About Us – The History of Bansha Castle

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Bansha Castle 1895

Bansha Castle was built c.1760 on the site of the original 11th century castle. Extensively remodelled c.1830 and also c.1900, it originally consisted of a late Georgian wing attached to a medieval tower house. The castle was the home of the O’Ryan family until late 1800s, when it was acquired by the British Government as a grace and favour house for General Sir William Butler on his retirement following the Boer war.

General Butler was born in Ballycarron, about three miles from Bansha village. After joining the British Army he saw service initially in Burma and India and was subsequently posted to Canada where he was responsible for submitting the report which led to the setting up of the North Western Police- ‘the Mounties’. Although a brilliant soldier, Butler hated war. As Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in South Africa in the 1890s, he tried to dissuade the British Government from taking on the Boers, knowing it would be a long and costly war, whereas the Government thought they were only up against inexperienced farmers. In 1899 he was forced to resign having been accused of having pro-Boer sympathies. He was made the scapegoat for the bloody war which followed and suffered intense humiliation.

Butler retired to Bansha Castle and happily was able to clear his name before he died in 1910. He carried out a number of alterations to the house – removing the castellations around the roof, demolishing the early tower, and replacing it and re-roofing the house. He was buried in Kilaldriff cemetery, not far from Bansha.

If General Sir William Butler was famous then his wife, Elizabeth Thompson was equally distinguished. She became Lady Butler, The Battle Artist. Never having witnessed war at first hand, her battle scenes won her the popularity and critical success that no other female British painter has ever approached. Among her most famous paintings are ‘The Roll Call’, ‘Scotland Forever’, and ‘The Charge’. Many of her paintings were completed in Bansha Castle. She used the top room of the North tower as her studio.

She continued to live on in Bansha Castle after her husband’s death. During the troubles in 1922, the house was occupied by the IRA. In great indignation Lady Butler walked out of the house, leaving everything behind. She was never to return. It was left to her son, a colonel in the British Army, to
retrieve her paintings. One of her paintings, ’The Camel Corp’, is rumoured to have a bullet hole in it,
received in Bansha Castle. She went to live with her daughter, Lady Gormanstown, at Gormanstown Castle where she died in 1932. An account of this episode can be read in her book ‘A Little Kept’.

Bansha Castle then became the property of Mr.Tom Givens, retired Chief of Police in Shanghai, before it was acquired in the early fifties by Dr.James Russell He ran it as a stud farm and bred the famous
1970’s racehorse Rheingold on the lands. In 1975 there was a major fire and the house was
closed for a number of years.

In 1982 John and Teresa Russell decided to renovate the house to provide luxury accommodation in Ireland.
As can be observed, this renovation has become an ongoing labour of love.

Book online or contact us for more information on our luxury accommodation in Ireland.