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The power of the O’Neill chieftains in Tyrone came to an end in 1607.
The power of the O’Neill chieftains in Tyrone came to an end in 1607. Defeated in battle by English forces and fearful for their future, Hugh O’Neill and his allies fled Ireland in what has become known as the Flight of the Earls. Their lands were declared forfeit to the crown and were in turn granted to English and Scottish gentry as part of the Plantation of Ulster. The lands around Newtownstewart were granted to a James Clapham but were soon sold to Sir Robert Newcomen. Under the plantation scheme new landowners were required to build a castle on their estate. Newcomen began work in 1615 and by 1622 the castle was described as…
“a castle of lime and stone, 4 stories high. Around it is a Bawn of lime and stone, 81 feet long, 66 feet long and 9 feet high, with 2 flankers.”
In 1629 the lands and castle were sold to Sir William Stewart, of Newtown Stewart in Galloway, Scotland, who renamed the town after his family and birthplace.
Today only its south-west and north-west walls and a little of the south-east return survive. The most distinctive feature is the triple gables to the street, with the tall chimney-stack over the smaller centre gable. The stepped gables are a Scottish feature while the 8-pointed, star-shaped brick chimney-stack is derived from England. Half of a fine door survives near the south corner with a frustrating half date, 16.., on the remaining stone. Other features include the mullioned windows, clearly domestic and not defensive, fireplaces, a circular projecting stair tower, and a rectangular tower at the north east corner, perhaps a flanker tower on the bawn wall. The archways in the interior remain from its use as the town market place in the C19th. The castle was burned by Sir Phelim O’Neill in 1641 and again by King James in 1689, on his retreat from Londonderry.
Newtownstewart Castle has also the distinction of being the site of a significant Bronze Age discovery : An intact double cist grave and capstone.
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