Hi my name is Joanne and I am fundraising for restoration of the grounds of Sleady Castle, one of the last McGrath strongholds in Ireland.
Sleady Castle 1628 to present.
Sleady Castle was built in 1628 by Philip McGrath. Most of us are familiar with Sleady’s tragic story. What we are more unfamiliar with is the locality in which Sleady stands, townsland in Irish “Curragh na Sledy”, meaning Sliding Bog. Through the passing of time Sleady was a feature in the lives of those who lived and worked in its vicinity.
The McGraths had been considered favourable landlords and decent masters by their staff, so it must have caused shock and uncertainty when they vacated Sleady. Modeligo the parish in which the McGraths would have been familiar still stands today. Its old ancient pathways travelled by St. Declan who named Modeligo, are still passable to the keen traveller today.
Modeligo was predominantly a very Irish catholic village. Evidence of our Colonial past remains evident throughout the parish. The boarded up windows of Sleady to avoid tax one of the most evident examples. Mass Rocks, Hedge schools and a holy well litter the parish, reminding us of our resilience along with a strong sense of identity, compelling our ancestors to maintain our culture and beliefs, to be passed down the generations.
Sleady provided shelter and warmth for an old school master, who slept in the kitchen. He educated young children in a Hedge school where they could study Irish and practice their religion in secret. Thinking of the children probably barefoot, their clothes threadbare, fear gripping them if their purpose was uncovered. It’s because of individuals like this school master, these children and their parents, the Irish language, culture and sports has survived the centuries. Not only did this act require a great deal of courage it also required a great deal of hope.
No matter what was thrown at the dejected Irish, considered a problem by their colonial masters, Hope remained present. Through poverty, war, segregation, transportation, famine, emigration, death, independence, building a nation, establishing the Irish identity around the world, none of this would have been possible without a collective hope.
Those who emigrated part in Ireland’s story did not end when they left their homeland. They left with hope they would be successful and became spreaders of the word; the Irish had something to offer. All they needed was an opportunity to prove it, America gave them that opportunity. So Ireland’s special relationship with America was born.
Sleady Castle Grounds project April to December 2021
When we turned the first sods of earth out of more curious interest and for something to pass the days during out first lockdown, I then didn’t realise how far we would go. Slowly a picture began to form in my mind of what it would be like if the grounds once again resembled what their original owners intended it to look like.
When the McGraths occupied Sleady the countryside surrounding would have been dense with woodland and wildlife. The roads into Sleady today as we understand them were different blending and winding into the countryside. Around the turn of the 18th century Patrick Power the then owner of Sleady built, Sleady Lodge as his holiday home. Sleady Castle already in abandoned disrepair, it’s beautifully hand cut stone was removed from the front of the castle to build the lodge, exposing how Sleady presents itself to us today, without its front entrance walls. Patrick Power was a keen horse rider and hunter and chose Sleady as his retreat for these reasons. During his time at Sleady Patrick Power planted many trees and an oak grove, as he believed the native trees would enhance the castle and the lodge. Most of these trees still remain to this day. Standing in the oak grove today which looks up upon Sleady, you get an idea of the scene our ancestors would have experienced; we are only caretakers of the land after all.
We started by removing carefully debris that had accumulated over time, we had a view to open up the grounds connecting and rebuilding the lawns that surround the castle. We noticed early on that the hill Sleady sits on is pure purple shale. The colour of the shale once exposed in contrast with the stone on the castle, highlights further the magnitude that is the structure of Sleady castle. We knew then that to remain authentic to the powerful individuals that crafted Sleady that its drives and walkways had to be paved with purple shale.
We began to look towards the Oak Grove and connecting it back to the castle as intended. Many of you that have visited Sleady would not be aware of the groves existence. It is truly one of the most spectacular parts of Sleady’s grounds. A strip lined with trees connects the castle’s main grounds to the grove, one we started to remove the grass, we realised the grass was residue built up over time underneath was stone, a walkway. Our theory was confirmed, we began to trunk the old walk which is not 50% complete, more drainage must be carried out to extend the walk to the grove. This completed phase one just before Christmas.
Phase two consists of draining and making the grove more accessible. It is also important to assess the Oak trees and carry out work on them that will sustain them into the future, as they are also home to native wildlife.
Sleady Lodge although no longer present on the site, much of its stones and features have been retained and we are looking to start introducing them back onto the grounds, creating steps, seating spaces, rockeries and boarders, further enhancing Sleady and the magnitude of its construction.
Phase 2, three stage plan starting March 2021 ending by March 2022.
• To utilise stone and other items of value from Sleady Lodge and previously Sleady castle and incorporate them into the landscape around the castle. Creating walls, boarders and steps. To create a courtyard to Sleady Castle that is in keeping with the castle and the period. To retain the rustic and natural view of Sleady Castle. This phase already has begun as of March 2021, new hedging have been planted and stone retrieval along with boarders and stone work has begun, due to seasonal nature. Estimated completion date is June 2021. Costing priced so far €7,000.
• To place drains in the grove to drain off surface water. To finish the road into the Grove and make it accessible to all from Sleady Castle all year round. To preserve and care for each Oak tree individually within the Grove. To preserve the habitats of the natural wildlife and ecosystems. Add Pheasant/bird feeders, Owl huts, bee hives to promote growth of native flowers and future sustainability. Start Date July 2021 completion date October 2021. Estimated cost between €5,000-6,000.
• To provide seating areas, picnic areas and tea/coffee making facilities to those that visit Sleady. My family throughout the decades have always been happy and have encouraged visitors to Sleady Castle, but we also want to make the trip worthwhile for the visitor. We want people to be able to take time when they visit and soak in the History and scenery. Estimated cost €5,000. Estimated Completion date March 2022 (or hopefully sooner).
We thank everyone for their continued support in a shared belief of what Sleady Castle resonates for those across the world, whose families roots are in Ireland. Sleady throughout the generations has always had an ability to connect and bring people together. The above proposal and the Sleady story to further develop and protect this legacy for future generations. Hopefully we will see you in Sleady in the near future. For these targets to be met would be a lifelong ambition of mine. I know many members of the Clan all over the world, who have visited Sleady also share this belief. I thank you with great sincerity and humility that you have taken such an interest in our special place in a small corner of Ireland. It amazes me that her roots, her story and her people have spread across the world but always somehow find their way home to this, “Secluded part of county Waterford”.
Joanne Hickey April 2021.