Location: The Island, Co. Waterford, Ireland
Size: 19 Rooms/5 Suites as well as 3-BR self-catering holiday homes
Nearby: For many, the island is a destination in itself but should you want to leave its shores you’ll find plenty to interest you. Discover a historic city with roots in Norman times, where today, commerce, enterprise and industry thrive. Waterford City is home to many exciting and historic tourist attractions and of course is home to the wonderful Waterford Crystal.
Being renowned for its fresh produce and the wonderful seafood harvested from the wild Atlantic, you’ll find plenty of exciting restaurants in Waterford City to tempt you. Famed as a centre for cultural and artistic activity you’ll find a busy calendar of year round events – theatre, opera, festivals and music to suit all tastes.
The glorious beaches and picturesque villages of the Sunny South East are on your doorstep, and racing enthusiasts will enjoy the thrill of a day at nearby Tramore or Gowran Park racecourses. Golfers will be spoilt for choice with other golfing gems such as nearby Faithlegg and Mount Juliet just a short drive away.
The Island was fashioned by nature. Picturesque and enchanting, sheltered and secure. Its strategic location, in a pivotal position near Waterford City and its important post, brought it historical fame and caused it to play a major role in the history of the region. It reaches back into time, a time capsule that reflects history.
The Beginning – Monks
According to tradition a Monastic settlement existed on the Island sometime between the sixth and the eighth centuries and two ‘finds’ on the Island and have lent substance to this: A Winged Angel dating from the 8th century and the crude carving of a Monk’s head, which is now prominently displayed over the main entrance to the Castle, dating from the 6th century. The Island’s seclusion was attractive to the Monks, however due to its strategic importance they came under frequent attack and were forced to move to safer quarters.
The Island was then home to a Danish settlement with two Castles guarding the river at the North and South and was thereafter referred to in annals as Dane’s Island or Island Vryk.
Maurice Fitzgerald, cousin of Strongbow, the English Earl of Pembroke, landed in Waterford during the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1160. During a battle he was taken prisoner by Osserman of Waterford and held on the Island until he was rescued by his son-in-law to rejoin the victorious Norman Army.
He was rewarded for his support of the invasion by becoming potentate over large tracts of land in Munster and Leinster, including the island in which he decided to make his home, thus sealing the fate of the island for eight centuries, being home to the Earls of Kildare and Ormond and the Knights of Glin and Kerry, in one of the longest unbroken stewardship’s on record in Ireland
The first structure built by the Fitzgeralds was a Norman Keep; a tower like stone structure with thick walls, narrow slit windows and a lead roof. At that time the Keep would have been the core of any defence in the battle and would have been virtually impregnable. By the 15th century, the ruins of the Keep were no longer habitable. A tower, the centre part of the present Castle, was then constructed on the site of the old Keep. Initially it was relatively modest in size but, over the years was enlarged. Firstly in 1849 by John Fitzgerald and subsequently in 1875 and 1895 when the East and West wings were added. Built entirely of stone, they completed the main structure to such an extent that, now they are indistinguishable. Up until the present century the castle retained its original arrow slit windows, giving a fortress like exterior and a rather dark uncomfortable interior. It was during the last stage of expansion that the farm buildings and stable yard were developed on the Island to support an entire community.
Another feature added to the Castle during the centuries was the roof top gargoyles. Brought here from the Castle Irwell in Manchester, which belonged to a female ancestor.
15th and 16th Centuries
The Fitzgeralds were, during the 15th and 16th centuries, the Kings of Ireland in all but name and held many feasts and banquets on the Island.
The Castle was never out of the social limelight and figured prominently in the 18th centuries as the home of Mary frances Fitzgerald, a formidable lady, who dominated the social world of the time. At one stage engaged to the Duke of Wellington – The Iron Duke, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and later became a British Prime minister – she broke off the engagement to marry her first cousin, John Purcell in 1801.
Of her children, Edward Fitzgerald is best remembered as the translator of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat. The Sylvan tranquility of the island retreat brought forth its rewards and it was and still is considered a masterpiece.
Edward Fitzgerald was the great, great uncle of Mary Fitzgerald, who was the last of that name to own the Castle. She married an Italian Prince, Prince Caracciolo, whom she met while studying in Italy. On their return they made their home in Dublin, where she was a prominent patron of the Arts.
In 1958, the Igo family who came from Rhodesia bought the property from the Princess Caracciolo, thus ending the remarkable link between the Fitzgeralds and the island. The Igo’s installed a five acre complex of glasshouses from which they produced fruits and flowers. The chain link ferry was also commissioned at this time.
Their interest in the venture and the island passed to the Farren Brothers who concentrated on tomato growing, updating the roads and fencing throughout the island. In 1978 the Island was rented to Roger Shipsey, a Waterford Pedigree Dairy Farmer, who later bought the island outright. He saw a great advantage of the island as a disease free area due to its isolation.
Eddie Kearns, who bought The Island in 1987 both preserved its past and secured its future by opening the beauty of the Castle and the Island to all visitors by developing it into a luxurious Hotel and Country Club
The current owners purchased the Castle in 1997 and many of the senior staff have been here since the beginning. It is renowned internationally as an island to visit for a truly intimate Irish experience.