A history of Galtee Castle at Skeheenarinky between Cahir and Mitchelstown
(Adapted from the publication; 'Examining Ballyporeen's Past' by Patrick O'Brien)
Galtee Lodge was built on the lower slopes of the Galtee Mountains in the Skeheenarinky townland as a hunting lodge for Robert 2nd Earl of Kingston in the late 18th century. George the 3rd Earl, later remodelled the lodge and its grounds adding an octagonal tower in the process, this was most likely during his building spree of the 1820s. The Kingstons would have used this lodge for entertaining hunting parties and later also as a base for escorting privileged guests to the nearby Mitchelstown Caves, discovered in 1833.
After the Great Famine, the Westminster government forced the heavily in-debt Kingston Estate to sell over 70,000 acres under the Encumbered Estate Acts. Approximately 20,000 acres of these, mainly around Ballyporeen, Ballylanders and Kilbehenny were purchased by the Irish Land Company after 1851.
This privately owned company consisted of a Manchester based group of wealthy businessmen and land speculators. The lodge became the 'big house' of this new estate and residence of the estate manager.
Subsequently in 1873, the Galtee Estate became the sole property of Nathaniel Buckley, one of the company’s directors. Buckley was a Lancashire-based cotton mills owner and an MP for Stalybridge between 1871-74. He had Anglo-Irish heritage - not through his Irish sounding Buckley surname, but through his mother who came from the well-known Sadliers, a banking family from Thurles. He was an absentee landlord and he retained Patten S Bridge as the estate manager. At this point a rent review for the over 500 tenants was carried out resulting in an average estate-wide increase of 25%, with some tenants seeing their rents more than double. This led to much agrarian disturbance over this period. Bridge was the target of two unsuccessful assassination attempts. His coach driver John Hyland lost his life in the second attempt. The building was described in one of the many press coverage pieces at this time as 'a sandstone two story building with a short foolscap tower, on a little gravelled plateau'.
Nathaniel Buckley died in 1892 aged 72 and the Galtee Estate passed to his younger brother Abel. He was involved in the family cotton business and also had interests in collieries, printers and banks and also briefly represented Prestwich as an MP between 1885-86. He made Galtee Lodge one of his primary homes, living between there and the stately Ryecroft Hall in Manchester with his wife Hannah and their two sons, Abel Jr and Harold. A vast remodelling and expansion programme of the building followed. He employed the Manchester-based architecture firm Darbyshire and Smith. The building doubled in size and was transformed into a large neo-gothic styled mansion, after which it was more commonly referred to as a castle rather than a lodge. Abel voluntarily sold out to the tenant farmers under the provisions of the Land Acts, retaining approximately 2,000 acres as a demesne, much of it under forestry and mountain heath.
This was to be the golden age of Galtee Castle. Abel Buckley was extremely wealthy by any standards and during his tenure no expense was spared. They were amongst the first in the county to own a motor car, a hydroelectric system was installed to harness power, he was also a keen horse breeder and had his own personal race track on site.
A lavish party took place for Abel Buckley Jr's coming of age (21st Birthday) in 1897. Marquees were erected at Loughanna Park to cater for 1,500 people. However, the Buckley's mood was far more sombre just a few months later when the family’s matriarch died. The Irish Times and Clonmel Nationalists both reported on Hannah Buckley’s popularity and her reputation for generosity towards the poor of the area.
Abel (Senior) remained a widower until he died in 1908 at the age of 73. His obituary described him as one of the old cotton lords of Lancashire, after which Galtee Castle passed to Abel Junior. The fortunes of the Buckleys appear to have gradually dwindled after the death of Abel Sr. Ryecroft Hall was sold in 1913, part of the extensive art collection was sold at Christies in 1924 and an auction was held at Galtee Castle in 1925 selling contents. The grounds were commandeered during the ceasefire period of the War of Independence by the Volunteers and used it as a training base. It however managed to avoid the spate of destruction which saw Mitchelstown Castle and many other landlords’ residences burned, however a compensation claim of £3,300 was later lodged with the new government for damages.
Upkeep costs, annual council rates and death duties on wills levied by the early Free State governments was the financial nail in the coffin for many former Ascendancy families and probably the Buckleys. Abel Jr died in 1927 at the age of 51. There was some controversy over his will, his widow Mabel later claimed that she was owed £25,000 from his estate.
The eventual sale agreement with the Land Commission therefore was probably for financial necessity. In 1933 and again in 1938, the Buckleys were in legal negotiations with the Land Commission. The Commission had compulsory purchase powers, so parts of the demesne may have fallen out of Buckley's ownership earlier in the 1920's. The house and remaining grounds were purchased by 1940 and the house was advertised for sale in January of that year with just 20 acres. The Commission accepted the tender of Canon Tobin of Glanworth, he wanted to use the stone and slates to build a new church in his parish. This ultimately meant the building which was in essence less than 50 years old and structurally sound was to suffer an ignominious end by being demolished and salvaged. The cut sandstone was later reused at Glanworth.
The Buckley connection with the area had ended bar the occasional local contact regarding deeds and legal loose ends, such as with Galtee Cottage in the late 1940's and Skeheenarinky School in the 1980's. These were through Anthony Harold Buckley (Abel Jr's son), he was an accomplished London based photographic portrait artist and during his career took portraits of Hollywood stars and the British royal family. He died in 1993 aged 81 and had never married.
The building itself was situated on the Skeheenarinky side of the River Attycran/Funcheon about 400 metres from the present Galtee Woods car park. Since the 1970s, these woods and trails that surrounded the house have been developed as a public amenity area. Today there is little evidence the mansion ever existed, some non visible foundations are all that remain on site. There are some stone outbuildings behind the site including the laundry. The cut stone bridge crossing the river survives as do the two gate houses which are now private dwellings, though the piers and gates are now absent. The piers on the Kilbehenny side were taken away and reconstructed outside St Mary's Cemetery in Ballyporeen
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