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According to a book entitled "Limerick the Rich Land" by Sean Spellissy, it states that Castle Oliver derived its original name of Otway's Rock or castle from the Irish Cloch an Otbhaidhigh after an Anglo-Norman family who settled there soon after the Invasion. This was later Anglicised to Cloghnotefoy, Cloghanodfoy, Clonodfoy or Cloghnodfoy and a house of that name, Clonodfoy House, was erected here before the present Gothic-style structure was built. Castle-na-Doon, the seat of the Roches until they were ousted by the Fitzharris family was the oldest edifice on this site. Sir Edmund Fitzharris was the owner of an old ruined house, bawn, stable, orchard and garden here in 1654. This was described in 1655 as a bawn with a crenellated wall and four turrets with conical roofs at the angle.

The first of the Oliver family of whom we have any definite record of living at Castle Oliver was Captain Robert Oliver. On the left is a picture of the original portrait of him at Blarney House. There is also another portrait across the entryway, of another man who also looks similar to Captain Robert Oliver, but with brown hair. Both are in cavalier armour with lace cravats with big bows and long ends. It is difficult to say whether they are portraits of the same man or of two brothers. No one is certain and we may never know if they were brothers or, in fact, the same man.

Captain Oliver, who was an officer in Cromwell’s army for the reduction of Ireland in 1649, was granted, by the Act of Settlement of 1666, 24 townlands in the Barony of Coshlea, County Limerick, and 19 in the Barony of Clanmorris, County Kerry. He was known as Robin Rhu, or Roux, doubtless on account of his red hair. He was born about 1593 in Kent, England. Immediately after he had received the house and some of the lands of Sir Fitzharris, Captain Oliver began his efforts to secure his position in southeast Limerick. His first step was to take over the seat in Parliament held by Fitzharris. On May 8, 1661 Oliver was elected a Member of Parliament for County Limerick. Being a soldier by profession and a man of years when he entered Parliament, Oliver made little impression on the House. His task after he assumed the seat in 1661 was to establish his family in Clonodfoy House.

The expansion of the power of his family he entrusted to his descendants. In the Earl of Orrery’s "State Letters" (near the end of Vol. I) are several letters from Captain Oliver and his wife, Bridget, relating to a plot to overthrow the Government of Charles II, and restore a Puritan àegime, with "a sober and painful ministry," which was revealed to Mrs. Oliver by one of the conspirators. The date of the Letters is February 1665. In reference to them, Lord Orrery, in one of his despatches, speaks of Captain Oliver as "a stout and honest man".

There is still in existence a curiously-worded letter from Captain Oliver to Sir Richard Aldworth of Newmarket Court, dated 22nd February, 1676, describing a thunderstorm which had partially wrecked the house at Cloghanodfoy, a few nights before. It mentions that there were about sixty people, including servants, staying there at the time; amongst others, Lord and Lady Baltimore, Lord Buttevant, and a Mr. Fitzgerald. Thus far, there appears to be no record of the date of Captain Robert Oliver’s death; but his Will was dated 5th February 1678-9, and proved 13th May, 1679.

Robert Oliver, on his death, was succeeded by his son Charles (1646-1715) shown on the left. His career seems to have been but a shadow of that of his father. His father lost his seat in Parliament in 1689 and at this time also Charles was brought to trial for high treason. Obviously the changing tide of affairs in England with the Catholic King James on the throne and then the Williamite struggle in Ireland had its effect on the family. Their loyalty was inevitably questioned in this changing situation and in all probability Charles tried to content himself in building up his estate quietly rather than becoming involved in the politics of the time.

However, in 1703, three years before his death, Charles regained the seat in Parliament and so set the stage for a century of Oliver dominance of the Borough of Kilmallock. By the time of his death the Oliver family were firmly established in County Limerick and their authority was gradually becoming unquestionable.

Charles was succeeded in the family estate by his son Robert (1671-1738) (shown on the left). However in the election of 1713 Robert lost his father’s seat and did not regain it until 1715 when he was elected to Parliament for County Limerick. Robert retained this seat in the election of 1717. In the election of 1727 he changed his seat to the Borough of Kilmallock and in the election of 1747 was succeeded by Philip Oliver ( - 1769).

Ten years later Silver Oliver joined him on the second Kilmallock seat. He held this seat until 1768 when Thomas Maunsell and Mr. Wyndham Quin took it over and Silver Oliver was elected for County Limerick. He was reelected in June 1776 to the same seat, for the last time. In the elections of 1783 and 1790 no member of the Oliver family was returned for any of the seats in County Limerick. However in 1797 Charles Silver Oliver was elected for County Limerick and Silver Oliver for the Borough of Kilmallock.

Silver Oliver settled a colony of Palatines (Protestant refugees from the German Palatinate of the Rhine) on his estate sometime before 1759. In the village of Glenosheen ornate little estate cottages were built for the Palatines. The Palatines who settled on the Oliver estate were given holdings ranging from 13 to 30 acres in extent, and were charged two-thirds of the rent payable by others. As well, they had houses built for them and were given leases for three lives. It was an attractive package, and in the period 1759/60, it brought 27 families to southeast Limerick.

The last member to be elected to Parliament was Charles Silver Oliver (1763-1817), for the last time in 1801, after the Act of Union. Modern historians of this period and area of Irish history like to take the Borough of Kilmallock as an example of how seats in Parliament became the possession of a particular family or of the political gentry of the time. The real impact of this only comes into force when you consider that members of the Oliver family held a seat in Parliament for 117 of the 140 years between 1661, when they came to County Limerick and 1801, when the Act of Union came into force.

It is also well to remember that they also held other key positions in the county at the same time. For example, members of the family were High Sheriffs for the years 1692, 1764, 1791 and 1854. In short, therefore, their influence was the dominant one in the eastern part of the county for a century and a half.

By the end of the eighteenth century the power of the independent country gentlemen of Ireland had reached a very high point. In most areas of life in their localities their word was law and their power to impose their way almost limitless. Many of their dealings were both unjust and unacceptable by modern standards. In Kilfinane there is a stone monument containing a carved head. It was put there in 1998 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the beheading of the highly respected Patrick ‘Staker’ Wallis (1733-1798). Wallis was a small farmer who joined the United Irishmen and was chosen as commanding officer for the "division of Moorestwon." Wallis subscribed to the movement's objectives that all Irishmen should be free. Wallis's views began to annoy the local landlord Captain Charles Silver Oliver, who believed that his life was under threat from the middle-aged farmer. And so, on a foggy March morning in 1798, Oliver and a troop of Yeomanry rode out from Kilfinane and headed northwards for Tiermore. Wallis saw them coming and fled into the Red Bog. The yeomanry force included some local men who had been pressed into service by Oliver because they had good horses. Oliver now ordered these local men to ride after Wallis across the treacherous surface of the bog. A man named Michael Walsh had the best horse and soon found himself gaining rapidly on Wallis. Walsh, however, had no wish to capture the fugitive; at the very first opportunity he jumped his valuable horse into a bog hole and only barely escaped being sucked down into the mire himself. It was another local man, Roger Sheehy who finally caught up with Wallis and held him until the remainder of the party arrived on the scene. Wallis was taken and when he refused to talk, Oliver had him tied to the heels of a cart and flogged up and down the main street of Kilfinane. Wallis, still refusing to inform on his friends, was hanged a few days later. He was then beheaded, and his head was set on a spike above the market house in the square. A monument stands in the Main Street to commemorate his life and death.

This was not an especially unusual thing to happen in those days, but understandably it made Captain Oliver very unpopular. In their day the word of the Olivers was law; and it would be no exaggeration to say that the Olivers were harsh and despotic in wielding the power at their disposal. The last quarter of the 18th century saw the power of the Olivers reach its height. They dominated the military and parliamentary scenes in southeast Limerick completely. By that time they were regarded as the owners of two seats in Parliament, and made vast profits from these. They also had command of the Volunteer and Yeomanry forces, and so to a very large extent, had control of law and order in the area.

In 1776 an English agriculturalist and topographer, Arthur Young, made a tour of Ireland and visited Castle Oliver and its owner, Silver Oliver. His commentary on the man and the place speaks for itself: "Castle Oliver is a place almost entirely of Mr. Oliver’s creation; from a house surrounded with cabins and rubbish he has fixed it in a fine lawn, surrounded by a good wood. The park he has improved on an excellent plan. In the park is a glen, an English mile long, winding in a pleasing manner with much wood hanging on the bank." Young further remarks: "In the house are several fine pictures, particularly five pieces by de Ricci, Venus and Aeneas, Apollo and Pan, Venus and Achilles and Phyrrus and Andromocha, by Lazzerini; and the Rape of Lapithi, by the Centaurs."

Silver Oliver’s death left his eldest son Richard Oliver ( - 1843), a wealthy man. The Oliver-Gascoignes, as they now called themselves, went to live in England. This change of residence came about when Richard Oliver inherited the estates of his father-in-law, Sir Thomas Gascoigne at Parlington in Yorkshire in 1812. Richard married an English girl, and through her, eventually inherited estates and coalmines in Yorkshire. They had four children, two died, leaving Mary ( - 1891) and Elisabeth (1812-1893) to inherit the Anglo Irish Estates. In 1837 the estate consisted of 20,000 acres and reported to be in ruins. It was during these early years of the 19th century that Clonodfoy House fell into the careless hands of the Oliver steward Galloway, whose ghost is said to still haunt the demesne. He makes his nocturnal strolls between the two gate lodges.

In 1845 the sisters combined their resources to build the New Castle Oliver, up the hill from where their grandfather’s house, Clonodfoy, had stood. Mary and Elisabeth chose the style of Scottish Baronial, a style popularized by Prince Albert, husband to Queen Victoria. The plans were only a few inches in size, and giving the uses of most of the rooms, are signed by the architect and dated 24th June 1845. They are in the Manuscript room of the national library in Dublin.

The castle is built of red sandstone which is native to the area and was designed by G. Fowler Jones, an architect from York. The stable block of the older house was retained but the rest of it was demolished to make way for the present house with its massive keep-like tower, steeped gables and battlemented turret. One source states that work commenced in 1846 although other sources claim a date of 1850. The style is an Irish version of Scottish Baronial with a massive tower like a castle keep, many stepped gables, oriel windows and an elaborate entrance porch or porte-cochere.

It contains 54 rooms (of which 41 are bedrooms), many large staterooms including two ballrooms, dining hall, library, sitting room, servants quarters and stables. Its rooms are in the traditional style of a large house and its front hall very imposing. It reportedly has the largest wine cellar in Ireland (50,000 bottles capacity). There was a novel layout formation for the trees based on the battle positions of the Battle of Waterloo. It has a massive tower like a keep, and many stepped gables and corbelled oriels; also a tall battlemented turret that formerly had a pointed roof. On the entrance front is a gabled porch-tower, carried on battered piers and segmental-pointed arches to form a porte-cochere. A terrace with a pierced “Jacobethan” parapet adorned with heraldic beasts runs along the two principal fronts. At the back of the castle is a long service range, enclosing a court. The framework of the high-pitched roofs is of iron, which would have made the castle very much in advance of its time.

On the hill above the castle is a Gothic "eyecatcher", dating from the days of the earlier house and known as Oliver’s Folly. This is a small gateway tower which was erected by Silver Oliver during the 18th century.

Elisabeth, and very likely Mary, moved into Castle Oliver in 1848 or 1849 and busied themselves with adorning the interiors, probably dividing their time between their new home and their other estate in England, until the following year when Mary married. A few years later Elisabeth also married the cousin of her sister’s husband. Elisabeth’s husband, Frederick Mason Trench, inherited the title from his uncle in 1840 and later became Lord Ashtown.

Both sisters were two very remarkable women. Of great compassion and civic spirit they did their utmost to relieve the distress of people in the Kilfinnane area during the Great Irish Famine of the years following 1846. It was not only that they spent every penny that they could get, even selling the collections of many years, sometimes, as it would seem, far below their value, in order to feed the starving people; but they gave ungrudgingly their whole time and labour and thoughts to the same object, and saved many lives.

There is a beautiful stained glass window in the nearby Kilflynn Church dedicated to the memory of Lady Ashtown. The inscription reads: "Erected in loving memory of Elizabeth Baroness Ashtown of Clonodfoy who died at Montreux Switzerland Feby 23 1893 aged 80 years by her special desires she was buried where she died. Her loss is deeply mourned in this parish where she resided for over 50 years and ever most generously ministered to the wants of all those who were in need sickness or distress. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord." In 2004 Lotherton Hall held an exhibit showing the lives of these two incredible women.

Both sisters were also both highly artistic. They made a beautiful stained glass window. This was a most important example of its time and quite rare (most of these are only found in churches or public buildings). It depicted scenes from the life of St. Patrick and was apparently not only designed but executed by both sisters.

Elizabeth and Mary also painted panels on doors designed stencils and wall coverings, and probably fabrics as well. Some of their work still survives at Castle Oliver. Lady Elisabeth Ashtown, as she was known, died on the 23rd February 1893, at the age of 81, having survived her husband by thirteen years. Having had no children together, Elisabeth left Castle Oliver to her husband’s grandson from his first marriage, the Honorable William Cosby Trench (1869-1944). From that time onwards the Trench family occupied the Castle.

In about 1975 the last descendent of the Trench family left Castle Oliver, and it fell into further disrepair. The estate reduced from 7,142 acres to just 15 acres. The present owner of Castle Oliver painstakingly refurbished Castle Oliver and it is a present-day vacation destination resort which is presently For Sale. The estate has 14 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, and six living rooms. 400 panes of glass were installed during their first week of occupancy in Castle Oliver!

Click here for additional photographs which clearly show some of the marvelous improvements made to the exterior of Castle Oliver.

Click here for a personal tour of Castle Oliver. You can also click here to purchase a newly-published book about Castle Oliver.

SOURCES: “Ardpatrick County Limerick” by John Fleming,Chapter 6, “The Olivers” pages 49-64.

“Burke’s Guide to County Houses Vol I – Ireland”, Mark Bence Jones, published 1978, page 74.

“Castles of Ireland” by Brian de Breffny published in 1977, Thames & Hudson London page 84.

“Irish Palatine Association Journal” December 1996, page 19.

“Limerick The Rich Land” by Sean Spellissy and O’Brien”, published 1989, pages 200-201.

“The Olivers of Cloghanodfoy and their Descendants” written in 1904 by Major-General John Ryder Oliver, C.M.G. R.A.

“Tour in Ireland 1776-1779”, by Arthur Young.

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This page was updated March 5, 2013