Built in two distinct phases in two different centuries by two people from opposite cultures—Irish and English—Parke’s Castle is a magnificent example of lifestyle and architecture. Once a stronghold for the ruling Gaelic family of the O’Rourkes, it stood on the existing site in the 16th century, its large tower house a symbol of strength and power.
As ruler of Briefne, Brian O’Rourke once sheltered a shipwrecked Spanish Armada officer, Francisco de Cuella and his crew for several months, sharing the family’s top floor kitchen and sleeping areas. O’Rourke, though, was eventually summoned by Queen Elizabeth 1 and charged with high treason for harbouring the enemy. He was summarily executed, hanged not by a rope, but at his request, by a twig.
According to the Annals of the Four Masters, his death was “one of the mournful stories of the Irish for no one excelled O’Rourke in hospitality, giving rewards, in troops, in comeliness, and in battle.” O’Rourke’s hospitality lives on in the Irish tradition because of a sumptuous banquet he held every year in Dromahair. It became legendary through an Irish poem of the 1700s and was put to music by blind harpist, O’Carolan, then finally immortalized by Jonathan Swift.
After O’Rourke’s death, his land and holdings were confiscated and redistributed during the Plantation of Ulster. New owner Robert Parke, a member of English Parliament, claimed title to the castle and grounds, immediately fortifying the outside protective bawns. During his years, structural changes altered the face of the original castle. The Round Tower was demolished but the walled enclosure was made even stronger (to keep out the fiercely angry Irish). Parke probably demolished the round tower because the stones provided a ready made quarry for his own building purposes. A manor house built with attached gatehouse formed the domestic quarters. Two Scottish-style turrets were built and positioned overlooking the famous Lough Gill and nearby Isle of Innisfree.
The entrance to Parke’s Castle is located in a three-story gatehouse built of limestone with cut stone mullioned windows on the upper floors and a diamond shaped chimney that forms a noticeable silhouette when seen from the road.
In 1980, archaeological evidence revealed the foundation of Parke’s Castle which stood wihint the enclosure and included a Blacksmith’s Forge, a Sally Port (for quick escape to the lake below), and a sweathouse. Recovered artefacts include pottery, mugs, bowls, hairpins and a pewter maidenhead spoon. But perhaps the greatest finds were the discoveries of the cobbled courtyard of Brian O’Rourke’s original Round Tower house and the remains of the bawn walls.
Today, Parke’s Manor House has been restored to its original state in immaculate detail. Knowledgeable tour guides tell the stories of the twos: two men, two structures, two cultures. An artfully rendered three-dimensional scene behind glass renders the likenesses of the Parke family going about everyday living. It is a stunning testament to the historical accuracy, fine attention to detail, and labor-intensive preservation of the noted Parke Castle.
Touring this gem is like taking a step back in time in a finely crafted, historically accurate slice of life from two separate centuries. A Must See.