Killyleagh Castle dominates the small village and is believed to be the oldest inhabited castle in the country, with parts dating back to 1180. It follows the architectural style of a Loire Valley château, being redesigned by architect Sir Charles Lanyon in the mid-19th century. It has been owned by the Hamilton family since the early 17th century.
Killyleagh was settled in the 12th century by Norman knight John de Courcy who built fortifications on the site of the castle in 1180, as part of a series of fortifications around Strangford Lough for protection from the Vikings.
In 1602 Gaelic chieftain Con O'Neill of Clandeboye owned large tracts of North Down, including Killyleagh. O'Neill sent his men to attack English soldiers after a quarrel and was consequently imprisoned. O'Neill's wife made a deal with Scots aristocrat Hugh Montgomery to give him half of O'Neill's lands if Montgomery could get a royal pardon for O'Neill. Montgomery obtained the pardon but King James I divided the land in three, with the area from Killyleagh to Bangor going to another Scot, James Hamilton, later 1st Viscount Claneboye. A map of Killyleagh from 1625 showed the castle as having a single tower on the south side of a residence. In about 1625 Hamilton moved from Bangor to Killyleagh Castle, where he built the courtyard walls. It has been the home of the Hamilton family ever since.
Viscount Claneboye's son, James Hamilton, 1st Earl of Clanbrassil, built the second tower. He supported the Stuart monarch Charles I of England and the castle was besieged in 1649 by Oliver Cromwell's forces who sailed gunboats into Strangford Lough and blew up the gatehouse. The Earl fled, leaving behind his wife and children. Parliament fined him for the return of the castle and his land.
The 1st Earl's son, Henry Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Clanbrassil, rebuilt the castle in 1666. He erected the north tower and built (or perhaps restored) the long fortified bawn (wall) in the front of the castle. The 2nd Earl's castle is mostly what remains today.
In 1667 the 2nd Earl married Lady Alice Moore, daughter of the Earl of Drogheda, and their only child died in infancy. Lady Alice discovered that her father-in-law, the 1st Earl of Clanbrassil, had stated in his will that should Henry die without issue the estate should be divided between five Hamilton cousins, the eldest sons of his five uncles. She destroyed the will and had her husband make his own will in 1674, leaving the estate to her. Henry died of poisoning in 1675, then Lady Alice died in 1677, leaving the estate to her brother. The cousins, however, were aware of the 1st Earl's will and pursued their rights as inheritors. The matter was concluded 20 years later when a copy of the original will was discovered. By then, the cousins were all dead. The last to die was James Hamilton of Neilsbrook, County Antrim, son of Archibald Hamilton, the next brother of James Hamilton, 1st Viscount Claneboye. James Hamilton of Neilsbrook had been confident of a settlement in his favour and had bequeathed the estate to be divided in two, with one half going to his daughter Anne Stevenson, née Hamilton, and the other half to his younger brothers Gawn and William Hamilton. In 1697 the probate court divided the castle, with Gawn and William gaining the main house and the two towers and their niece Anne receiving the bawn and gate house. Gawn and William had to open a new entrance on the north side in order to enter their castle.
William died without children in 1716 and the castle passed to successive generations of Gawn Hamilton's descendants. Gawn's great-grandson Archibald Hamilton Rowan, an Irish nationalist of the United Irishmen, lived in the castle as one of his homes between 1806 and 1834 after his return from exile in America.
Hamilton Rowan's grandson, Archibald Rowan-Hamilton, and his wife employed architect Sir Charles Lanyon from 1850 to renovate the castle, creating its romantic silhouette with the addition of the turrets.
James Hamilton of Neilsbrook's daughter Anne married Hans Stevenson and her estate passed to her son James Stevenson, then to his daughter Dorcas, later Dorcas Blackwood, 1st Baroness Dufferin and Claneboye (1726–1807), and on to Dorcas's great-grandson Frederick Temple Blackwood, 5th Baron Dufferin and Claneboye (1826–1902). In 1860 the 5th Baron gave the bawn and gate house to the Hamiltons and commissioned a replacement gate house to better match the main castle.
The castle came under attack by the Irish Republican Army during the troubles of the 1920s.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.