Bagenal Castle

Newry and Mourne District Council plan to relocate the existing museum to a recently re-discovered tower-house in 2003.

Nicholas Bagenal was granted the lands and rights of Newry’s Cistercian Abbey in 1550. He is described as living in the Abbot’s house, which he either renovated or built a new tower house.

The elevation and floor plans of this building survive in the London Public Record’s Office and hopefully with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund the castle will be restored to its former glory.

The tower with the spiral staircase shown in the 1570 plan was removed circa 1780. It is planned to restore this tower and other features. The nineteenth century building on the left hand side (the former McCann’s Bakery) will be retained.

The rediscovery of Bagnal’s Castle offers an important opportunity for Newry to recognise this part of the town as its oldest. Here, the Cistercian daughter house of Mellifont was founded in 1157 on land granted by charter from Maurice O’Loughlin. The lands held by the Abbey were extensive including lands at Cooley and Carlingford.

In 1543 during the Dissolution, the Abbey was converted by petition to a collegiate church for lay clergy. However by 1548, the properties were confiscated for the Crown and the new tenant was to be Nicholas Bagenal, a native of Staffordshire. He appears to have come to Ireland after being implicated in a murder. After acting for some time as agent for the Crown in infiltrating the O’Neill clan, he received a general pardon in 1543. In 1547 he was appointed Marshall of Elizabeth’s army in Ireland and in 1550 became a member of the Irish Privy Council. That same year he was given a lease ‘of the college or house of Newry’ where he set up a garrison at this important interface between the anglicised Leinster ‘Pale’ and an Ulster still under the control of the O’Neills.

New locationIn 1552 he became Knight Marshall and was clearly a valued commander who held on to his lands in spite of incursions by Shane O’Neill and a deprivation of his office under Mary Queen of Scots. Lord Sydney restored him as Marshall in 1568 and he was succeeded by his son Henry in 1590. At the battle of Yellowford in 1598 Henry was killed during a skirmish with Hugh O’Neill. Ironically Nicholas’ daughter Mabel had eloped with and married Hugh O’Neill in 1591. This is the subject of Brian Friel’s play ‘Making History’.

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