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Beal na Carraige - “The mouth or Passage of the Rock” Ballinacarriga castle lies just off the main road from Ballineen to Dunmanway, about halfway between these towns. From there a side road clearly signposted goes for about a mile and a half over Manch Bridge and the Bandon River to the castle. To the south there is a lake and from it a stream runs under a small bridge and the walls of the castle to join the Bandon River to the North. It provided a supply of water to the castle in the days of its glory.
The castle is a four story tower, built on a rocky eminence with a good view in all directions, and overlooks Ballinacarriga lough (lake). It is unique
for the number of important stone carvings it contains, mainly on what was the third floor, which is easily accessible by a circular stairway built into the thickness of the wall. These carvings are mostly of a religious nature. In one window arch, on the top floor, the Crucifixion is shown, Christ on the cross, between two thieves, with the instruments of the passion nearby – a crown of thorns, a hammer, and a heart pierced with two swords. In the soffit on the north window are the initials “R.M. C.C.” and the date 1585. These are believed to be the initials of Randal Murlihy (Hurley) and his wife Catherine Cullinane, and the date of the erection of the building – although its is generally accepted that the greater part of the castle is older and may have been in the possession of the MacCarthys before the Hurleys took over. Formerly, the Hurleys occupied lands about a mile to the south, in the townland of Gloun, where some scant remains of buildings are to be seen. On the opposite window are intricate carvings around a chessboard design, and also the figure of a woman with five
roses, which has been stated to represent Catherine Cullinane and her five children, but is more generally believed locally to be of the Blessed Virgin.
All these carvings would tend to support a local tradition that the top floor was used as a chapel as well as being the main living room of the castle. It
is believed that Mass was still being said here until the nearby chapel was built in 1815 by Father James Doheny, although the castle itself would long have been uninhabited by then. The presence of a “Sheila na Gig” above and to the right of the main door of the castle would appear to substantiate this, as these unusual female figure are often for some unknown reason found on the outside walls of medieval churches. Outside to the southeast is the remnant of one of the four defense towers, which guarded the main tower of the castle itself. The other three have disappeared.
The basement of the castle would have had a wooden ceiling – the stone corbels to keep it in place are still to be seen, as is the impressive high stone arch of the second floor. On the second floor there is a mural gallery (that is built into the thickness of the wall) leading to the garderobe, or lavatory, which is on the north side over a chute. For some reason this is known as “Moll the Phooka’s Hole”. Phookas being associated with wrecked castles. They are usually believed to take the form of a black horse, or sometimes a large black dog. The third floor contains the carvings already mentioned, and also a fine fireplace. The roof of course is missing, as are the parapets with their battlements. The castle is reported to have been occupied by a garrison of Cromwell’s men for a time and when they were leaving they would, as was their usual practice,
have removed the overhanging parapets with their machicolations, thus depriving the castle of its main defense against further attack. However there remains a machicolous of a rather unusual type on each of the southeast and northwest corners of the building, complete with their machicolations (which are the holes, downwards, through which the defenders could fire arrows or guns, or pour molten lead). The castle provides an excellent opportunity for visitors to get a good idea of what a medieval castle was like to live in.
Jill Morrison, 49, from Connecticut USA, wrote:
Since I started my family genealogy, I have met a number of relatives in Ireland. In May of 1997 I had the pleasure of vacationing in Ireland. One of the stories generated through the family was that our ancestor's and most of the residence of the area gathered at the castle where they would dance and enjoy the evening festive. The afternoon I found the castle it was not opened to the public as the iron gate was locked. Not to let a small thing like that prevent me from entering, I squeezed through the bars. looking through the inner bars I found that the floors and roof were missing but did notice the dark stone stairs that lead to the top. I did occur to me that the gates were there to protect my safety but those stairs looked solid enough to entice me to proceed. As I neared the top level I heard a bit of rustling then all of a sudden there was birds screeching all around me. I know the locals heard the scream that came up through my lungs and rang across the farmland. After a moment of gathering myself together I continued to the top level. After examining the walls and beautiful views from the small windows I settled down on the floor and let my head fill with the fanticie of long ago.