Pete Jonno visits an important site in Irish military history
No tour around the Western Shores of Lough Neagh is complete without a look at Mountjoy Castle. It’s a place that can be easily missed, competing for a drivers attention with glorious views of Lough Neagh, as you pass through the village of Brocagh, close to Stewartstown in County Tyrone.
The ruined castle sits on a small hill overlooking the Lough and the village, boasting fine views across the fields to the water’s edge.
Built between 1602 and 1605 Mountjoy Castle is testament to one of many turbulent periods of Irish History. Although located deep in the territory of Hugh O’Neill, the native Irish leader and rebellious opponent of Queen Elizabeth I, the castle was a British construction erected in the wake of a tactical retreat by O’Neillites.
Indeed, the first fort in the area was built by O’Neill and called Fuath na nGall, which translates as ‘Hatred of Foreigners’ (but don’t worry, it’s a bit friendlier there now!). Upon capturing the Fort, Lord Deputy Mountjoy set about the construction of the current castle.
The original building had an eight sided rampart and was sufficient to house 1000 soldiers and 100 horses. The current ruins give a sense of the original castle and of just how imposing and impregnable it must have been 400 years ago.
Of particular architectural interest here are the distinctive red clay bricks, manufactured locally at Coalisland. A recent renovation project has seen many of these bricks refurbished and returned to their former glory.
The importance of Mountjoy Castle is evidenced by the fact that it was a prized asset for both Irish and English armies, being captured and recaptured by both 1641, 1642 and 1645. King William II even used it for his armies in 1690.