Kanturk Castle was built for MacDonogh McCarthy, Lord of Duhallow, at the end of the 16th Century. Known as “The Old Court” the castle is reputed to be the finest built by a celtic family in Ireland. It was never besieged or damaged by cannons. The castle was built at a time of peace and in a beautiful, but not strategically important, location.
MacAuliffe, seer and step-brother of MacDonogh predicted that the castle would never be completed, that it was “…too fine a home for crows”. The castle was never fully finished but it is reputed that the family were in residence until 1641. On the construction of the battlements the English Privy Council ordered that the work be stopped.
At one time the castle was known as Carrig-na-Shane-Saor, the Rock of John the Mason, and it is reputed that it was built by seven stonemasons all called John.
Tradition holds that there is blood in the mortar. This has been taken to mean that many died in the building of the castle. Some say that passers by were recruited to work on the castle and once the slave labourers had dropped dead of exhaustion their bodies were disposed of within the castle walls.
Much as these tales conjure dramatic and terrifying history, it is possible that “blood in the mortar” can be taken quite literally as a reference to the tradition of strengthening lime by the addition of animal blood.
In 1632 the McCarthy’s were in financial difficulty due to their involvement in various rebellions and the expenditures on the castle and so a mortgage was granted by the Percivals, the Earls of Edgmont. In 1666 the castle and several thousand acres of land passed into the hands of the Earls of Edgmont, the final figure owing on the mortgage was £2500. The castle was given to the National Trust of England by the Edgmonts in 1900 and its ownership returned to Ireland in 1998.