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In years gone by, one of the most impressive buildings of the time was Monellan Castle, situated a few miles north of Crossroads, Killygordon. Although it was the largest building in the Valley at the time, set in beautiful surroundings second to none in the area, it cannot be clear whether it was a castle or a mansion house.

The same can be said of other large buildings in the Valley, such as Drumboe Castle, Meenglas Castle and Glenfin's Cloghan Castle. All were large enough to be called a castle, certainly dwarfing the humble dwellings of the time, and were a tribute to the architects who designed them.

Monellan Castle was built during the 1700s, and part of the 35 room dwelling was underground, to be used as a place of safety - if such was required. The castle and its grounds were in full glory for some time after the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1775, until its demolition in the 1930s - on orders given to the Irish Land Commission from the Government of the day.

Rev Delap's Grave. Click to enlarge

The subsequent division of this large estate, formerly owned by Rev Robert Delap and his family, to the poor local farmers, was much welcomed. In hindsight, the demolition of the castle itself was a monumental blunder of the time. Imagine the tourist attraction this magnificent edifice would be today!

At the time of the division of the estate, some of the small farmers who had bad housing conditions were lucky, in that the Land Commission built them new and better residences. Most of the stones from the castle were used to build roads on Cronlaughey and Meenlaught, in early 1945. Most of the bogland divided at that time has been cut out and is no longer workable.

THE CASTLE ITSELF

Set in a uniquely picturesque area, Monellan Castle must have been a splendid sight to behold in its heyday. The approach to it was done out with Rhododendron hedges, and must have been spectacular to behold when these were in full bloom. Sadly, very little of these hedges remain.

Stories handed down tell us that although Monellan was the largest castle of its kind in the Valley, it was also one of the 'ugly sisters' when compared to other Irish castles or mansions. Built by expert stonemasons from the localities of Meenreagh, Lismullaghduff and Killygordon, with Scottish supervisors looking after the work, it took almost three years to complete. It also had a large number of outhouses for the use of the land stewards, servants, maids and coachmen. These buildings extended from a spot known locally as McGlynn's Bridge, and included Monellan Burn Pass, Edenoughill and Casey's Brae, and also included byres, stables and other buildings for domestic uses.

Surrounding the castle were beautiful flower gardens, tennis courts and a bowling green. The owner of the castle and estate, Robert Delap, who was a barrister, was later ordained a Minister of the Church of Ireland, and built St Anne's Church at Crossroads. He was said to be a decent enough character, and gave a lot of employment to many local men and women.

WASHDAY AT THE CASTLE

As well as the wage of sixpence per week, each worker was allowed to take home with them on a Saturday night some milk, potatoes, vegetables and even flowers (if a special occasion was to be celebrated). Up to twenty women workers would be employed at the castle each Monday - Wash Day - to wash the bedclothes, linen and tablecloths, and as there were none of the modern-day washing appliances, all had to be steeped in tubs on the previous Saturday for washing out on the Monday. Washing completed, the garments were put through a hand operated roller-wringer and then dried and aired outdoors.

Blankets and home-made embroidered quilts for the main bedrooms of the castle were too big for the wringer, and had to be done by the strong hands of the women themselves. Anyone walking on the Monellan/Glen Road at the time could see for themselves the long line of clothes laid out to dry on the flat and neatly trimmed Rhododendron bushes.

DID YOU KNOW?

According to stories told by the older generation, during the famine years, a stonemason from one of the Valley's highlands (Lismullaghduff to be exact) collapsed and died from the pains of hunger, while engaged in the building of Monellan Castle's high walls. All he'd had to eat was a slice of raw turnip, it was said.

Such was the fate of Ireland's many poor under English Rule.

Monellan Castle, its gardens and private grounds, arable and small parts of the forest were protected by a high wall, extending three miles around most of the estate. Most of this wall remains today. No wall was required for the part of the estate adjoining the townland of Ballinaman, as a large tributary of the River Finn, known locally as Monellan Burn, served the purpose of protection.

In the early 1800s, whilst still a barrister, Robert Delap had a friendly encounter with the Liberator, Daniel O'Connell, when engaged in a High Court sitting in Dublin. After speaking some words in Irish to Dr Delap, which the latter did not understand, O'Connell asked him if he was an Irishman at all. Delap replied that a man named McHugh from the Killygordon Glen would soon teach him Irish. Whether he ever attempted to learn Irish is not known, however, he later changed from the practice of law to become a Minister of the Church. Having completed his studies, he returned to Monellan Estate as Rev Delap - and became first Minister of St Anne's Church of Ireland, which he was responsible for building.

It was said by past generations in the Valley that Rev Delap sometimes baptised children of St Anne's Church at an outside running stream.

Click here to visit St Anne's Church of Ireland
The above is an extract from 'Rambles Around The Finn' by the late David Kelly
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