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The History of Killeen Castle

Killeen Castle, also known as Caisleán an Chillín in Irish, is a stunning castle located in Dunsany, County Meath, Ireland. Killeen was built as one of a pair of castles that sit on either side of a major roadway north. The other castle is the ever so famous Dunsany Castle. This castle is very commonly seen as a unique development of supreme quality residences.

It sits upon a lovely estate that is six hundred acres full of lovely and secured grounds. At the castle, you can feel at one with nature.

The history of Killeen Castle

Killeen Castle has an 800-year-long history and is set in the historic grounds of one of Ireland’s oldest and finest 12th century Norman castles. There is certainly a lot to like about this grand castle. It has undergone some incredible restoration work as well to transform it into a luxury golf course.

Keep reading to find out how this castle went from a wooden Norman fortification to a famous tourist attraction.

Close up of Killeen Castle
Killeen Castle is truly spectacular. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The early history

The earliest structure on the site of Killeen Castle is said to have been a Norman fortification that was likely wooden. It was built for the de Lacy magnates and held from the year 1172 by the Cusack family, more importantly, Geoffrey de Cusack. The wooden fortification was soon after replaced by a large stone castle built by Geoffrey himself in 1181.

The date is carved above the doorway to represent this.

File:Killeen DeCusack Date .jpg
1181 is carved into the stone. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Cusack’s

Killeen Castle was the sole seat of the de Cusack’s for over 250 years. It went from Geoffrey de Cusack right down the line to Lady Joan de Cusack, who with her husband, Sir Christopher Plunkett, had the church built beside the castle. Now, the church is a national monument. The de Cusack’s, Lords of Killeen, lived at the castle, made war, and expanded their demesne for over 225 years.

In 1399, the castle fell into the hands of the Plunkett family through the marriage of Lady Joan de Cusack to Christopher Plunkett of Rathregan.

The Plunkett’s

The first member of the Plunkett family to hold the castle was Sir Christopher who, soon after, became the 1st Baron of Killeen. He then went forth and divided his estate between his two eldest sons. The second son took possession of the sister castle known as Dunsany Castle. After this, his son became the 1st Baron of Dunsany.

The elder branch continued on as Barons of Killeen as well as, later on, Earls of Fingall. The third son, Sir Thomas Fitz-Christopher Plunkett, went on to marry heiress Mary Ann Cruice of Rathmore, daughter of Christopher Cruice of Cruicetown, Moydorrah, and Rathmore Castle. Located at the demesne to this day is a crucifix in her honour.

The fourth and sixth sons of Christopher and Lady Joan founded other landed houses. The fourth son, Sir Robert Plunkett, went on to build what would later be known as one of the few intact fifteenth-century castles in Ireland sometime between 1450 and 1480. He obtained an additional title as Baron Fingall in the Peerage of the United Kingdom in 1831.

Killeen Castle was steadily developed over time and by the time the fifteenth century rolled around, it was a mid-size fortified tower house.

ruined church at Killeen Castle
There is a ruined church at the castle. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Tumultuous times

The two branches of the family remained close throughout the centuries and during the worst of the Penal Laws, the Dunsany branch converted to the Church of Ireland after having survived transportation to Connacht under Cromwell and other difficulties. They then held Killeen Castle in trust for the elder branch that had decided to remain Roman Catholic.

Unlike many different arrangements of this kind, Killeen Castle was formally returned when the legal situation saw significant change. In the late 17th century, the castle fell into almost irreversible disrepair and, in turn, was leased out and not formally restored until around 1779. At this time, the demesne was landscaped and some of the estate’s prominent features were added.

Significant work continued at the castle from the year 1803 to the year 1813 under the watchful eye of Francis Johnston. In 1841, much of the castle was completely demolished and rebuilt again using a large amount of the existing material. This was all done on the orders of the 9th Earl of Fingall in the style of a small Windsor Castle. The two towers added to the castle have the years 1181 and 1841 inscribed which is said to be their years of completion.

Some say Killeen Castle had 365 windows, once upon a time.

After the Plunkett’s

The last to hold the earldom, the 12th Earl of Fingall, sold Killeen Castle and the remaining estate in 1951 to a man by the name of Sir Victor Sassoon. The Earl remained as the manager of the stud farm that was established quite close to the castle. However, in 1953, the Earl and Countess decided to move to a modern house they had built on the lands and most of the contents of the house were sold. Sassoon then passed away in 1961 and his heirs sold the massive estate in 1963 to a man by the name of Daniel Wildenstein who was a French art dealer and major racehorse owner.

The Earl moved from the estate to Corballis on the Dunsany Estate, then the Commons.. He died in 1984 and is buried at Dunsany Church. Once again, in 1978, the castle and its surrounding estate were sold to an advertiser, Basil Brindley who went forth and continued the stud farm operation. However, on the 16th of May in 1981, the castle was completely burnt out in an act of arson.

This then left the castle abandoned for many years until it was sold again in 1989.

New developments at Killeen Castle

In 1989, a new development plan was put forth and later revised. This included the proposed conversion of the castle into a high-end hotel, the installation of an impressive golf course, and the construction of over one hundred units of luxurious housing on the estate. After this, in 1997, Snowbury Ltd purchased the castle and its grounds, with a vision to create the magnificent estate that exists today.

 The plans were approved after this and work soon began in 2005. In August of 2006, it was announced that Killeen Castle would likely open in 2009 as a 179-room luxury golf and spa hotel under the Luxury Collection brand. However, Starwood withdrew from the project in 2009 and after that, the plans were scaled down significantly by the developers following a large downturn in the industry.

Golf resort at Killeen Castle
The castle is now a luxury golf resort. Source: Your Golf Travel.

Present day

After many setbacks and a lot of hard work, the castle became all that it was destined to be. With a new lease on life, it became one of Ireland’s finest golf resorts. With all of the designs coming to life, the castle is now a popular tourist attraction for many different people. In fact, people flock from everywhere to see the Killeen Castle golf club, including US President Bill Clinton, top Irish golfers such as Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington, and movie star Pierce Brosnan.

While the Killeen Castle hotel never made it to light, the golf course still made an incredible impact.

You may be interested in reading about other Irish castles such as Carlow Castle.

Killeen Castle Timeline

  • 1172- The earliest structure on the site of Killeen Castle is held by the Cusack family, more importantly, Geoffrey de Cusack
  • 1181- The wooden fortification is replaced by a large stone castle built by Geoffrey himself
  • 1399- The castle falls into the hands of the Plunkett family through the marriage of Lady Joan de Cusack to Christopher Plunkett of Rathregan
  • Late 17th century- The castle falls into almost irreversible disrepair and is leased out
  • 1779- The castle is restored at this time, and the demesne was landscaped and some of the estate’s prominent features were added
  • 1803 to 1813- Significant work continues at the castle between these years under the watchful eye of Francis Johnston
  • 1841- Much of the castle is completely demolished and rebuilt again using a large amount of the existing material on the orders of the 9th Earl of Fingall in the style of a small Windsor Castle
  • 1951- Killeen Castle and the surrounding estate are sold to Sir Victor Sassoon
  • 1953- The Earl and Countess decided to move to a modern house they had built on the lands and most of the contents of the house were sold
  • 1963- A man by the name of Daniel Wildenstein who was a French art dealer and major racehorse owner buys Killeen Castle
  • 1978- The castle and its surrounding estate are sold to the advertiser, Basil Brindley, who went forth and continued the stud farm operation
  • 1981- The castle is completely burnt out in an act of arson
  • 1989- The castle is abandoned for many years, sold again, and put into a stage of development
  • 1997- Snowbury Ltd purchases the castle and its grounds, with a vision to create the magnificent estate that exists today
  • 2005- Plans were approved and work began
  • 2006- It is announced that the castle will be open in 2009
  • 2008- The first round of golf is played at the castle
  • 2009- Starwood withdraws from the project and the plans are scaled down

Claim to fame

The Killeen Castle golf club is the exact reason that this castle is so famous. The official website states, “In the heart of a landscape that was once the seat of the high kings, discover an unforgettable course crafted by golfing royalty.” The golf course has attracted many big names such as US President Bill Clinton, top Irish golfers such as Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington, and movie star Pierce Brosnan.

Even in 2006, after more than a year of bidding for it, Killeen Castle was chosen as the grand host venue for the 2011 Solheim Cup. This was the first time Ireland had ever hosted this event, and it was decided on before the golf course had even been constructed. The 18-hole championship course was designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 2008.

The Killeen Castle golf club also revived the Ladies Irish Open on the Ladies European Tour in August 2010 and 2011 in the run-up to the Solheim Cup.

Killeen Castle facts

  • Killeen Castle is known as Caisleán an Chillín in Irish
  • Killeen was built as one of a pair of castles that sit on either side of a major roadway north, the other being Dunsany Castle
  • The castle is on six hundred acres of secured grounds
  • The Cusack family lived in the castle for around 225 years
  • The two towers added to the castle have the years 1181 and 1841 inscribed on them
  • The Killeen Castle golf club is one of Ireland’s finest golf resorts
  • The golf course has attracted many big names such as US President Bill Clinton, top Irish golfers such as Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington, and movie star Pierce Brosnan

Featured in TV and film

  • Casino Royale (1967)

Books on Killeen Castle

  • History of Killeen Castle, County Meath, Ireland by Mary-Rose Carty (1991)
  • The Archaeology of Killeen Castle Co. Meath by Christine Baker (2009)

Who owns Killeen Castle?

In 1997, Snowbury Ltd purchased the castle and its grounds, with a vision to create the magnificent estate that exists today. Snowbury Ltd has spent well over €13 million renovating the ruins of the 12th-century castle on the estate near Dunsany, which is now home to a Jack Nicklaus championship golf course and clubhouse and David Pelz Golf Academy.

Tourism

Tours and access to the castle are not available at the current time. Access to the estate for activities such as dog walking, cycling, walking, or jogging is also not permitted at this time. However, you can still enjoy a round of golf accompanied by a five-star meal from the restaurant. During the busy season, there are limited spaces available for non-golf related bookings with a notice period of at least 48 hours.

Nearby, you can also visit Trim Castle, Dunsany Castle, Hill of Tara, Tayto Park, and Maynooth Castle. It is recommended that if you get the chance, you should visit this amazing castle and golf club.

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