In 1749, a wealthy landowner named Nathaniel Clements purchased around 10,000 acres in the Mohill area of County Leitrim. Upon doing so, his son Robert became the 1st Earl of Leitrim. On their new estate, the Clements family took up residence in a modest dwelling already on the estate. However, they had their eyes on building a far more impressive residence worthy of their name and their stature – a magnificent castle.
By the start of the 19th century, work had begun on the Clements family’s new home under the watchful eyes of the Earl. Sometime in 1839, Robert Clements died both suddenly and young, which passed the management of the estate to his brother William Sydney Clements. Although Sydney worked with his brother managing the build of Lough Rynn, as a second son, he never expected to inherit the lands or titles. However, in 1854, that’s exactly what he did, taking full ownership of the estate on the death of his father, thus becoming the 3rd Earl of Leitrim or Lord Leitrim as he preferred.
A ruthless resident
Lord Leitrim soon became the most notorious of all the residents of Lough Rynn Castle. A bold yet reckless soldier in his youth, he seemed to revel in growing into a callous and merciless landlord. He took particular pride in the ruthless way he evicted his tenants, with few escaping his reach, his brutality or his pettiness. Whether it was his work, his ego or his reputation, he remained unmarried, preferring instead to travel around his estates keeping a close eye on his tenants, something his journals, account books and rent ledgers outline in great detail.
When he wasn’t being particularly hard on farmers, he was also an active parliamentarian working tirelessly with William Smith O’Brien, a radical Catholic politician, to get administrative and agricultural reforms pushed through parliament. However, unable to break the spirit of hardened politicians as easily as he was those of the peasants under him, his aversion to authority continually led to constant clashes with those in parliament and, in particular, the big wigs in Administration in Dublin Castle. At one stage during the famine, he pointed the finger at the government as the cause of the catastrophic events unfolding around the country. Disillusioned, angry and less able, he retired as an MP in 1847, leaving his seat to his brother Charles.
A refocusing of efforts
With more time on his hands, Lord Leitrim, his ego bruised after countless battles with his fellow statesmen, put all his efforts into turning his home into a castle worthy of even his fiercest critics’ appreciation. Additional outbuildings including a stables, couch house and even a dairy, were added. The best stonemasons, whom he brought in from London, built most of these to his own design.
Workers, farmers and machine operators worked tirelessly to realise Lord Leitrim’s dream. Each week, they’d prop themselves upon the ‘pay seat’ under the porch opposite the offices and wait for their hard-earned wages. When it was their turn, they’d stand on a stone block under a tiny window near the door of the coach house, from which they’d receive their money. While treats were rare, Christmas would (sometimes) see Sydney distribute meat amongst the workers and their families.
A fitting end
In 1878, Lord Leitrim undertook a number of particularly brutal evictions from his estates in Donegal. Afterwards, while travelling from Donegal back to Lough Rynn, William Sydney Clements was assassinated in a hail of bullets aged 72. The list of potentials culprits was as large as the number of enemies he had made over the years. While his treatment of his tenants, his fellow politicians and his employees was terrible, he seemed to have particular resentment of women. In fact, shortly before his murder, an accusation was aimed at Lord Leitrim for having debauched one of his young servant girls – the daughter of one of his three assassins.
Lough Rynn Castle
Lord William Sydney Clements, 3rd Earl of Leitrim, never lived to see the completion of his magnificent home. After years of toing and froing within the Clements family, including the mysterious disappearance of one Sydney’s heirs, ownership of Lough Rynn castle was taken over by Colonel Henry Theophilus Clements. He added a magnificent new wing with the renowned designer Sir Thomas Drew, which included the Baronial Hall, a chapel, reception, living room, dining room, a basement cellar, fourteen bedrooms, four bathrooms, two pantries, one study and even a smokehouse.
Years of land wars, land leagues and land grabs followed as Ireland began its change into the country it was to become in the 20th century. The Clements remained at Lough Rynn up to the 1970s, albeit on a much smaller estate. After Marcus Clements and his family closed the doors of Lough Rynn for the last time, the castle fell into disrepair. After a short spell as a visitor attraction in the 1990s that helped spruce the place up, something very special happened.
Something to be shared by all
In 2001, local father and son Alan and Albert Hanly purchased the ailing building. Over the seven years that followed, they lovingly brought it back to its former glory, so that its magic could be shared with all who laid eyes on it. A secluded location, standard-setting craftsmanship, breathtaking views and the perfect blend of old-world elegance and new-world luxury, has turned Lough Rynn Castle from a tyrant’s home into a truly magical destination.