O’Crowley Castle, Ahakeera
By Michael-Patrick O'Crowley
O’Crowley Castle is the only surviving castle of the clan. It is thus a precious testimonial to our Gaelic past. The clan had at least one other castle in Dromidiclogh (parish of Kinneigh) which has disappeared, on its site a planter mansion was built, Fort Robert. The clan may have had another castle at Kinneigh which had also disappeared by the 18th century, a site named “Castle Rock” may indicate his place.
O’Crowley castle location is at the North of the clan lands of Kilshallow, a typical location of an Irish castle acting as a protection. Guarding the west pass into Kilshallow was a watch tower in the townland of Shanlaragh of which only traces can be seen.
The castle was most probably built between 1450-1500, it indicates a western move and expansion of the clan. When in 1488 Auliff O’Crowley chief of the clan was recognised as lord of Kilshallow by The MacCarthy Reagh and Henry VII of England he was most probably living in the castle. Around 1470 a return of Irish chiefs forces credits The O’Crowley with maintaining a private force of 60 kerns (foot soldiers) and 8 horsemen. This force would have been maintained at least partially in the castle and its ancillary buildings. It is also within the area of the Castle that the clan maintained its training and fighting school, an important element of the O’Crowley’s life as professional warriors.
In 1600 a clan battle took place at Ahakeera to the pleasure of the English. The O’Learys had stolen cattle from the MacCarthys of Phale. In turn the MacCarthys went into O’Leary territory and regained their precious cattle. Pursued by the O’Learys, the MacCarthys went through Ahakeera, probably because it was in friendly territory. The O’Crowleys attacked the O’Learys and in a very vicious fight slained 17 including Conogher son of Dermot O’Leary, the clan chief, and 7 other O’Leary gentlemen.
The castle must have been destroyed by 1602 when the English troops used scorch earth policy and killed cattle, burned crops and destroyed all buildings. We know that by 1610 Teige MacDermot O’Crowley had elected residence in Kinneigh, his castle must have lied in ruins. Ahakeera remained in the clan patrimony until 1659 when Conogher O’Crowley was attained and lost the townland, a fate of all O’Crowley lands.
The castle is quite typical of West Cork castles of the period, in many aspects similar to Ballinvard or Ballinaroher. Composed of a main building block and a side tower allowing for a protected lobby and stair case. All that was remaining in the late 1880 were the North, East and South walls to an approximate height of 70ft. At that time, they were knocked down to 45ft for safety. All that now remains are the North wall and parts of the West and East walls to 25ft subject of large conservation project lead by former Clan Taoiseach Liam Crowley of Clancoolbeg, Bandon.
The layout of the castle, the geophysical archeological survey commissioned by Tom Crowley of Ohio, former Clan Taoiseach, and their interpretation by subject experts allowed for a tentative conjectural restoration view.
The castle had a partial stone bawn or curtain wall complemented by a wooden palissade which had a gate tower. It included a number of ancillary stone buildings one which is most likely to have the function of “Great Hall” as was the case for most castles. Other buildings would have accommodated troops, a black smith, cooks and all other labors, the Chief household; bard and poet, personal guards, a marshal, a herald, a castle ward, a chamberlain and butler, a hound keeper, and his wife retinue.
West of the castle across the stream, per the Cork Archeological Inventory, is a lime kiln, a must to maintain the castle complex, and step stones to cross the stream (these still lie along it). North of the castle in the same townland there is souterrain, probably predating the castle.