Castle Bernard, Bandon, Co. Cork
The old castle of the O’Mahonys’ formerly known as Castle Mahon, was acquired by the Bernards early in the 17th century and its name eventually changed to Castle Bernard. Francis Bernard, an English settler came to Ireland with the Plantation of Munster
During the first half of the 18th century two new fronts were added to the castle, by Francis Bernard, Solicitor-General of Ireland, Prime Sergeant and Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (‘Judge Bernard’), and by his son, Francis Bernard MP (‘Squire Bernard’). They were of brick, with Corinthian pilasters and other enrichments of Portland stone1. The house was surrounded by formal gardens, a beech avenue and with statues, fountains, cascades and jet d’eau2.
In 1798 Francis Bernard, 1st Viscount Bandon and afterwards 1st Earl of Bandon, pulled down the two early 18th century fronts and began building a new house alongside the old castle, to which it was joined by a corridor3. It was of two storeys, with a nine-bay entrance front overlooking the River Bandon and a garden front of three-bays either side of a deeply curved central bow. It had a prominent roof with a parapet, dentil cornice and bold quoins. Such construction often brought about direct social consequences through the provision of employment4.
In the early 19th century probably about 1815, the 1st Earl gave the house a Gothic coating that was only skin-deep and a façade of battlements and slender turrets on the entrance front which continued around the side and just stopped. The garden front was not interfered with except for the addition of hood mouldings and the insertion of Gothic tracery in the windows similar to that of the entrance front. The old castle and out-offices were also similarly addressed5.
The interior of the building was spacious with a regular plan6. It had a square entrance hall with Ionic pilasters and columns and opened into a wide central corridor running the entire length of the main block with a curving stone cantilevered staircase at one end. On the opposite side of this corridor to the hall was a large oval room, extending into the garden front bow.
Charles Wesley7 was a frequent traveller to Ireland in the eighteenth century and he held the Bernards in high esteem “Although one of the richest persons in these parts, keeps no race-horses, or hounds, but loves his wife and home, and spends his time and fortune in improving his estate and employing the poor. Gentlemen of this spirit are a blessing to their neighbourhood. May God increase their number”
The advent of the railways opened up the countryside for visits among the gentry. The Ladies Howard of Shelton Abbey, Co. Wicklow (now an open prison) travelled by train in 1879 to visit the Listowels at Convamore (now a ruin), the Bernards at Castle Bernard and Lord and Lady Drogheda at Moore Abbey (now a convalescent home) on their return journey.
During the troubles of 1921, the 4th Earl and his wife were woken one night, to be told that men had come to burn the castle. They dressed and went out into the park where they watched the castle and its contents, including a fine library, perish in the flames. The Earl was kidnapped and the Countess, a formidable woman, it’s said, stood erect, tearless and defiantly sang ‘God Save the King’.
It is now an ivy clad ruin smothered with climbing roses and forms the object of the garden of the modern house built nearby in the 1960s by Paddy Bernard, the 5th Earl of Bandon. Today, the estate is home to Lady Frances Carter and Lady Jennifer daughters of Elizabeth & Percy (Paddy) Bernard8.
1 John Coltsman (designed North & South Gate bridges & Christ Church) circa 1715 may have been the architect - see IAA/DIA
2 William Fennell circa 1726 designed the gardens see - IAA/DIA
3 Michael Shanahan (Earl-Bishops architect; Frederick Hervey 4th Earl of Bristol & Bishop of Derry; Downhill, Co. Derry) circa 1794 architect of the works with some of the contracting undertaken by William Deane - see IAA/DIA
4 David Dickson ‘Old World Colony’ see p. 98 (the rich should demolish and rebuild – De Latocnaye)
5 George H. Buckley ‘recently erected in the pointed Gothic style for Hon. W.S. Bernard see – IAA/DIA
6 George Meares circa 1800 designed a screen of columns for the dining room for Lord Bandon see - IAA/DIA
7 The English hymn writer and preacher Charles Wesley (1707-1788) joined his brother John in starting Methodism & composed thousands of hymns to express its religious ideals.
8 Interview with Lady Frances Carter published in the Irish Examiner Sat. Nov. 22nd 2008
De Breffny, Brian & Mott, George: The Castles of Ireland © 1977
Bence-Jones, Mark: Burke’s Guide to Country Houses Volume I – Ireland © 1978
Glin, Griffin & Robinson: Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland © 1988
Williams, Jeremy: Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921 © 1994
Somerville-Large, Peter: The Irish Country House – A Social History © 1995
Dickson, David: Old World Colony © 2005
Leland, Mary: ‘Imposing Ruin with History’ (article published in the Irish Examiner Sat. Nov. 22nd 2008)
Dictionary of Irish Architectures database (DIA) published online by the Irish Architectural Archive (IAA)
Notes prepared by Kevin Hurley on the occasion of the Cork Chapter visit 12th July 2009