A 13th CENTURY castle in Baltimore has become the focal point for new heritage walking tours of the village.
Donna O’Driscoll – daughter of Patrick and Bernie McCarthy who bought the 805-year-old ruined edifice in 1997 and spent eight years restoring it to its former glory – said there’s lots of interest from people who are looking for things to do outdoors.
The guided tour of Baltimore village brings to life its fascinating history from its pre-Christian ringforts, to its Norman settlers, O’Driscoll Clan, and as a busy fishing port.
For many, however, it is the pirate raids of the 17th century that people find most compelling. As a history graduate, Bernie McCarthy has written two books on the subject, which are available in local bookstores.
The castle also contains numerous artefacts. It even has replicas of the gruesome manacles that the Algerian pirates used to shackle the people they stole from the village.
Visitors to the castle can view these when Covid-19 restrictions allow.
The O’Driscoll Castle in Baltimore was once a stronghold for an entire clan.
When it fell into ruin in the last 17th century it seemed as its glory days were over, but the vision of Patrick and Bernie has recreated something remarkable. They restored the 13th century Norman Hall House, and created a beautiful family home into the bargain.
Since 2005, the castle was restored to such a high standard that they succumbed to public interest and began welcoming visitors keen to walk in the footsteps of Norman invaders and Irish clan chieftains.
Long known as an O’Driscoll stronghold, it had been nearly 400 years since the O’Driscoll clan occupied the castle.
Patrick’s mother, Rita, was an O’Driscoll, and now his daughter, Donna, is married to an O‘Driscoll too.
Although originally from Yorkshire, her husband, Paul, is no stranger to Baltimore, having first visited nearly 20 years ago.
He came in search of his Irish roots. He found them in nearby Drimoleague, and, in 2015, had the honour of being appointed chieftain of the O’Driscoll Clan.
Donna and Paul are hoping that the Covid-19 guidelines will allow socially-distanced visits this summer.
‘The castle is unique in that it is one of only a few 13th century buildings in Ireland used as a private residence,’ said Donna, ‘and visitors get to share in the unique experience of what it was like to have lived in medieval times.’
It was as a response to the level of interest in the castle and local heritage, that Paul and Donna recently launched their Heritage Walking Tours of Baltimore.
Starting at the castle, visitors are taken on a guided tour around Baltimore village, where they learn of the maritime adventures of the O’Driscoll clan and Algerian pirates, life in nineteenth century Baltimore, and how the fishing industry helped to shape the development of the village.
The castle – which has attracted thousands of visitors over the last 15 years – is also increasingly in demand as an intimate location for weddings.
‘Bookings are up,’ according to Donna, ‘because people are drawn to the castle as a unique and historic venue for small ceremonies and celebrations.’