Think You Know Rossmore Park?

Renewable power, hidden lakes and tropical fruit! Many readers will be familiar with the fantastic playground, new wooden giants (and wolves) not to mention the many scenic walkways through Rossmore Park. However there’s much more to learn about this historic landscape if you have a closer look. Reconnecting and enjoying our own localities is an important part of the sustainability journey: once we understand and are aware of what’s around us, we are more inclined to want to protect and preserve it. And as an added bonus you might be able to motivate the kids to go exploring (beyond the playground) if you promise hot chocolate to whoever can find the most points of interest!

Cooling Chamber near Gasworks Woods

Can you find the 8 lakes within the grounds of Rossmore Park?
Nearest Killyconnigan and Mullaghmatt are the Twin Lakes or Twin Sisters Lake: these are two separate lakes joined by a small waterway. Barn Hill Lake is located off the main carpark and has a small picnic area built overlooking the waters. The remains of the building commonly known as “the Barn” is in fact listed in old maps as the “Pavillion”.
The Castle Lake is below the site of the old Castle itself and might be familiar to readers as being past the Toilet Cubicle. It’s surrounded on several sides by the tropical Rhododendron which comes alive with insect activity during summer flowering. Going up the steep hill towards the Castle ruins but veering to the first right (and keeping left at the black steel obelisk at a “Y” in the centre of the path – more on this later) will bring a body past “Priestfield Lough”. The beech dominated forest on one side of the lake comes alive with bluebells in the springtime.
The remaining three lakes are on the Cootehill Rd side of the forest: Ardaghy Lough is tucked in behind the burnt out ruins of Lady Rossmore’s Cottage but a pathway goes close by. Bartles Lough, the smallest of all the lakes is across the road from the same ruined cottage: winter time is best to spot it when the green growth has died down. The final lake is called Steenson’s Lough but you have to walk up into the forest towards the grounds of the Rossmore Golf Club to see it. There are one or two ponds on the Golf Club itself but I haven’t included these in the eight above.

Largest Landscaped Parkland in Europe
Worth noting that while lakes naturally appear in the hollows of Monaghan’s drumlins, many of the lakes above were man made – hand dug in the 1800’s. These were created as part of an effort to create one of the largest “landscaped parklands” in Europe in its era. Other notable landscaped features include the Yew Walk (not far from the walled gardens) and specimen trees throughout the woods such as the mighty Californian Redwood along the main entrance road. Smaller kids might find it more interesting to be told that the large earthen terraces up to the castle belong to a sleeping giant under the hill; in truth they all were dug out to create a “wow” factor for visitors to this plush seat of wealth and power. While I’m mentioning large tracts of land I should mention the generosity of the late Paddy Rossmore, the last heir to the estate. He donated a landholding of 2,300 acres that straddles Counties Monaghan and Tyrone, to the charity An Taisce so that it might be preserved for posterity as a public amenity.

Have you ever seen the Secret Garden behind the ruins of Lady Rossmore’s Cottage?
Lady Rossmore’s Cottage was burned out on the day that hunger striker Bobby Sands died in 1981. This is one of the great tragedies of the Park as the cottage contained priceless records dating back centuries and which had been promised to archives. This cottage is where the last “Lord”, aka Paddy Rossmore occasionally stayed when in Monaghan (and where he romanced the singer Marianne Faithful in 1970). In any case if you venture up the back of this cottage you might find a sunken garden. You’ll also have to use a fair bit of imagination as the Gardens have long stopped being maintained and are infested with Cherry Laurel. This sunken garden was originally excavated as a gravel pit and then later turned into a garden. Being dug down (over 25ft in parts) below the surrounding land gave it a unique micro climate and it’s said that several unique species were imported and planted within it. A sluice existed at the side of Ardaghy Lough to release water down through part of the garden itself and on towards Bartle’s Lough. Speaking of secret places, have you ever gone down to the mouth of the tunnels (located under the steep hill up to the castle): you have to climb over the stone wall on the right hand side of the path up to the castle ruins and search along the embankment. The tunnel led to what some kids called the “catacombs”, a series of cellars under the very site of the castle itself. I understand that it was blocked off in the 1980’s because of safety concerns.

Lady Rossmores Cottage (now in ruins)

Several ancient monuments are spread through Rossmore. How many can you get to?
If you were to go round to the Barnhill lake and turn up left into the oak forest (up past the barn) you might eventually find your way to a clearing at the top of the hill. This is the remains of a Rath or ring fort.
Another rath or raised earthen ring fort exists in the forests behind “Roddy Den Drum”. You need to cross the open field behind Roddy: the ring fort is on the upper side of the field. The map of the park available at notice boards lists several “points of interest” and each of these also refers to archaeological points of note: one is the remains of a court tomb and another is a souterrain located overlooking Priestfield Lake. A souterrain was a hidden cave or pit sometimes located under the floor of a shelter or near a ring fort – it was useful for both hiding valuables as well as keeping certain foodstuffs cooler during hot periods. Hopefully improved signage to these curiosities will happen in due course as part of the improved tourism infrastructure the Council are developing. If you’ve a child interested in treasure hunting it might be worth mentioning that a priceless gold lunula or neck bracelet was discovered in the park in c.1930 and is now in National Museum, Dublin.


How did the Rossmore’s make their own electricity?
Back when the average citizen was getting eye strain attempting to read by candle or by tilly lamp, Rossmore had electricity generated from renewable sources. They had their own electricity supply thanks to an on site micro hydroelectric scheme. The water was taken from the weir (found along the main river through the park) and then piped at a gentle slope to a reservoir, the remains of which can be seen in the forest. The water was then piped steeply downhill to the turbine which generated electricity. The DC current was cabled to the castle. Earlier I mentioned a large black painted steel obelisk that stands at a “Y” in one of the pathways: this was apparently a cooling chamber used in the Gas Works – yes they had a gasworks hence “Gasworks Woods”. They also had pumped water up to the castle. All mod cons.

Tropical Fruit Growing in Rossmore?
Many of the Irish aristocracy built walled gardens for the growing of vegetables and Rossmore has it’s own too. Glasshouses were erected onto the large southern facing walls: these walls had red brick which absorbed the suns heat during the day and released it during the night which improved growing conditions. It’s noted on the walls of the gardens at Crom Castle (Co Fermanagh) that they had large fuel burners heating their glasshouses to enable the growing of tropical fruits such as pineapple. I also heard it said that the Rossmores tried likewise although as the man says, if it’s a lie I was told, it’s a lie I’m telling.

Do you know what Rossmore Castle was called in it’s earlier years?
Rossmore Castle was formerly known as Cortolvin Hills in the 1830’s. My suspicion is that the name “Cortolvin Hills” was sidelined during one of the many renovations and extensions that took place on the building. It’s said that the Rossmore’s and the Shirleys of Carrickmacross competed to have the largest room in the County. The Rossmore’s were also particularly proud of their tranquil Mausoleum and family graveyard situated in “Browns Wood” beside it’s own waterfall. The family buried their pets in a small walled area near the castle and the walled gardens.

Rossmore Castle fell into ruins after it was abandoned. What caused it’s abandonment?
The castle eventually developed a severe case of dry rot and the family abandoned the house in favour of Camla Vale, another nearby family mansion. Unfortunately it’s said that they took spores of the dry rot in their belongings from Rossmore and that in time Camla too became infested. It’s also said that the roof of the Castle was removed to avoid the dreaded “rates” imposed by Government. In any case both of these great houses were eventually knocked. It’s said that some of the fine hand cut limestone was simply dumped into the Castle lake to save further costs of disposal. Over the years the Rossmore family have donated lots of memorbilia to the Monaghan Museum including the uilleann pipes which belonged to Henry Robert Rossmore, otherwise known as the 3rd Baron! Both the 2nd Baron and his brother were also noted as talented musicians.

The grounds of Rossmore park were used for what 2007 horror movie?
The horror movie Shrooms was recorded on site in 2007 and made $4.9 million at the box office. It follows the story of a group of students who go to the woods to get psychedelic mushrooms and end up being chased by a serial killer. Not one for the kids I should add.

Lord Rossmore’s refurbished set of uilleann pipes.

How Many Species are in the Park?
Add a little challenge to your walk by trying to spot and identify different species of flora and fauna. The good news is that Red Squirrel and Wood Peckers are once again being reported in the woods. Keep an eye out for the colorful Jays that fly low through the woods – around the size of a magpie, they love to feed on acorns. Five of Ireland’s seven species of bat are to be found in the locality. Coillte manage the park for timber production and you might be able to pick out some of the dominant conifers such as Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir, Norway Spruce and Larch. There’s a range of broadleaves with beech, sycamore and oak being quite common. Look up “The Magical Fungi” on facebook for fantastical pictures of the mushrooms found growing in the park.

More?
For those with a deeper interest you can access old and new maps of Rossmore Park (and Ireland) by going into www.osi.ie . The maps are free to view and include the “6 inch” maps drawn up around the 1829 – 1841 and “Historic 25 inch” maps were drawn up around 1897-1913.
Also a trip to www.buildingsofireland.ie will lead you to a detailed map giving links to sites of archaeological and historical interest including many of those noted above. There’s lots of information at Monaghan Tourism also.

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