winn, nephew of the 2nd Lady Headley who inherited the estate on her death in 1863. In his book A Guide to Irish Country Houses, author Mark Bence-Jones described the house as a ‘grim Victorian-Medieval fortress’, and the photograph taken before the fire shows why!
As landlord of the Glenbeigh estate at the time of the infamous evictions which took place in 1887-88 and which gained international condemnation, Winn is not fondly remembered in the parish. We aim to provide more information in future articles on the Headley/Wynne estate in the nineteenth century, but for now we point out that the cost of building the house severely stretched the family finances, and thereby played a key role in creating the circumstances which led to the evictions.
The Bureau of Military Archives, freely available online at this link contains numerous documents from the period, including a witness statement concerning the attack on the castle*. In this, local man Sean ‘Bertie’ Scully explains that he led a party of 40 men from Glencar to undertake the operation, which had been planned because the intelligence indicated that the British Army were to occupy the building the following day. It seems that the party had some difficulty in setting the fire due to the general dampness and extensive stonework, and it was necessary to obtain more fuel from a shop in the village. The fire finally did take hold, and the building was destroyed. The operation could be deemed a success, as according to the newspaper report, a detachment of British troops did indeed arrive in the area the next day. As can be seen from the present-day ruins, no attempt was ever made to rebuild the house.
* Notes on the Witness Statement. This runs to 32 pages and provides much interesting information on Irish Volunteer operations in the area in the . The extract relevant to the attack on the castle is shown here, and the full witness statement can be downloaded from the embedded link further below.