Memories of White’s Castle

An Athy man who was raised in the town’s soon-to-be-auctioned White’s Castle has spoken out about his hopes that local people will get to decide the building’s future.

An Athy man who was raised in the town’s soon-to-be-auctioned White’s Castle has spoken out about his hopes that local people will get to decide the building’s future.

Terry Doyle’s family moved into the catle in 1966 after they inherited it from his great-aunt. He spent his childhood and teenage years growing up in the 15th century keep on the River Barrow.

The castle was sold to local businessman Gabriel Dooley for E1.2 million in 2005, some years after the death of Mr Doyle’s father Sean. However, the investment company which held its ownership went into Anglo-Irish Bank-appointed receivership last year.

White’s Castle is scheduled to be sold at a distressed properties auction in Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel on Friday, July 6 next. It has a knock-down reserve price of just E50,000.

Moves are afoot in Athy to try keep the castle in local ownership.

A consortium of local businessmen is believed to be trying to raise the money to buy the property to be held in trust for the town.

Local councillor Thomas Redmond said he is asking the Town Council at Wednesday night’s monthly meeting to try and raise the money to purchase the historic castle.

The Duke Street castle is believed to have been built in 1417 by Sir John Talbot to protect the bridge over the Barrow.

It is listed on property sales website as having nine accommodation rooms over three floors.

Mr Doyle, who lives in Northampton, told the Leinster Leader last week that, although his family is “scattered to the four winds” in the UK and Spain, they still have strong connections to the south Kildare town and the castle where they grew up.

“I would like to see it preserved. It would be quite easy to pick up for E50,000 or E60,000, but it’s not buying it but what you would have to do with it,” he said.

The Doyle family can trace their connection to the castle back to the mid-1800s. Mr Doyle’s father inherited the castle from an unmarried elderly aunt, Mary Norman, who died in 1965.

Sean Doyle moved his wife Joan and seven children into White’s Castle, which in the mid-60s was a dank and dull property with few creature comforts. Mr Doyle said his parents were adamant that the former prison, and RIC barracks would be a “family home” rather than a museum.

Mr Doyle Sr was a building contractor who spent his life renovating and working on the castle. He added modern sixties and seventies comforts such as heating and carpeting.

“People ask what it was like to live in a castle - it was just a lovely place to live, big and spacous and you could get away from people. I could go up to a room and listen to Radio Luxembourg in peace,” said Mr Doyle.

“Because he was a builder, [my father] was able to make a home of it without damaging the structure. I had a good time living there. It was a normal home, it was close to school,” he said.

He remembers lying on one of the vaulted rooms in the ground floor and watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon at 4am on July 20, 1969.

However, Mr Doyle admits he may have a rosy view of growing up there and as an adult appreciates the constant work his father did to maintain the building.

Mr Doyle Sr maintained some of the old castle features, such as prison gates on the second and third floor - but tellingly removed the window bars on the ground floor to reinforce the point that his children were growing up in a ‘normal’ home.

Mr Doyle Sr bought the property’s leasehold from the Duke of Leinster for around 500 pounds shortly before his death in 2000, according to his son. This makes the castle a freehold property.

His wife lived alone in the property until 2005, when the family sold up. Mrs Doyle now lives near family members on the south coast of the UK. Terry Doyle has not been back into the castle since the sale, but says that the building needed renovations at that time. It is believed that council and An Taisce regulations would make it very difficult to carry out extensive renovations at the castle.

“My father should be given credit for what he did for the building from the 1960s to the 1980s, when nobody gave a damn about heritage and he looked after it. I can remember him taking things from buildings he was working on, and practically building stone walls. He brought back granite turret tops in the back of his car, that was the sort of thing he used to do. I remember him in his 70s on the roof taking down a chimney. He was never given a red cent.”

Mr Doyle works in the media industry in Northampton, and his surviving brothers and sisters have also emigrated.

However, they still have Kildare connections through the Fullam, McCrossan and Doyle families.

Mr Doyle said that, ideally and if there was no issue about carrying out further work on the castle, it should be given to the local council, who should form a trust to decide what the town wants to do with it. It could be suitable for a museum, or even council offices, he believes.

“Get that trust to buy it, lock the doors and make sure it’s safe. Then let the people decide what they want to do with it, but they will need the grace and favour of people like An Taisce.”

See this week’s Leinster Leader for news on a campaign to ensure the castle belongs to the people of Athy (out Tuesday, June 26).