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Written by retired University College Cork lecturer Dr Michael Keane, this week's piece tells the story of the Lord Audleys who played a leading role in Irish history for close to three centuries

The Earls of Castlehaven or Lord Audleys of Cork and Kildare

 In 1601, the 1st Earl of Castlehaven was a leading English commander in the decisive Battle of Kinsale in which he was wounded. He later became one of Ireland’s largest plantation landowners, with estates extending from West Cork through six Midlands counties to Armagh and Tyrone in the north. The Castlehavens led highly colorful lives, none more so than the 2nd Earl. He married into the Royal Family – his wife Anne, eldest daughter of Lord Derby and Alice Spencer of Althorp of more recent Lady Diana fame, was briefly heir presumptive to the throne of Queen Elizabeth I. However, the 2nd Earl was accused by Anne of extreme sexual depravity and, following a sensational trial was executed in London.

Remarkably his successor, the 3rd Earl of Castlehaven became a leading commander in the Catholic Confederacy uprising and led the Catholic resistance in Ireland to Protestant advancement and to Cromwell.

In the 19th century three successive Lord Audleys were involved in copper mining on their estate in the Mizen peninsula near Ballydehob in West Cork, a venture which was riddled with fraud and corruption. Their estate later became a focal point in the tragedy of the Great Famine in the region. In overall history terms, the story of the lives of the Castlehavens/Audleys helps to illuminate the shifting sands of control and dominance of Irish affairs during many of the key centuries of Irish history.

Genealogical inquiry can sometimes lead to totally unexpected pathways. Initial questions regarding my family tree ultimately, if quite unexpectedly, led to an exploration of the plantations of counties Laois and Kerry in the 16th and 17th centuries. This research eventually resulted in the publication of my first book ‘From Laois to Kerry’ as was summarised in Ireland XO.  The book emerged simply from an inquiry about the origin of the surname McEvoy in both Laois and Kerry. The surname was both that of my great-grandmother Margaret McEvoy from my home place of Tarbert, Co Kerry and my late and beloved mother-in-law Kathy McEvoy-Miller of county Laois.

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I discovered that the McEvoys were part of a major transplantation of the Seven Septs of Laois to county Kerry in 1607 to make way for the plantation of Laois. The transplantees involved, in addition to McEvoys, Moores, Kellys, Lalors, Dowlings, Dorans and Dees (Deevys in Laois). These surnames are quite widespread in Kerry over 400 years later, especially in North Kerry to where they were initially transplanted. I then became very interested in the story of their transplanters, the Crosbie brothers Patrick and John, whose descendants became the big landlords of North Kerry for over three centuries. Despite claiming to be English, it has emerged over the last century that the Crosbies were themselves natives of Laois, with both brothers married to Laois Sept families, Patrick to Joan Moore and John to Una Lalor.


Researching the Crosbies also led to another very colourful family story involving the Earls of Castlehaven who were closely linked to the Crosbies by marriage. Along with being central characters in one of the great English sexual scandals of their time, in an Irish context the Earls of Castlehaven were leading participants in all of the major events in Irish history for close to three centuries, including the Battle of Kinsale, the Plantations, the Catholic Confederacy uprising, the resistance to Cromwell and the Great Famine

The 1st Earl of Castlehaven (1551-1617)

Initially holding the title 11th Baron Audley, the 1st Earl of Castlehaven took his new title from his residence in Glenbarrahane castle in Castlehaven which is a beautiful part of the West Cork coastline including the historic village of Castletownshend.

Glenbarrahane Castle
Glenbarrahane Castle

The name Castlehaven is best known in modern terms for its excellent Gaelic football teams who, over recent years, have been All-Ireland, Munster and county Cork champions on multiple occasions. 

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Baron Audley first arrived in Ireland to take part in the Nine Years War (1593-1602). He was a leading commander in all of the major campaigns of that war, including the disastrous campaign from an English viewpoint of the Earl of Essex, the more successful Carew campaign and then the decisive Battle of Kinsale of 1601. Acting as a commander in Kinsale under Mountjoy, Audley was slightly wounded, but then saw his opportunity to amass a vast amount of land from the defeated Irish.

Thus, he became one of Ireland’s largest landowners, eventually possessing around 200,000 acres in total.

His estates extended across the country from the historic lands of the O’Driscolls and O’Mahonys in West Cork through the Irish midlands to large parts of O’Neill country in county Tyrone, as well as estates in Armagh and Cavan which he captured as part of the plantation of Ulster. While he had a poor record with regard to management and development of these lands, his position as owner was secure as his son-in-law, Sir John Davies, was the Irish attorney-general and also speaker in the Irish Parliament. Audley was elevated to the title Earl of Castlehaven in the year before his death in 1617.

Read more: Top Tips for Researching your Surname

The 2nd Earl of Castlehaven (1593-1631)

The 12th Baron Audley and 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, eldest son of the 1st Earl, succeeded to his father’s large landholdings and titles in both Ireland and England. There were three notable features to his career as follows:

  • His two marriages which brought greatly increased wealth and status
  • His land dealings which brought ownership of one of the finest estates in England where the sexual scandals which led to his downfall mainly occurred.
  • His spectacular fall from grace which resulted in his trial and execution in London for crimes of sexual depravity

While the 2nd Earl’s first marriage to a London heiress greatly enhanced his wealth, his second marriage to Anne, eldest daughter of Lord Derby and Alice

Spencer of Althorp, brought him to the heart of English royalty as Anne was at one stage heir presumptive to the English throne,. However, the 2nd Earl suffered a spectacular fall from grace as his wife Anne, his son the future 3rd Earl and his teenage daughter-in-law Elizabeth, all accused him of gross sexual depravity involving rape and sodomy.

This resulted in a dramatic trial in London which resulted in his execution along with two of his servants.

As well as being a sensational media story through the centuries, the trial also helped to establish legal precedent which is still being quoted with regard to such issues as wives giving evidence against husbands in cases of alleged sexual crimes, the issue of rape within marriage and the issue of the treatment of sodomy as a grave crime.  

With regard to the trial and execution of the 2nd Earl there is much to suggest that the guilty verdict had less to do with the alleged crimes as such than with the wider political forces which were at work, given that similar allegations could just as easily have been laid against various other members of the aristocracy at that time. Unfortunately for the 2nd Earl, the prosecution put great emphasis on his ‘tainted’ connections with both Catholicism and Irishness which were superimposed on his lack of family connections at the highest level in English society. This contrasts with his wife and co-accuser Lady Anne who had the best possible credentials among the jury comprised of 27 senior aristocrats, many of whom were closely related to her.

The Second Earl of Castlehaven
Second Earl of Castlehaven

Image: Second Earl of Castlehaven

The 3rd Earl of Castlehaven (1617-1684)

The 3rd Earl of Castlehaven combined an extraordinarily difficult period in his earlier years as discussed above with a somewhat remarkable public life in adulthood. His teenage years involved an arranged marriage to a twelve-year-old bride when he was just fourteen years old, a marriage which proved to be unsuccessful in adulthood. The trial and execution of his father resulted in the loss of the English part of his inheritance, however he managed to retain his Irish lands which were entailed.

In adult life, as a resident of both Maddenstown, Co. Kildare and Castlehaven in Cork, the 3rd Earl became drawn into the Catholic Confederacy uprising on the Catholic side due to an unusual set of circumstances which included both a period of imprisonment and a successful escape. He became a leading commander in the Confederacy and participated with much success in an extended series of battles in all four provinces throughout the 1640s. He sought throughout the conflict to combine support for the Catholic cause with support for King Charles I, a stance which came to be increasingly difficult as the decade progressed. His military career in Ireland ended with conflict and ultimate acceptance of defeat by the Cromwellians which resulted in his departure for France. The 3rd Earl continued with a prominent military career throughout Europe for an extended period before returning to London and Ireland with the restoration of Charles II in 1660. In later years he was active in parliament in the House of Lords in Westminster and also spent considerable time in Ireland where he died in 1684.

The Later Earls of Castlehaven

Following the death of the 3rd Earl without issue, his title and property should have gone to his next eldest brother George. However, this did not occur as George had become a Benedictine monk, taking the name Father Anselm. Instead, the title passed to the next eldest brother Mervyn Audley. The persistent attachment of some members of the Audley family to Catholicism, despite its many disadvantages in that era, found full expression when George (Father Anselm) became chaplain to the Catholic Queen Catherine of Breganza, wife of Charles II, in 1671.

Mervyn, the 4th Earl of Castlehaven, assumed the title in 1684 when quite elderly and died within two years.

He was also a professed Catholic and played a significant role in protecting the young Charles II during the civil war in England which eventually cost Charles I his life. James, the 5th Earl of Castlehaven, succeeded in 1686 and fought with James II against William of Orange at the historic and decisive Battle of the Boyne in 1690. He survived the conflict and died in 1700. He was succeeded by his son, also James, the 6th Earl, who died in 1740 to be succeeded by yet another James, the 7th Earl. John, the 8th and final Earl, although married was childless, and the Earldom became extinct when he died in 1777.While the Earldom was now extinct the title Baron Audley continued with the 8th and final Earl also titled the 18th Baron Audley. This family line has extended to modern times with the 19th century Baron Audleys being the most significant in Irish terms as they developed Audley’s mines in West Cork. I

In the 20th century the title descended to the 23rd Baron Audley (1913-1963), whose second wife Sarah was the daughter of Winston Churchill and more recently to the 25th Baron Audley who died in 1997, leaving three daughters


The 3rd Earl of CastlehavenCountess Castlehaven, wife of the 3rd Earl of Castlehaven

The Lord Audleys and Copper Mining in West Cork

Copper mining had intermittently occurred in West Cork going back to the bronze age. Large scale copper mining was first developed by the Puxley family in Allihies in the Beara peninsula in county Cork in the early 19th century where by far the greatest mining success occurred. Copper was then discovered in Lord Audley’s  estate in the Mizen peninsula near Ballydehob in 1814 and four mines were quickly opened, Horse Island, Cappagh, Ballycummisk and Foilnamuck.

Audley’s mines became the communal name applied to the four copper mines in that period and, even though the mines have long been moribund, the name continues as such to the present time.  Likewise, the placename Audley cove, which is an attractive small bay in the Mizen peninsula just south of Audley’s mines, continues in use. The Audleys had developed a short, light tramway for copper export which ran down to a pier at Audley cove.

A residence named Audley Lodge which no longer exists was also located close to Cappagh mine, as well as Audley House and Audley Place in Cork city, placenames which survive to the present time. While initially successful, the Audley mining development was later part of a major fraud with the Lord Audleys centrally involved. The end result was that the Audley estate in West Cork was left with enormous debt at the commencement of the Great Famine.

The Audleys, the Great Famine and departure from Ireland

West Cork was one of the regions of most severe distress in Ireland during the Great Famine in what was undoubtedly the most traumatic event in Irish history. It has been recorded that the Mizen Peninsula, the location of part of the extensive Audley estate including Audley’s mines, conservatively suffered a population reduction of 17% due to hunger and disease in the single year beginning September 1846 and an overall decline of 40% during the decade of the 1840s.  The Audley estate was particularly featured as an example of the iniquities of the landlord, middleman and tenant regime at the time of the Great Famine.  All of the Audley property in Ireland was finally sold as an encumbered estate in the decade following the Great Famine which finally brought over 250 years of Audley family involvement with Ireland to an end.

Read more: Discover how your County was affected by the Great Hunger

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Dr. Michael Christopher Keane is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin. He was Senior Lecturer/Head of Department, University College, Cork, 1981-2009. His ongoing research and publications in the areas of Irish local history and genealogy represent a continuation of his earlier University career which related primarily to key aspects of change in rural Ireland through the centuries. Since retirement he has published three Irish local history books, ‘From Laois to Kerry: The Laois 0rigins and continuing presence in Kerry of the Moores, Kellys, Dowlings, Lawlors, Dorans, McEvoys and Dees (Deevys or Devoys)’, 2016: ‘The Earls of Castlehaven Lord Audleys of Cork and Kildare: War, Sex, Corruption, Land: From the Battle of Kinsale to the Great Famine and beyond’, 2018: ‘The Crosbies of Cork, Kerry, Laois and Leinster: Bards, Imposters, Landlords, Politicians, Aeronauts, Newspapers’, 2021


 ‘The Crosbies of Cork, Kerry, Laois and Leinster’, along with ‘From Laois to Kerry’ and ‘The Earls of Castlehaven’, are available in local bookshops, online at, and, also directly from the author

 From Laois to Kerry  The Earls of Castlehaven


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