County Galway in western Ireland is popular with tourists all year round. But the Connemara National Park, picturesque villages and rugged Atlantic coastline aren’t the only visitor attractions in the region. Less well known are three grand estates, located close together, each presided over by mansions that have fallen into dereliction in modern times. Abandoned for reasons ranging from gambling debt to civil unrest, Rinville House, Ardfry House and Tyrone House each have a fascinating tale to tell.
Rinville House is barely recognisable as a grand home beneath decades of foliage. Home to the Athy family – one of the original tribes of Galway – as early as 1814, the ivy-covered ruin hardly betrays its important past at the centre of a 1,400 acre estate. Completely abandoned today, Rinville House is guarded by a deserted gatehouse. Part of the former estate, which includes a graveyard, is now a public park administered by Galway County Council.
According to Abandoned Ireland, Ardfry House was built in 1770 by Joseph Blake, who later became Lord Wallscourt. The striking Gothic features were added in 1826, but the family abandoned the mansion after the fourth Earl’s wife gambled away their fortune, even stripping lead from the roof of estate buildings to fund her addiction. Ardfry House’s contents were plundered, although a grand piano was ultimately recovered from a barber’s shop.
Eventually, the Earl’s three granddaughters – who lived in a nearby outbuilding – reclaimed the ruin and 33 acres of the original estate. The mansion received a face lift for the Paul Newman film The MacKintosh Man (1973), only to be deliberately set alight during a sequence that destroyed many of its fine features. Close by are the remains of an earlier castle also owned by the Blake family – another of Galway’s 14 original tribes. The good news is that Ardfry House may yet rise from the ashes.
Arguably the most impressive of Galway’s three great abandoned mansions, Tyrone House near the village of Kilcolgan has an altogether darker history. Built in 1779, the beautifully imposing structure was used by the Black and Tans during the Irish War of Independence, and was ultimately destroyed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
Built on a promontory overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Tyrone House was designed to dominate the surrounding land and sea. Originally owned by Christopher St. George, the abandoned house was acquired by the Georgian Society in 1972 but remains a ruin to this day. As it stands, Tyrone remains one of Galway’s finest abandoned buildings, no doubt popular with local urban explorers.
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