HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW IT?
Renewable power, hidden lakes and tropical fruit! Many readers will be familiar with the fantastic playground, wooden giants and scenic walkways to be discovered in Rossmore Park. However, there’s even more to learn about this historic landscape if you have a closer look. Exploring and enjoying our own localities is an important aspect of the journey towards environmental sustainability: once we understand and are aware of what’s around us, we are more inclined to protect and preserve it. As an added bonus, you might be able to motivate the kids to go exploring (beyond the playground) if you promise hot chocolate to whoever can find the most points of interest, of which there are many. Dermot McNally takes us on a tour.
8 LAKES – CAN YOU FIND THEM?
There are a total of 8 lakes located within the park grounds. Nestled alongside Killyconnigan and Mullaghmatt, the Twin Lakes (or Twin Sisters Lake) are two separate loughs located in Rossmore joined by a small waterway. Barn Hill Lake, located off the main car park, has a small picnic area built overlooking the waters. The remains of the building commonly known as “the Barn” is in fact listed in old maps as the “Pavillion”. The Castle Lake is below the site of the old Castle itself and might be familiar to readers as being close to the public toilets. It’s surrounded on several sides by the tropical Rhododendron which comes alive with insect activity during summer flowering.
Next we have Priestfield Lough. You’ll find this lake by following the steep hill towards the Castle ruins, and then veering to the first right (but keep left at the black steel obelisk at a “Y” in the centre of the path). The beech-dominated forest on one side of the lake comes alive with bluebells in the springtime. The remaining three lakes are on the Cootehill Rd side of the forest: Ardaghy Lough is tucked in behind the ruins of Lady Rossmore’s Cottage but a pathway goes close by. Bartle’s Lough, the smallest of all the lakes, is across the road from the same ruined cottage: winter time is best to spot it when the green growth has died down. The final lake is called Steenson’s Lough – you will have to walk up into the forest towards the grounds of the Rossmore Golf Club to see it.
LARGEST LANDSCAPED PARKLAND IN EUROPE
It’s worth noting that while lakes naturally appear in the hollows of Monaghan’s drumlins, many of the lakes above were man made, dug out by hand in the 1800’s. These were created as part of an effort to create one of the largest “landscaped parklands in Europe” in its era. Other notable landscaped features include the Yew Walk (not far from the walled gardens) and specimen trees throughout the woods such as the mighty Californian Redwood along the main entrance road. Smaller kids might find it interesting to be told that the large earthen terraces up to the castle belong to a sleeping giant under the hill; in truth they all were dug out to create a “wow” factor for visitors to this plush seat of wealth and power. While discussing large tracts of land, I should note the generosity of the late Paddy Rossmore, the last heir to the estate. He donated a landholding of 2,300 acres that straddles Counties Monaghan and Tyrone, to the charity An Taisce so that it might be preserved for posterity as a public amenity.
Have you ever seen the Secret Garden behind the ruins of Lady Rossmore’s Cottage? Lady Rossmore’s Cottage was burned out on the day that hunger striker Bobby Sands died in 1981. This is one of the great tragedies of the Park as the cottage contained priceless records containing details of tenants and their families dating back centuries and which had been promised to archives. Rossmore owned land across the county and beyond.
This cottage is where the last “Lord”, aka Paddy Rossmore, occasionally stayed when in Monaghan (and where he romanced the singer Marianne Faithful in the 1970s). If you venture towards the back of this cottage, you might find a sunken garden. You’ll also have to use a fair bit of imagination as the Gardens have long stopped being maintained and are infested with Cherry Laurel. This sunken garden was originally excavated as a gravel pit and then later turned into a garden. Being dug down (over 25ft in parts) below the surrounding land gave this garden a unique microclimate, and it’s said that several unique species were imported and planted within it. A sluice existed at the side of Ardaghy Lough to release water down through part of this sunken garden itself, and on towards Bartle’s Lough. Speaking of secret places, have you ever gone down to the mouth of the tunnel (located under the steep hill up to the castle): you have to climb over the stone wall on the right hand side of the path up to the castle ruins and search along the embankment. The tunnel led to what some kids called the “catacombs”, a series of cellars under the very site of the castle itself. I understand that it was blocked off in the 1980’s because of safety concerns.
Several ancient monuments are spread through Rossmore. How many can you get to? If you were to walk to the Barnhill lake and turn up left into the Oak forest and past the barn, you might eventually find your way to a clearing at the top of the hill. This is the remains of a Rath, or ring fort. Another rath or raised earthen ring fort exists in the forests behind the Roddy Den Drum wooden giant. You need to cross the open field behind Roddy: the ring fort is on the upper side of the field. The map of the park available at notice boards lists several “points of interest” and each of these refers to archaeological points of note: one is the remains of a court tomb and another is a souterrain, located overlooking Priestfield Lake. A souterrain was a hidden cave or pit sometimes located under the floor of a shelter or near a ring fort – it was useful for both hiding valuables as well as keeping certain foodstuffs cooler during hot periods.
Hopefully, improved signage to these curiosities will be provided in due course, as part of the improved tourism infrastructure Monaghan Council is developing. If you’ve a child interested in treasure-hunting, it might be worth mentioning that a priceless gold lunula, or neck bracelet, was discovered in the park c.1930, and is now displayed in the National Museum, Dublin.
Back when the average Monaghan family was still relying on candle or tilly lamp come nightfall, the Rossmore estate had its own electricity supply, generated from renewable sources! This was facilitated by an on-site micro hydroelectric scheme, where water was taken from the weir (found along the main river through the park) and then piped at a gentle slope to a reservoir, the remains of which can be seen in the forest.
The water was then directed steeply downhill to the turbine which generated electricity, and the DC current was cabled to the castle. They also had pumped water up to the castle. Earlier I mentioned a large black painted steel obelisk that stands at a “Y” in one of the pathways: this was apparently a cooling chamber used in the Gas Works. Yes, they had a gasworks on the estate too, hence the name “Gasworks Woods” to the forest on the Threemilehouse side.
Rossmore Castle eventually developed a severe case of dry rot and the family abandoned the house in favour of Camla Vale, another nearby family mansion. It’s believed that the family took spores of the dry rot in their belongings from Rossmore and so, unfortunately, Camla also became afflicted with dry rot over time. The roof of Rossmore Castle was apparently removed to avoid the dreaded “rates” imposed by Government. In any case, both of these great houses fell into ruins and were eventually demolished. Locals say that much of the fine hand cut limestone from the building was simply dumped into The Castle Lake to save further costs of disposal. Over the years, the Rossmore family have donated lots of memorabilia from the castle to the Monaghan Museum, including the uilleann pipes which belonged to Henry Robert Rossmore, otherwise known as the 3rd Baron. Both the 2nd Baron and his brother were also noted as talented musicians.
Many of the Irish aristocracy built walled gardens for the growing of vegetables, and Rossmore Estate was no exception. Glasshouses were erected onto the large southern facing walls to help improve growing conditions. These walls were made of red brick, which absorbed the suns heat during the day and released it at night. It’s noted on the walls of the gardens at Crom Castle (Co Fermanagh) that they had large fuel burners heating their glasshouses to enable the growing of tropical fruits such as pineapple. It has also been said that the Rossmore’s tried likewise…
Rossmore Castle was formerly known as Cortolvin Hills in the 1830’s. My suspicion is that the name “Cortolvin Hills” was sidelined during one of the many renovations and extensions that took place on the building. It is said that the Rossmores and the Shirleys of Carrickmacross competed to have the largest room in County Monaghan. The Rossmores were also particularly proud of their tranquil Mausoleum and family graveyard situated in “Brown’s Wood”, beside its own waterfall. The family buried their pets in a small walled area near the castle and the walled gardens.
The horror movie ‘Shrooms’ was filmed in the castle grounds in 2007, and made $4.9 million at the box office. It follows the story of a group of students who go to the woods to get psychedelic mushrooms and end up being chased by a serial killer. Not one for the kids, I should add!
SPECIES IN THE PARK
Add a little challenge to your walk by trying to spot and identify different species of flora and fauna! The good news is that Red Squirrel and Woodpeckers are once again being regularly sighted in the woods. Keep an eye out for the colourful Jays that fly low through the woods – approximately the size of a Magpie, Jays love to feed on acorns. Five of Ireland’s seven species of bat are also to be found in the locality. Coillte manage the park for timber production, and you might be able to pick out some of the dominant conifers such as Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir, Norway Spruce and Larch. There’s a range of broadleaves with Beech, Sycamore and Oak being quite common. Look up “The Magical Fungi” on Facebook for fantastical pictures of the mushrooms found growing in the park.
For those with a deeper interest, old and new maps of Rossmore Park (and Ireland) can be accessed by visiting http://www.osi.ie. This free resource includes the “6 inch” maps drawn up between 1829 and 1841, as well as “Historic 25 inch” maps developed from 1897 to 1913. A trip to buildingsofireland.ie will lead you to a detailed map with links to sites of archaeological and historical interest, including many of those noted above.
There’s also lots of information to be found at the Monaghan Tourism website.