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Brackloon 1700-Present

At some stage in the 1700s the former Madden tower house at Brackloon fell into complete ruin and appears as such on maps by the later decades of that century.

Throughout the 1700s and 1800s the castle of Brackloon, its townland and the adjacent townlands of Cloonkea, Killoran and Coolacurn were treated as a unit within the vast estate of the Eyre family, who lived three miles away at Eyrecourt. As a whole the four townlands contained 776 acres and composed part of the former lands of the Maddens of Brackloon from which an annual rent was paid to the local Bishop.

From 1696 the Duffields, a Protestant family seated across the River Shannon in King’s County, and their relatives the Willingtons of County Tipperary leased the four townlands in turn from the Eyres. The Willingtons held the lease of Brackloon for much of that period until the early 1800s. Neither of these families lived locally and they derived a rental income from the property or mortgaged it to others as required.

The Willington’s lease ceased around 1817 and the landlord Giles Eyre of Eyrecourt leased the four townlands to his younger brother Rev. Dr. Richard Eyre. The Reverend was rector of Eyrecourt and took up residence in a two storey farmhouse built in Cloonkea across the fields from the castle ruins. This farmhouse was located at the centre of a 200 acre farm that became the farm holding of the principal tenant within the four townlands and replaced the castle as the focus of social and agricultural activity in the immediate area.

Giles Eyre of Eyrecourt mortgaged extensive property, including Brackloon, to John Ball the Elder of Dublin City in 1787 and again in 1788. By the early 1800s Giles Eyre had accumulated substantial debts and was forced to sell the castle and townlands of Brackloon, Cloonkea, Killoran and Coolacurn to make up part of the amount outstanding. In 1825, after a protracted legal process, the castle and four townlands were put up for auction and purchased for £4,000 by James Duggan MD, a Dublin-based surgeon.

Dr. Duggan remained in the city and leased the entire four townlands (including Brackloon Castle) back to Rev. Richard Eyre for the duration of Eyre’s life and those of his two sons Giles and John. The Reverend continued as Duggan’s principal tenant and resided for much of that time at Cloonkea, renaming the house Hassop Park, and sub-let smaller plots in the other three townlands to various smaller tenants.

By this time the ruined shell of Brackloon castle stood by the side of the public road on what was only a four acre plot on the edge of Rev. Eyre’s Cloonkea farm. The Reverend died in December 1831 and his son John Eyre J.P. took over the lease. When the noted antiquarian John O Donovan visited the area in 1838 he described the castle as ‘a small (but conspicuous) square tower in tolerable preservation, and repaired not long since to keep it standing.’ It is unclear, however, whether it was John Eyre, his father or his landlord Dr. Duggan who expended funds on the structural works at Brackloon castle immediately prior to O Donovan’s visit.

John Eyre resided at Hassop Park until about 1865. He then took up residence in Dublin and sub-let the Cloonkea house and farm to a farmer named Michael Kenny (The name of the house reverted from ‘Hassop Park’ back to ‘Cloonkea’ on Eyre’s departure). Included in the lands leased by Kenny was the small plot upon which the castle stood.

The castle remained in a ruined state until about the 1870s or 1880s, when it was covered by what was described as a ‘substantial roof’ and new timber floors were inserted to house tenants. The building was regarded as of little value and was intended as little more than a temporary shelter, until better accommodation could be found. Brackloon was home to a number of individuals or families over the period from at least 1883 to around 1905, including a Dempsey, MacCormacks, Colohans and Lyons and most of the broken shards of crockery found on site date from this time.

If the works that allowed Brackloon to be occupied post-dated John Eyre’s departure in 1865, then credit for the late nineteenth century works may lie with either his landlord Austin Duggan or with Michael Kenny. The latter’s lease ended in 1886, when Austin Duggan, an unpopular landlord locally, took up residence himself at Cloonkea.

Austin Duggan died at Cloonkea in December of 1900 and his sister Louisa two months later, whereupon their property was sold at auction. The four townlands were now no longer tied together as a unit and the castle was included with the house and farm of Cloonkea and sold as one lot. That farm changed hands a number of times after the Duggan’s death. The last tenants in the castle, a man and woman named Lyons, appear to have left around 1905 and the building quickly fell into ruin again. Its floors were removed and later the roof. It stood open to the elements, its walls clad in ivy and a gaping hole where its entrance door once was.

By the 1950s the castle ruin was a dangerous playground for local schoolchildren and several steps from the spiral stair were removed. Some basic remedial work was undertaken at that time by the State’s Board of Works. Although the shell of the building remained intact, by the 1980s its condition had deteriorated further. Vegetation and bushes grew from its internal walls, bird's nests and debris covered its cobblestone floor and a large crack appeared on its roadside wall, causing concern to the local County Council.

A new beginning​

Brackloon was purchased as a ruin on three quarters of an acre in 2000 by Ken McLeod from Dromore in County Down. Ken spent the following number of years undertaking a sensitive and thorough restoration, restoring the building to its authentic appearance as it stood in the early 1600s. Although Ken never came to reside at Brackloon, it is due to his vision, passion and commitment that, after five hundred years, the castle survives today. When, in 2017, he passed the castle to Donal and Alison Burke, Brackloon became a home for the first time in over one hundred years and the Burkes became the first proprietors to live in the castle since the original Madden family in the late seventeenth century. 

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