A Mysterious Lock

In a book published in 1897 called “Captain de Cuellar adventures in Connaught and Ulster” written by Hugh Allingham, there is a curious reference to a lock found in the vicinity of Kilbarron Castle some years beforehand which was believed to have been the lock belonging to the main gate of the castle. However the story is even more intriguing which may have started with events that occurred in 1588. Read more on our website at https://www.kilbarroncastle.org/?p=826

The entry for 1588 in the Annals of the Four Masters records that:

Excerpt from the Annals of the Four Masters

In modern Irish this excerpt reads as follows

Streedgh Strand north Co. Sligo

“Tháinig cabhlach mór ina raibh ocht long scór ó Rí na Spáinne. Deir cuid acu go raibh sé ar intinn acu an cuan a thógáil agus teacht i dtír ar chósta Shasana, dá bhfaigheadh ​​siad an deis. Ach níor tharla sé seo dóibh, mar gur bhuail cabhlach na Banríona leo ar an bhfarraige a ghabh ceithre long; agus bhí an chuid eile den chabhlach scaipthe agus scaipthe feadh chóstaí na dtíortha comharsanachta, eadhon, soir ó Shasana, soir ó thuaidh na hAlban agus iarthuaisceart na hÉireann. Bádh líon mór de na Spáinnigh agus scriosadh a gcuid long go hiomlán sna háiteanna sin. ”

“A great fleet consisting of eight score ships came from the King of Spain. Some say that their intention was to have taken harbour and landed on the coast of England, if they got the opportunity. But this did not happen to them, for they were met on the sea by the Queen’s fleet which captured four ships; and the rest of the fleet was scattered and dispersed along the coasts of the neighbouring countries, namely, to the east of England, the north east of Scotland and the north west of Ireland. Great numbers of the Spaniards were drowned and their ships were totally wrecked in those places.”

The Spanish Armada in the Strait of Dover,1588

The events described are that of the fleet sent by Philip II 0f Spain, to invade England, known as the Spanish Armada. As described the ships were scattered when the English commander, Admiral Howard, ordered fireships to be sailed into the fleets at anchorage near Calais and Gravelines forcing them into the North Sea by the prevailing winds and having to sail northwards around the northern tip of Scotland and into the Atlantic Ocean and on the 10th of September were struck by a vicious storm which wrecked over twenty seven ships on the west coast of Scotland and Ireland losing an estimated seven thousand sailors and soldiers.

Those survivors of the wrecks in Ireland did not often fair well once reaching land. The Lord Deputy Sir William Fitzwilliam issued a proclamation whereby ‘Harbouring Castaways’ was punishable by death. To his own officers he wrote;

Sir William Fitzwilliam Ist Earl of Southhampton

Whereas the distressed fleet of the Spaniards by tempest and contrary winds, though the providence of God have been driven on the coast… where it is thought, great treasure and also ordinance, munitions [and] armour hath been cast. We authorize you to… to haul all hulls and to apprehend and execute all Spaniards found there of any quality soever. Torture May be used in prosecuting this inquiry.’

In 1587, as Governor of Fotheringhay Castle, in England, Sir William had supervised the execution of the death sentence on Mary, Queen of Scots.

The Lord President of Connacht Sir Richard Bingham and the Lord President of Munster Sir John Norris enforced this edict in both provinces and most Spanish survivors were hanged when found. In North Connacht many Spaniards survived including a number of about one hundred who were among the four ships wrecked at Streedagh in Co Sligo. Although robbed of their possessions by the local Gaelic population they were allowed to travel to the relative safety of Breffni under the control of Brian O’Rourke the clan chieftain who helped them escape to Scotland. Later he too had to flee to Scotland where he was handed over to the English and hanged at Tyburn in London.

One survivor at Streedagh Captain Francisco de Cuellar wrote a testament to his experiences in Ireland, living for some years along with the McClancy clan of Rossaclogher in modern day Co Leitrim, after he returned to Spain.

Many years later Hugh Allingham, a half brother of the poet William Allingham and an antiquarian whose publications include a history of Ballyshannon in Co Donegal, wrote a book called “Captain de Cuellar adventures in Connaught and Ulster”. Published in 1897 it consists of a translation and commentary of Francisco de Cuellar’s journal of his time in Ireland.

Armada chest in Hugh Allingham’s book “Captain de Cuellar adventures in Connaught and Ulster”
A similar sea chest but made circa 1690

Within the book is an interesting reference to a lock from a Spanish sea chest being found in the vicinity of Kilbarron Castle. It was in the possession of  General Tredennick of Woodhill House, Ardara and had originally been identified as the lock of the main door of Kilbarron Castle until correctly been identified by Hugh Allingham who remarked that “this discovery proves beyond question that these chests were in use in Ireland, whether brought over in Spanish or other vessels at a much earlier date than others supposed. The lid found at O’Clery’s Castle, it is reasonable to infer belonged to a chest which was used by the historians of Tyrconnell for the safe keeping of their valuable manuscripts and other articles; and, looking at the fact that their house and property was confiscated within a period of twenty years or so after the Spanish wrecks, and that Kilbarron was plundered and dismantled, there can be no doubt that the chest in question belonged to the period when the O’Clerys flourished in their rock bound fortress”

Hugh Allingham continues “The lid itself offers a curious bit of evidence of its past history: a portion of one of the hinges remains attached showing that it had been wrenched off with violence, and that the chest to which it belonged had been forced by some plundering enemy who had not possession of the master key, which actually bolts the lock. A similar lid was found in the ruins of O’Donnells castle at Donegal which is still in existence in the neighbourhood.”

Map showing the route of the Armada and where the many ships were wrecked

We can only speculate if this chest came from an armada wreck as these sea chests were available and used by other nations. Apart from the wrecking of three ships at Streedagh, there were others wrecked in west Donegal but the wrecks at Streedagh were closer and presumably flotsam could have been carried into Donegal Bay.

Major General James Richard Knox Tredennick,  was a member of the Tredennick family of Camlin Castle between Ballyshannon and Belleek. His older brother the Reverend George Nesbitt Tredennick was the Church of Ireland Rector of Kilbarron parish from 1839 until his death in 1877 and who lived in the Glebe house in Kildoney close to Kilbarron Castle. He also owned Woodhill House in Ardara and willed it to his brother General Tredennick who inherited the property in 1880.

Bill of sale for Woodhill House 1909

Unfortunately we don’t know if the lock still exists or if it remains at Woodhill house situated near Ardara. General Knox Tredennick’s estate was sold to the Congested Districts Board and offered for sale on the 30th March 1909. The house is currently a guesthouse and restaurant.

Perhaps someone out there knows whatever happened to the lock that was found in the vicinity of Kilbarron Castle?

Essay on the parish of Kilbarron 1837

In 1837 Samuel Lewis published his book called the “Topographical Dictionary of Ireland“in which he gives a description of the main features and landmarks in every civil parish in Ireland. Main towns are given a separate description.

The Parish of Kilbarron in the Barony of Tirhugh, in the County of Donegal, in the Province of Ulster, has a very interesting entry. It tells us that there are over forty townlands and a population of 10,251 people living in the Parish. The main town in the parish is Ballyshannon. In its own separate entry Ballyshannon’s population is given at 3,775 people with over 1,000 living in the “Purt” situated on the south side of the River Erne and in the neighbouring parish of Inishmacsaint. (In 2016 Ballyshannon’s population is given at 2,229).

He stated that the parish comprises of almost 23,933 acres of which 900 acres are under water, half the parish was arable land, the remainder meadow, pasture and mountain bog.

The principle seats listed by Samuel Lewis were

  • Parkhill belonging to the representatives of the late J. O’Neill, Esq;
  • Cavangarden, the residence of T. J. Atkinson, Esq;
  • Cherrymount of Dr Crawford;
  • Camlin Tredennick of I. Tredennick, Esq;
  • Fort William of W. Tredennick, Esq;
  • Danby of J. Forbes, Esq;
  • Wardton of J. Ffolliott, Esq;
  • Laputa of J.F. Johnson, Esq and
  • Cliff House of Col. Conolly.

In fact most of the parish belonged to the Conolly family of Castletown House in Kildare (Speaker Conolly who was born in Ballyshannon, bought the Manor of Ballyshannon from the Ffolliott family in 1718) The above mentioned gentry owning leases from the Conolly estate and others such as John Ffolliott, a descendant of Henry Ffolliott, the first Baron Ballyshannon, held a lease of Ballymacaward townland from Trinity College.

The ruins of Wardtown Castle at Ballymacaward today. The house was the residence of John Ffolliott at the time of Samuel Lewis’s essay on the parish of Kilbarron.

Wardtown Castle, built in the 1740s by the Ffolliott family, was abandoned in 1916 and was in ruins by the 1920s. The tragic tale of Colleen Bawn (Cáilín Bán) is reputedly based on an elopement at Wardtown Castle in the 18th Century by Helen Ffolliott.

Today, the Castle Adventure Open Farm is based in the grounds of the ruins of Wardtown Castle.


Many of these grand houses were demolished and flooded as a result of the Erne Hydro Electric Scheme in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Cliff House overlooking the Cliff Falls on the Erne some one mile from Belleek in Co Fermanagh. In 1837 it was the summer residence of Col Conolly of Castletown House in Co Kildare.
It was demolished in the 1950s to make way for the Cliff Hydro-Electric power station.
A view of Cliff House from the River Erne looking upstream. This picture is from the William Lawrence Collection held in the National Library of Ireland.
Camlin Castle residence of J Tredennick in 1837. It was demolished in the 1950s. The waters of Assaroe Lake never reached the house and the foundations of the house can still be seen.
Laputa House on the north side of the River Erne and the residence of J. F. Johnstone in 1837. It was also demolished as part of the Erne Hydro-Electric Scheme.


Samuel Lewis in his essay on the parish of Kilbarron goes on to mention Kilbarron Castle stating that “near the glebe house on a stupendous rock rising almost perpendicular out of the sea, are the ruins of the castle of Kilbarron which is supposed to have been inhabited by freebooters”.

This latter statement seems odd but it is possible that in the years after its destruction or decay of the castle in the 17th Century, that it may have been used as a lookout point for smugglers landing contraband at the castle flag situated below the castle. We know that there was a brisk illegal trade in Spanish and French wines their import being prohibited during the Napoleonic wars between France and England between 1793 and 1815. However apart from this assertion we have not heard or seen any other spoken or written evidence that Kilbarron was ever used by freebooters.