The O’Sullivan Curse and Puxley Manor
It’s known as Dunboy Castle, Puxley Castle, Puxley Manor…or Clonmere. When Daphne Du Maurier wrote Hungry Hill, she wrote about a family, their scandals and a house that now stands in ruins on the Beara Peninsula in Ireland. Honestly, I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t know it existed.
The Mister and I were back on the road, following the Wild Atlantic Way through the Peninsula when I made him stop the car for the 15th time.
“Is it another cow?”
“I saw a ruin, and you just can’t drive by a ruin.”
He turned the car around and pulled off the muddy track. After wandering around a bit, we saw a small, weathered sign mentioning Dunboy Castle, a short explanation of the Siege of Dunboy and a mention of Puxley Manor. Nothing explained the gatehouse ruins, so I chased down a man walking his dog who told me that the “Dunboy Estate” had the remains of the original Dunboy Castle, a castle keep often referred to as Puxley Castle and Puxley Manor/Mansion.
Confused? I was too. “Take the road down. Then you’ll understand.”
At the very end of the road to understanding, we found the remains of Dunboy Castle, a fortress belonging to the last Gaelic chieftain, Donal Cam O’Sullivan Bere. Donal O’Sullivan was a key figure in the Nine Year’s War against Elizabeth I, who was struggling for control of Ireland. She was not amused by the Irish chieftain and sent troops to crush O’Sullivan’s spirit and destroy his castle. The ensuing battle is known as the Siege of Dunboy.
For ten days in 1602, 143 men did their best to defend O’Sullivan’s castle as heavy guns pummeled the walls from across the water. Eventually, O’Sullivan’s men sent a messenger to discuss terms of a possible surrender. The messenger was promptly hung in full view of the 58 survivors hunkered down in the castle rubble. The men, realizing surrender was not an option, retreated to the castle cellar to ignite the remaining gunpowder. Their plot failed.
The English troops dragged survivors out of the cellar and hung them from the same tree in the market square. Donal O’Sullivan was elsewhere during the battle and survived, but the O’Sullivan clan was on the run, never to return to their castle home. In the 1700s, the government granted the O’Sullivan lands to the Puxley family. The O’Sullivans were outraged and foretold misery and bad luck to the interlopers. The legend of the O’Sullivan Curse was born.
- William Lawrence postcard of Puxley Manor, circa early 1900s.
In the beginning, the land seemed charmed, not cursed. The Puxleys took over the land and extended the castle keep that stood on the hill above the Dunboy Castle ruins. The Puxley family brought copper mining to the area and became quite wealthy as a result. The manor grew along with every Puxley generation until…the copper dried up and tragedy stuck the Puxley family. Henry Puxley was orchestrating a new addition to the Puxley Mansion when his wife died in childbirth. He was so distraught by her death, he packed his bags and left Ireland forever. The house was unfinished and left in the hands of caretakers.
The IRA, convinced the house was meant to house English troops, torched Puxley Manor in 1921. A firsthand account from the caretakers of Puxley Manor on the night the Manor burned…
“One night I was called and was shown a very large glow in the night-sky over the Castle about a mile away. The Rebels had burned down the Castle as they said they would. I was very, very sorry for all the lovely old silver, the beautiful glass, and splendid linen all being burnt, all those gorgeous statues and pictures, the wonderful drawing room all burning, for what? One can sometimes understand war, with all its horrors, but this seemed to me a very wanton thing to do. I firmly believe the Rebels were under the impression that the army were going to take over the Castle. If they had it would have saved it, I think, but either the owners would not give their consent or else the powers that be thought otherwise. I couldn’t understand.” From Wait and See (Michael Joseph, London 1921). Full account here.
photo via Peter Lausch @ www.lausch.com
photo via Peter Lausch @ www.lausch.com
The Puxley family took a small settlement and left the area for good. The gutted house went to the auction block in 1927 and sold to a local man who did his best to keep the property in the family and open to the public. Eventually, the cost of insurance became burdensome, and dreams for restoration and preservation faded away. The Dunboy Estate was put up for sale in 1999.
An investment company purchased the property and partnered with a luxury hotel group to restore the mansion and create a 6-star resort. The project involved archeologists, conservationists, engineers, preservationists and a host of other -ists.
Cows were moved from the ruined house to the fields; bats were relocated from one of the 64 chimneys to a £100,000 bat house, building stones were meticulously restored and copied. The hotel held a soft opening during the 2007 holidays. Rumor has it, the New Year’s party was spectacular.
And then… it all fell apart. The worldwide financial collapse sent the project into a tailspin. Construction stopped. Bills went unpaid. Hope for an economic boost was crushed. Puxley Manor, in all it’s restored glory, lies abandoned once again.
Things to Know About Visiting the Dunboy Castle, nr Castletown.
The Dunboy Estate is off the R572, past Castletown Bearhaven. Look for the ruins of a gatehouse on your left as you head West from Castletown. Take the narrow road past the houses all the way to the end to find the Dunboy Castle ruins. Backtrack up the road to see the restored Puxley Manor/Castle Hotel project.
The Manor grounds are completely surrounded by a 10-foot construction fence and cameras. Getting a photo involves determination, ninja climbing skills, and someone to drive your getaway car.
Daphne du Maurier’s Hungry Hill was based on the life of the Puxley family. I’m in the middle of it…a good read.