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  • Return of the Repressed?"Haunted Castles" in Seventeenth-Century Munster
  • Andrew Tierney (bio)

The ragged silhouette of the haunted castle has formed the iconic backdrop to the Gothic novel for well over two centuries and retains an enduring presence within the horror genre to the present day. 1 The literature propagating this imagery during the eighteenth century has its roots in the religious and political turmoil that established the Protestant ascendancy. Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto, perhaps the first recognizable Gothic novel, imagines an archaic and superstitious Catholic world—one that Protestantism had supposedly rejected. Its themes of violence, usurpation, and repression resonate with the religious conflict and mass dispossessions of seventeenth-century Ireland in particular, and its dramatic castle setting was inspirational to later novelists dealing directly with Irish history. 2 For this reason Ireland has been seen as uniquely attuned to the Gothic, with its volatile history feeding the insecurities of the ruling class and [End Page 7] prompting complex literary excursions into the past. 3 Theorists have argued that a perpetual fear of Catholic retribution permeates the Anglo-Irish novel, and recently Jarlath Killeen has posited The Irish Rebellion (1646) by Sir John Temple as the foundational text in the formation of the Protestant literary tradition in Ireland. 4 Despite these claims, little attention has been given to accounts of "haunted castles" in the period preceding the eighteenth century, narratives of which can be found in pamphlets, letters, and memoirs. This article examines three separate accounts of hauntings in Irish castles during the mid-seventeenth century and proposes that they present meaningful precursors to the political and religious discourse found in the literary gothic a century later.

In broad terms the aesthetic origins of the haunted castle can be traced to the seventeenth century when castles were being decommissioned as military tools. As these structures became increasingly unfashionable in domestic style, Renaissance advocates of classicism quickly labeled them with the denigratory term "Gothick." The various religious wars of the century—their last military engagements—finally consigned castles to ruination across Ireland; they joined the monasteries in providing the theme of memento mori for poets, painters, and novelists of the following century. Dark and emotive associations between the old religion and the old architecture came to underpin the revival of the "Castle Style" in both Britain and Ireland in the eighteenth century. 5 The exuberant architectural fantasies of revivalist pioneers such as Walpole and, later, William Beckford fetishized Catholicism as part of an aesthetic ensemble of horror; what emerged was a distinctly Protestant gaze upon the vestiges of an older religion.

Amid the political and religious turmoil of early seventeenth-century Ireland, castles remained powerful symbols of long-established lineages and bastions of Catholic power. But explicit expressions of religious affiliation became increasingly internalized in the years of [End Page 8] Protestant supremacy following the "Flight of the Earls" in 1607; only discreet resistance to new Protestant power could be expressed, such as the carved Counter-Reformation motifs that appear in the Munster territories of the dispossessed Catholic Earls of Desmond. 6 Most notable during the mid-seventeenth century was the use of the Jesus monogram "I. H. S." associated with the Jesuits, leaders of the Counter-Reformation. 7 Expanding on the work of James Delle, Colm Donnelly has discussed the surviving example at Gortnatubbrid, Co. Limerick, in the context of the aftermath of the Desmond plantation. 8 That motif also appears at Ronayn's Court, Co. Cork, in 1624, a building commissioned by Morris Ronayn and his wife Margaret Gould, 9 and in the same year—outside Munster—at the castle of Teig Ó Daly at Killimor, Co. Galway. In the latter example the monogram accompanies various symbols of the passion of Christ, making visual the core Catholic belief in redemption through sacrifice and penance. Since no full survey of these inscriptions has been carried out, it is as yet difficult to determine how widespread they may have been. Donnelly, however, has pointed to parallels in the northeast of Scotland, where similar inscriptions occur during the same period in the context of new building by Catholic families. 10 Such covert religious iconography hints at the quiet spiritual...


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