Charleville Forest Castle

IMG_3634Men with great wealth are inclined to indulge in expensive playhouses, and the Gothic Revival Charleville Forest outside the tiny distillery town of Tullamore, County Offaly, is one of the finest of its kind in Europe.  It was built by renowned architect Francis Johnston in 1798, and present owners are pleased to show off the secret passages and fantasy dungeons, the extravagance of which hastened the demise of the Bury family fortunes.

The money behind Charleville came from Charles William Bury, a man of wealth and leisure.  He had the money to buy himself titles and chunks of history, and was by all accounts a good natured spendthrift.  He also enjoyed writing and translating racy verse, and found a wife of tolerant and artistic persuasion.  Charleville Forest, full of great and ancient oaks, seemed the perfect setting for a medieval-styled castle, and the idea for its construction, compete with follies, became an obsessive fancy, taking more than a decade to complete and credited for starting a craze of castle construction amongst the Irish gentry.

However, the Burys had for years been living far beyond their means, and the castle contributed considerably to mounting debt – when Charles died in 1835 the estate was impoverished.  Inept heirs did nothing to improve matters, and the castle was shut in the mid-19th century.  The last heir, Colonel Howard Charles Bury, is famed for having led the first Everest expedition to find a route through Tibet to the North Col in 1921.  He loathed Charleville Castle, however, and sold off its contents in a notorious auction in 1948, after which it sat empty and was nearly destroyed by vandals.  Fortunately, however, the new owners have lovingly restored it and the castle is now opened to visitors.