The Fascinating History of an Irish Gem

866 to 1797 A.D.

The country around Lough Cutra contains evidence of the tribal struggle between the Firbolgs and the Tuatha De Dannan (the Firbolgs and the Tuatha De Dannan were tribes said to have existed in Ireland). These are from around the times of the Danish invasion. The local area is rich in remnants of churches, cells and monasteries, due to the introduction of Christianity. A number of the islands on the lake contain the remnants of stone alters. It is quite likely that St. Patrick passed Lough Cutra on his travels and St. Coleman MacDuagh was a relative of Gort's King Guaire. A holy well with a cross with the date 1745 lies on the Eastern shore of Lough Cutra.

The ruined church of Beagh on the north west shore was sacked by the Danes in 866 A.D. and war raged through the district for nearly 1000 years. In 1601 John O'Shaughnessy and Redmond Burke camped on the shores of the lake while they plundered the district.

In 1678, Sir Roger O'Shaughnessy inherited from Sir Dermot all the O'Shaughnessy's Irish land - nearly 13,000 acres, and this included Gort and 2,000 acres around Lough Cutra and the lake itself. Following the revolution during which Sir Roger died of ill health, the Gort lands were seized and presented to Thomas Predergast. This was one of the oldest families in Ireland. Sir Thomas came to Ireland on King William's death in 1701 and lived in Monaghan. The titleship to the lands was confused, but was in the process of being resolved when Sir Thomas was killed during the Spanish Wars in 1709. His widow, Lady Penelope, let the lands around the lake and the Islands. On these Islands large numbers of apple, pear and cherry trees were planted, and some still survive today.

The O'Shaughnessys still tried to lay claim to the lands that had been taken from them by King William. In 1742 the government confirmed the Prendergast's title, but it was not until 1753 that Roebuck O'Shaugnessy accepted a sum of money in return for giving up the claim. Following Sir Thomas's death, John Prendergast Smyth inherited the Gort Estate. It was John who created the roads and planted trees, particularly around the Punchbowl where the Gort river disappears on its way to Gort and Coole. John lived next to the river bridge in Gort when in the area - this area is now known as the Convent, Bank of Ireland and Glynn's Hotel. When John died in 1797 he was succeeded by his nephew, Charles Vereker, who in 1816 became Viscount Gort. The estate at this time was around 12,000 acres.

1797 to Present

When the estate was inherited by Colonel Vereker in 1797 he decided to employ the world renowned architect John Nash to design the Gothic style building known as Lough Cutra Castle. Nash also design Mitchelstown Castle, Regeants Park Cresent and East Cowes Castle.

The castle itself was built during the Gothic revival period and is idyllically situated overlooking the estate's 1000 acre lake. The building of the castle was overseen by the Pain brothers who later designed and built the Gate House at Dromoland. Most of the building work was complete by 1811. The original building included 25 basement rooms and the cost of the building was estimated at £80,000. Great attention was paid to the planting of trees, location of the deer park, and creation of new avenues. An American garden was created to the south west of the castle and large extensions added to the building, including a clock tower and servant quarters. The entire building operations were completed in 1858 and 1859. Home to the Viscount Gort, the entertainment at the castle was legendary and past regular visitors included author WB Yeats and Lady Gregory from nearby Coole Park. The Viscount Gort was forced to sell the castle and estate in the late 1840's, having bankrupted himself as a result of creating famine relief. The estate was bought purchased by General Sir William Gough, an eminent British General. The Goughs set about refurbishing the castle to their own taste and undertook further construction work, adding large extensions to the original building, including a clock tower and servant quarters.

A further extension, known as the Library Wing, was built at the end of the nineteenth century to house the war spoils of General Sir William Gough by his grandson. This was subsequently demolished in the 1950s and the cut stone taken to rebuild Bunratty Castle in Co. Clare.

In the 1920s the family moved out of the castle as they could not afford the running costs. Some of the stables in the courtyards were converted into a residence for them. The castle was effectively closed up for the next forty years, although during WWII the Irish army was billeted within the castle and on the estate.The estate changed hands several times between the 1930s and the 1960s when it was purchased by descendants of the First Viscount Gort. They took on the task of refurbishing the castle during the late 1960s. Having completed the project they too were bankrupted and were forced to sell up. At that time it was bought by the present owner's family. In more recent years there has been another major refurbishment programme to the castle and the estate generally. In 2003 a new roof was completed on the main body of the castle, with some of the tower roofs also being refurbished. There has been much done also to the internal dressings of the castle, bringing the building up to a modern standard. It is planned that more works will be undertaken over the coming years.