By Batt Burns
ASSISTANT DISTRICT DIRECTOR: Brendan O’Sullivan / EDITOR: Tommy Martin
The landlords who ruled the Sneem area from the early 1700’s down to 1922 were a mixed bag. Nathaniel Bland arrived in 1732 and his descendants lasted until the late 1800’s when they were overtaken by financial difficulties and had to sell out and leave their fine residence in a neo-Gothic mock castle at Derryquin a few miles south-east of the village of Sneem. As landlords go, the Blands were not the worst; I cannot say the same for their successor, Charles Wallace Warden, locally known as Colonel Warden, who acquired the castle and thousands of acres of Sneem land in 1903. This tyrant had served in the Zulu War of 1879 and later in The Boer War in South Africa. He was notorious for evictions, and woe betide anybody who provided refuge for the unfortunate peasants who were cast out on the roadside for inability to pay rent.
During the Irish War of Independence 1919-1921 many homes and castles of English landlords were targets of attacks by the IRA and rebel forces but this was not the fate of Derryquin Castle until 1922 when it was attacked and set on fire. Colonel Warden was lucky to escape without injury to Kenmare where he took refuge in the Lansdowne Estate and eventually got back to England.
When word got out that the castle was on fire and that Colonel Warden was gone, the looting of the building began, and many disgruntled people in the parish felt that it was “Pay Back Time”. An old widow, who lived not too far from the castle, and had been threatened with eviction in the past, found herself in Warden’s sitting room where two beautifully upholstered armchairs were still intact. With great difficulty she dragged one of them out of the burning building and up into the nearby wood where she took a well-earned rest beside a thicket of rhododendrons and briars. When she got back her breath, she figured that it would be a terrible shame to let the fire destroy the comrade of her chair if it hadn’t already done so. She hid her first chair in the undergrowth and back she went only to be just in time to salvage the second chair from a smoke-filled room. She was ready to collapse by the time she got back up the wood to her hiding place. To her utter dismay and disgust the first chair was gone!
“Well glory be to God” she moaned, “There’s nothing around here but a Pack of Thieves”.
The storyteller tells a tale that will appeal. The mixture of history and folklore. A sense of the flora. And a possibility of so many other stories. The wonder of our heritage.