My next stop off point on my trip around Laois was to the striking Castle ruins of Ballyadams. On arrival I was faced with a roadside gate, which was sign posted ‘Danger, Keep Out, Sanctuary’. Obviously this was either to keep vandals away or the lands are used by a local Gun Club, which is quite common in the country side. Now I am not easily deterred, so I set about trying to locate the land owner to seek permission. There was a little cottage a few hundred yards up the road so I decided to try their first. The lady of the house pointed me in the right direction but was a bit off putting, saying that she couldn’t see me getting permission from the owner. Like that was going to stop me trying! As I made my way back towards the owner’s farm, I noticed a couple walking from the castle towards the gate, so I pulled into the side of the road. As luck would have it the young lady was the Landowners daughter. At first see seemed a bit cautious about letting me explore the castle, but once I explained who I was and what I did, she was happy to let me continue and wished me luck. A word of warning for anyone wanting to visit a site that is on private lands. ALWAYS ask permission before entering someone’s land. Trespassing can not only ruin getting access for others but is also against the law and can get you into trouble with the Police. Yes it can be a pain in the arse trying to locate the owner to seek permission, but in the long run it will be of benefit. I have only ever been refused access once out of the many sites I have visited and more often than not you get some useful information from the owners.
The current castle ruins date back to the late 15th century and is said to have been built during the reign of Henry VII by Adam O’Moore after the O’Moore regained control of the area. This is where Ballyadams takes its current name. It is approx six storeys in height although I was only able to make it as far as the third floor as it became too unsafe to go any further. As you can see the castle has two rounded towers on the SW and NW corners. The NW tower which is the taller of the two rises to about 25meters. There are also the ruins of a seventeenth century, three storey fortified house to the east side of the castle, but this is merely a shell and is not nearly as spectacular as the castle which remains in pretty good condition with its twin towers and Keep. The enterance is recessed with an arch over the recess. The door looks quite old, and has a two-centred arch over it. The door is partially hanging from its hinge but can be passed with a bit of care. Just below the top storey there is another arch which forms a machicolation directly over the enterance below, (these were used to greet unwelcome guests to your home and stones, boiling water/oil etc could be dropped on top of enemies, I would love one of these on my house for the next time a politician or tax collector comes knocking). Then there is a murder-hole on the first floor level also directly over the doorway. The Garderobe chamber and chute can be seen in the NE of the castle. Whilst most of the window opes are plain, there are a few ogee headed windows and most of the windows at the very top of the castle have hood mouldings. Once inside there is a chamber to the right and a stone spiral staircase which you can ascent the tower a couple of levels.
Ballyadams was once known as Kylemehyde and stood in an area known as Uí Buidhe. After the Norman Invasion of Ireland there was a Norman presence in the area from the 12th century, where they built a Castle. The History of Ballyadams Castle is a spectacularly violent one. In 1346 the local Gaelic clans consisting of the O’Moore, O’Connors & O’Dempsey’s attacked and destroyed the Norman Keep at Kylemehyde. It was taken by the Geraldine’s in the rebellion of Silken Thomas (1534-1537). Then in 1546 the Lord Justice of Ireland and the Earl of Desmond brought their armies to Laois, with the town of Ballyadams being captured in 1548 as revenge for the rebellion of Gilla Patrick O’ Moore Chief of Leix. During the rebellion led by the O’Moore and O’Connor clans, it was said that the town and monastery of Athy was sacked and burned to the ground. In 1549 the castle was given to John Thomas Owen/Bowen, a Welshman whom was Constable of Ballyadams and known for his cruelty. The local Irish referred to him as ‘John of the Pike’, due to the fact that he always carried a Pike with him whenever he went out. In 1551 Bowen took out a 21 year lease on the Castle at Ballyadams. John died in 1569 and was succeeded by his son Robert whom was the Sheriff of Queens County, he died in 1621, and there is a monument in the old church of Ballyadams which was erected in his memory. Roberts’s son John was knighted in 1629 and became Marshall of Leinster and Meath. An interesting event occurred in 1643 between Sir John and a Lord Castlehaven.
Castlehaven gives the following account of the incident “While this place was putting in order, I went with a party of horse to Ballyadams, a Castle about a mile distant belonging to Sir John Bowen, Provost Marshal an old soldier, and my long acquaintance. I went to speak with him and after some kind expressions, told him I must put a garrison into his Castle. He flatly denied me and calling for his wife and two very fair daughters, he had desired only one favour, that in case I was resolved to use violence, I would show him where I intended to plant my guns and make my breach. I satisfied his curiosity and asked him what he meant by this question. Because saith he swearing with some warmth, I will cover that, or any other your Lordhship shoots at, by hanging out both my daughters in chairs. ’tis true the place was not of much importance, however this conceit saved it.” There is also a poem written about this incident.
The Romance of Ballyadams
“Herald! be a trumpet blown, I would speak with Sir John Bowen ! ” Thus cried Castlebaven’s lord, and the parley soon was heard.
Soon the answering trumpets sound; quick the drawbridge strikes the ground;
O’er it comes the Senesehal, and thus spakes before them all-
Castlehaven’s noble lord, Sir John Bowen sends thee word,
Dinner ‘s on the Castle board, feast thee first, then draw the sword.”
To Ballyadams, all alone, Castlehaven’s lord is gone;
High at board is placed his chair, ‘twixt Sir John’s two daughters fair.
Lovely as the budding rose, each young blushing maiden shows;
Sweeter than the song of bird are their gentle voices heard. –
When the feast had gaily sped, thus Lord Castlehaven said-
“Good Sir .John, thou hast not here culverin nor cannoneer;
Yield, then, Ballyadams’ tower to the high Confederates’ power; Yield, my friend,. and will take the terms that thou thyself shalt make,
Now, my Lord, to me attend; thou bast been my early friend; Didst thou ever know me break oath that ever I did, take?”
Stainless has thine honour been,” cried the Earl, “well I ween;
Whatsoe’ er thou say’st to me, with my life I’ll guarantee.”
“Then, my lord, on oath I make; if this tower you seek to take, If my walls by shot be riven, thus I’ll do, so help me Heaven- “I shall hang my daughters fair, fastened each upon a chair,
right in front of the wide breach, though their breasts thy shot must- reach.”
Started Castlehaven’s lord, wondering at that desperate word; Then, to the pale maids he turned, deeply for their fate he mourned.
Took he then each maiden’s hand, as beside the board they stand; Kissed he then each maiden’s cheek, and thus gallantly he spake- ‘God be with thee, stout Sir John, I shall let thy fort alone; Though for this I lose my head. Harm I will not either maid
“Though my life the Council take, for that I their orders break
Death from them I’d rather dree than that these should die by me.”
Then ho marched his troops away, far they were ere close of day;
Thus was Ballyadams tower saved by beauty’s gentle power.
At some time in 1700 the castle was passed on to Katherine Bowen who had married Pierce Butler from Tipperary. The present owner David Butler is a direct descendant of Pierce Butler. The castle was attacked by insurgents in 1798 and the Butler family have not lived there since.