The earlier Anglo-Norman castle which was replaced by the present building was built on lands which were confiscated from the Eustace family of Baltinglass because of their involvement in the Second Desmond Rebellion. It defended the Pale from the Irish clans in the nearby Wicklow Mountains. It is believed the present castle was built around 1583 for Yorkshireman, Adam Loftus, then Lord Chancellor of Ireland and Protestant Archbishop of Dublin. Originally a semi-fortified and battlemented structure, extensive alterations in the 18th century give it the appearance of a Georgian house.
The castle consisted of a square building four stories high with a projecting tower at each corner, the walls of which were an average of 5 feet thick. On the ground level are two vaulted apartments divided by a wall nearly 10 feet thick which rises to the full height of the castle. On a level with the entrance hall are the 18th century reception rooms and above this floor the former ballroom, later converted into a chapel.
Rathfarnham was described as a "waste village" when Loftus bought it. His new castle was not long built when in 1600 it had to withstand an attack by the Wicklow clans during the Nine Years War (Ireland).
During the subsequent Irish Confederate Wars (1641-53), the castle changed hands several times. From 1641 to 1647, it was garrisoned by English Royalist troops. In 1647, Ormonde, commander of the Royalists in Ireland, surrendered Dublin to the English Parliament and Parliamentary troops were stationed at the castle until 1649 when a few days before the Battle of Rathmines, the castle was stormed and taken without a fight by the Royalists. However, the Roundheads re-occupied it after their victory at the Battle of Rathmines. It has also been reported that Oliver Cromwell held council there during his campaign in Ireland before going south to besiege Wexford. Adam Loftus, who recovered his castle and lands under Cromwell, sided with the Parliamentarians and was killed at the Siege of Limerick in 1651.
After the English Civil War, the Loftus family retained ownership of the castle. In 1659, Dr. Dudley Loftus, great grandson of Archbishop Loftus, took over the castle. During his lifetime, Dudley held the posts of Commissioner of Revenue, Judge Admiralty, Master in Chancery, MP for Kildare and Wicklow and MP for Bannow and Fethard. His body is interred at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Crossing the Dodder by a ford, and proceeding along its southern bank towards Rathfarnham, a splendid gateway at left, accounted among the best productions of that species of architecture in Ireland, invites the tourist to explore the once beautiful grounds of Rathfarnham Castle, but they are now all eloquently waste, the undulating hills covered with rank herbage, the rivulet stagnant and sedgy, the walks scarce traceable, the ice-houses open to the prying sun, the fish-pond clogged with weeds, while the mouldering architecture of the castle, and the crumbling, unsightly offices in its immediate vicinity,…The castle, so long the residence of the Loftus family, and still the property of the Marquis of Ely, subject, however, to a small chief rent to Mr. Conolly, is an extensive fabric,.....The great hall is entered from a terrace, by a portico of eight Doric columns, which support a dome, painted in fresco with the signs of the Zodiac and other devices. This room was ornamented with antique and modern busts, placed on pedestals of variegated marble, and has three windows of stained gloss, in one of which is an escutcheon of the Loftus arms, with quarterings finely executed. Several other apartments exhibited considerable splendour of arrangement, and contained, until lately, numerous family portraits, and a valuable collection of paintings by ancient masters. But, when it is mentioned, that this structure has been for years a public dairy, and the grounds to the extent of 300 acres converted to its uses, some notion may be formed of their altered condition.
In 1852 it was bought by the Lord Chancellor, Francis Blackburne whose family resided there for three generations. The property developers Bailey & Gibson acquired the castle in 1912 and divided up the estate. The eastern part became the Castle Golf Club, the castle and the southwestern portion were bought in 1913 by the Jesuit Order and the northwestern part was devoted to housing.
The Jesuits are an order renowned for their education and one of them; Father O'Leary S.J. constructed a seismograph. This machine could detect earth tremors and earthquakes from anywhere in the world and for a time, Rathfarnham Castle became a source of earthquake information for the national media.
To the north of the castle was a long vaulted chamber formerly known as Cromwell’s Court or Fort. This was apparently a barn or storehouse erected as part of the castle farm and had narrow loopholes in its 5-foot thick walls. In 1922, it was incorporated into the new retreat house, to which it formed the ground story and its character concealed from the outside by a uniform covering of cement plaster.
Not far from the Golf Club House was an attractive little temple built of stone and brick, another relic of Lord Ely’s occupation of Rathfarnham. Although rather out of repair, if restored, it would have added much to the charm of this part of the links. Unfortunately, by decision of the committee, it was demolished in 1979.
In 1986, the Jesuits sold Rathfarnham Castle but before leaving, they removed the stained glass windows, made in the famous Harry Clarke studios, from the chapel and donated them to Tullamore Catholic Church which had been destroyed by fire in 1983. The other windows were donated to Our Lady's Hospice, Harold's Cross and Temple Street Children's Hospital, Dublin.
One interesting feature of the Castle is its secret tunnels. One lead from the castle to an exit at the present Castle Golf Club. Another led from the castle to the Protestant church in the village, this tunnel was only discovered in 1987. Both have been closed off.
Tearooms open all year: Summer 9.30am - 5.00pm, Winter 10.00am - 4.00pm
Please note the castle may close for refurbishment in 2008
During the winter months (November - April) group tours can be accommodated. Advance booking essential. The tour is suitable for school groups, art and architecture students and local history groups and introduces the history of the castle concentrating on the 18th century house.
The castle also hosts regular events such as concerts, exhibitions and activities for younger visitors.
Address: Rathfarnham, Dublin 14
Telephone No: +353 1 493 9462
Much of the text in this article is taken, with permission, from