Parkes Castle, (co-ordinates 54.2645 -8.3338) situated 8 miles east of Sligo Town on the road to Dromahair, is a restored plantation castle which belonged to Robert Parkes and his family and which dates back to 1610.
The Parke Family were English Planters from Kent. The first of the Parkes to come to Ireland was Sir Roger Parke who came over to Sligo in 1601 with Sir Roger Jones.
Roger Parke married Sir Roger Jones‘s sister, Alice in 1609 and they had two sons – Robert and William. It was the elder son Robert who went on to reside at Parke’s Castle (or Newtown Castle to give it it’s correct name). The other son, William, lived at Dunally, just to the north of Sligo town.
Robert, who lived at Newtown Castle married Ann Povey (from Roscommon) and together they had three children, a daughter Ann, a son Robert (1661) and another daughter Mary (Maggie in 1663).
Sadly, both Robert and Maggie were drowned on Lough Gill in 1677 when Robert was 16 years of age and Maggie was only 14 years old. This left Ann Parke as Captain Robert Parke‘s only successor and heiress.
Parkes Castle, a plantation era castle, lies in a very picturesque setting on the northern shore of Lough Gill, just across the county boundary into County Leitrim.
The castle was completed by Roger Parke in 1610 on the site of an earlier fifteenth-century O’Rourke (Ui Ruairc) castle. He kept the walls of the original bawn – a spacious pentagonal defensive area – and demolished the O’Rourke tower house in the centre. The stones of the O’Rourke tower were used to build the three-storey manor on the eastern side, which were eventually adorned with mullioned windows and diamond-shaped chimneys.
One of two round flankers guarding the north side of the bawn forms one end of the manor. The other end has the gate building with an arched entrance leading into the enclosure. Inside the courtyard are many stone work buildings and a covered well. There are also a postern gate and a sally port; through there are no flankers on the lakeshore. This may be explained by the likelihood that the water level was 3 meters higher in the seventeenth century and would have lapped up against the bawn walls. These waters may have fed the moat that formerly surrounded the bawn.
Excavations within Parkes Castle in 1972-73 revealed the base of the original O’Rourke tower house beneath the courtyard cobbles, this is now exposed to view. It was in this tower house that Francisco de Cuellar, the shipwrecked Spanish Armada officer, was entertained by Brian O’Rourke.
In later years, de Cuellar was to write of his host: “Although this chief is a savage, he is a good Christian and an enemy of the heretics and is always at war with them.” O’Rourke was eventually captured, indicted and executed for high treason in London in 1591.
The Parkes family who subsequently acquired his confiscated property, remained at Newtown, or Leitrim Castle – as it was formerly known – until the end of the seventeenth century, when it was deserted.
At the end of the 20th century Parkes Castle was extensively restored by the Office of Public Works, with the window glazing being re-instated, the timber stair and the mortise and tenon oak roof, were also restored using building techniques from the 17th century.
Parke’s Castle is open to the public from April until October, with a nominal admission fee of €3.00 being charged.
At the small jetty beside Parkes Castle you can board the ‘Rose of Innisfree’ for a boat tour of the beautiful Lough Gill.