Portumna Castle,
County Galway

It is no exaggeration to describe Portumna as the most important residence to be built in Ireland until Castletown a century later. In grandeur and scale it was without equal when constructed in 1616-18 and like Castletown introduced a new sophistication to Irish architecture. The builder - not surprisingly a man of great wealth and power who moved in court circles - was Richard Burke, fourth Earl of Clanrickarde, Lord President of Connaught and descendant of a Gaelic chieftaincy of Norman origin that ruled much of Connaught for centuries. His house survived the wars of the 17th century, only to be gutted by fire in 1826. In recent years its great shell has been re-roofed by the State.

The building belongs to a distinctive group of spacious semi-fortified rectangular houses with flanking towers at each corner. It rises to a height of three storeys, plus attics, above a raised basement and has an attractive symmetrical fenestration of regularly placed two- and three-mullioned windows and a skyline of battlements of small curved gables with pedestals and balls. At first glance it may not appear fortified, but it was surrounded by a bawn, whose wall and flankers still survive on the north side.

From mid 18th-century plans, we know that the interior was laid out in sets of state apartments in the French taste. From accounts of visitors in 1808 it is apparent that the state rooms were fabulously decorated with rich stucco ceilings and friezes, handsome panelling and magnificent furnishings.

The great house was requisitioned in 1634 by the unpopular Lord Deputy Stafford to hold the celebrated inquisitions into the titles of lands in Connaught. It was lost to Henry Cromwell from 1652 to 1660 and again forfeited by William III, but restored to the tenth Earl by Queen Anne. The family continued here in great pomp until the 1826 fire. The castle laid out a fine approach from the north, with its Gothic gates leading into the two great courts in front of the house. The inner court now has a restored Jacobean-style garden, though this would originally have had cut grass and statues.

Portumna. NGR: M 852040.