Caisleán an Phuca: The Castle of the Phooka or Fairy Horse
Take the road north form Doneraile, turn right at the Mitchelstown/Kildorrery Road (Brough Crossroads), left at the first turn and then left up a side road and over a bridge. The castle is high on a filed to the right near a right bend – take to the field at this bend or about 200 yards.
It is a dramatic setting with the Ballyhoura hills as a backdrop. Set in what appears originally to have been a Norman or Celtic lios, double ramparted, and so on a plateau of rock above the surrounding area it has a wide sweep of the mountains on almost three sides. At the north there is a natural drop and rock defence.
The entry door is at the east, and has been broken into a large gap. There was a porters lodge to the right of the entry, and spiral stairs broken down in comparatively recent times as they were considered a danger, but the fine work of the spiral shaft can still be admired.
It is possible only to climb to the eye level of the first storey where there is a mural passage, with an equally fine arched roof funning along to the east side, from which entries were to the main rooms. The fifth floor is now missing, as are, of course, the battlements.
Windows are few and small. On the east is a cross-shaped slit window as well as the normal slit windows which are on either side; and at the north-west corner a most unusual slit window at the meeting of the walls. The tower is 42 ft. x 30 at base, with thick (at least 6 ft.) battered walls. An entry gap has also been broken at the base of the ivy-covered south wall. The basement is used by cows.
The castle is recorded to have been built by Geoffrey the Red of the Norman family of Synan in 1380. Father JA Gaughan traces the origin of the family of one Sinad who arrived in Ireland with Strongbow, and to David FitzAdam Synan who arrived in the Doneraile district in the 13th century and in 1251 held land at Castlepook at a rent of a pound of pepper a year. This rent had not altered in 1541, nearly three hundred years later. The family seemed to have run into financial problems by the 16th century. Ames Reagh Synan of ‘Castle Poyky’ obtained a pardon in 1573 in consideration of debts due to the crown; and Patrick ‘of Castelfowke’ received a similar pardon in 1601. In 1636 Nicholas Synan sold much of his land to St Leger for £300, and in 1639 we find St Leger ‘In regard to his more ancient right’ (the Synans had been there 400 years!) getting a grant from Charles I.
Richard Morgan died at Castle Pook aged 106 in 1748. He had been clerk of the Court of Peace for the county in the time of James II; never at salt with his meat, and died of no other complaint than the mere effect of his age. He was buried in Buttevant Friary. Philip Morgan, who was there in 1750 may have been the last to reside in the castle, although Richard Andrews is described a ‘of Castle Pooky’ in 1814.
Lord Roche was apparently the head landlord, and ‘chief rent’ out of the property was due to him, as appears in the details of a regrant to him by James I in 1611. The Roches lost their lands in 1641, so title would have passed to the St Legers.
The last mention of the Synans in regard to the property seems to be in the Egmont MSS when ‘Shinan FitzRobert of Castlepooke’ is named as one of the warders of Liscarroll.
Legends of Castle Pook
As may be anticipated from the name there are a number of legends attached to the castle, and these seem mainly to emanate form the nearby large cave (Castlepook or Mammoth Cave), which is described as having been inhabited by the Phooka, or by a good natured giant to secretly ground corn at night for the people of the neighbourhood.
If they left it outside the door, they would find it outside neatly ground in the morning, but he did not like to be seen, and after one nosey parker had stayed awake in order to catch a glimpse of him, he disappeared and was not seen again. A variant of the story is that no effort should be made to thank the spirit, or giant, but in spit of this the master of the castle feeling grateful, left a new suit of clothes for him. The giant did not appear on the following nights, and was eventually found doing no work because he spent the time admiring himself in his new clothes in a mirror. The idea of such a spirit working surreptitiously for the people and disappearing when seen is not unknown on the continent and ahs been recorded by the Brothers Grimm.
From “The Castles of County Cork”. James N. Healy, Mercer Press, Cork and Dublin, 1988.