Handiwork of a 19th century eccentric

IT mightn’t be a complete folly to follow in the footsteps of 19th century eccentric Johnny Roche — the man who built this River Awbeg tower, called Castle Curious, in the 1840s, just after the Famine.

The three-storey castle is a robust, but achievable, challenge for someone with time on their hands.

Built by hand (and said to be a one-man construction) by the Wallstown, Castletownroche north Cork native Roche on his return from America, he sourced sand from the River Awbeg, lime from Mallow and stone from the locale.

Reports of his deeds and derrings-do say he used to climb to the 45’ high top of the southern turret to blow his horn, literally and metaphorically, and his other achievements include building a mill for flannel, tailoring his own clothes, down to making the buttons, sculpture, making and fixing fiddles and musical pipes, as well as considerable prowess in blacksmithing along with a handy level of success in dentistry: another reported skill was manufacturing false teeth from cow’s hooves.

He is said to have built Castle Curious virtually single handedly, and it is a detached three-bay, three-level limestone tower on a rectangular plan.

Features include bowed turrets to the north-east, crenellations and limestone eaves courses, square-headed window openings and roughly dressed limestone lintels and sills, and the original entry point was via a bridge.

Standing on an acre now, with the River Awbeg flowing by, it is being sold by another hardy individual, engineer Peter Haughton, who has a number of house renovations under his belt, including Georgian terraces and a Martello tower.

He has made out a plan for it, and any work done (it needs a roof, first and foremost) will attract conservation heritage grants as it is a listed site.

Joint selling agents are Keane Mahony Smith and Sheehy Brothers in Kinsale, the other end of County Cork, and price guide for this novel task is €160,000.

As for its builder, Johnny Roche fashioned his own resting place, a tomb in the adjoining Awbeg, but when he died in 1884 he was not buried there having penned (of course) his own epitaph:- ‘Here lies the body of poor John Roche, he had his faults but don’t reproach; For when alive his heart was mellow, An artist, genius and comic fellow.’

‘Tis said the ‘Coroner’ Byrne killed off the river tomb plan with the advice to Johnny: “Go, rest thy bones in Mother Earth and don’t pollute the river.”

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