The Castle at Dundanion: A Treasure Trove of History.


Dundanion Castle is only about 700 metres from Blackrock village.

Stroll from the village up the Marina towards Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Walk through the first open field on your left towards Dundanion House on the hill and there nearly hidden in the trees to the right of the Dundanion House lie the ruins of Dundanion Castle.

This ivy-covered building may be one of the most historic castle ruins in Ireland and certainly one of the oldest structures in Cork city. Viewed from a distance, do not under any circumstances attempt to enter the old ruin, parts of it may be unsafe and it stands on private ground. The remains are very much hidden by the foliage of the trees in the summer, only some gable walls and a chimney can be seen. The castle outlines are much more visible in the winter.

One has now to imagine that before the Marina was constructed during the 1800s, the tidal waters of the River Lee once lapped on the rocky cliff shoreline in front of you. The solid stone remains of the impressive sloping slipway(“the Kea”) leading eastwards from below the castle ruins are clearly visible to this day.

This castle was once referred to as Galwaies Castle (probably built by the prominent Galwey family, which supplied many Lord Mayors to Cork City). It first appeared on maps around 1600. It seems to have predated Blackrock Castle.

Colin Rynne 1993* gives its date of construction as before 1564 and adds “the corbels, the projecting stones which supported the original wooden floors are clearly visible within the structure, which has fireplaces on the first and second floors”. In Rynne’s book is a photograph of a magnificent solid stone fireplace at the castle.

Henry Allan Jefferies 2004** states “it was a square tower house of rich massive work, three storeys high, with fireplaces on the upper ones and a staircase obliquely in the walls, the doorway and windows square-headed and the servants room or turret joined to the side”.

The tower house was constructed on this rock to command the view of the then river entrance to Cork City, possibly for salmon fishery protection. The main docking area locally at the time was at the deeper waters nearby opposite the ancient roadway Kings Quay, now renamed Church Avenue which runs from the Blackrock Road to the Marina. Smaller boats docked at the slipway beneath the Castle, which then had a river channel through the great Eastern marsh back to Kings Quay and onwards to Loughmahon.

Various characters in history have been connected to the castle, the rebel John Mor Galwey, later Sheriff of Cork, the loyal Roche family, the Waters and Terry families and Nagles lived there. Captain David Nagle, born in 1640 was an M.P. and was the grandfather of Nano Nagle, from whom the Nagle College gets its name. One of David’s sons was Joseph who lived at the Castle and later moved to live in Ballinure.

The Reverend Gibson in his 1861 History of Cork claims Sir Walter Raleigh and his eldest son Watt, having survived a storm off Cornwall, spent some time at anchor in the Harbour between Dundanion and Tivoli. Raleigh was supplied with provisions and men (would be “pirates”), collected debts, conducted land transactions and was wined and dined by the local establishment figures such as Lord Boyle, Lord Roche, Sir. Randall Clayton and Lord Barry. He is likely to have been entertained at Dundanion Castle many times during his time on the nearby river.

As his fleet of upwards of a dozen vessels sailed out from Cork Harbour in August 1617 (dates vary, 6th, 7th, 9th and 19th) Raleigh on board The Destiny must have hoped El Dorado was at hand as he headed for his first stop in Lancerote. The voyage was a disaster, his son Watt was shot dead and Sir Walter was summoned to London to meet his own destiny less than 15 months later.

The tradition of William Penn (further story to follow) leaving the pier to found the State of Pennsylvania has been referred to by many historians.

Did Penn and the Welcome ship in fact drop into the local area in 1682?……we will examine the available evidence shortly,…… there some truth in local folklore!

The Castle was eventually abandoned fell into disrepair and once the imposing Dundanion House nearby was built in 1832 for Sir Thomas Deane (1792-1871), it was no longer of use.

The entrance to the House itself was originally the present-day road entrance to Dundanion Court. Murphy’s shop and petrol station were once occupied by the gardens of Dundanion House.

In spite of its history, inhabitants, stories and legends and its contribution to the story of Cork the historic and ancient Dundanion Castle remains in ruins.

Did William Penn depart from Dundanion Castle to found Pennsylvania in 1682?

There is a long tradition in Cork, and especially in local Blackrock folklore, that the final footsteps of William Penn in Europe on his journey, to found the state of Pennsylvania in 1682 were on the forgotten pier below Dundanion Castle.

That he did leave from Cork is stated in many publications over the years.

It is however argued that no reliable written evidence has been found to support this visit. Does it exist almost 340 years later? Let’s recreate the story!

The local folklore is not as far-fetched as it first seems. So, could William Penn have indeed used Cork, as his last port of call to the New World in September 1682?


Penn was very well acquainted as a young man with Cork. He did a little soldering initially in Ireland and then following a meeting with a school friend, Thomas Loe, he had converted to Quakerism in Cork and was even arrested later in the city in 1667.

The Penn family had arrived with Cromwell and following the defeat of the Irish forces, Admiral William Penn (his father) had been granted land originally in Macroom, where Penn Junior spent some time. Later, due to a change in the political situation, the Macroom land was exchanged for land in Shanagarry and on the Ibane peninsula in West Cork. In September 1669, Penn again arrived in Cork and spent about 9 months preaching, collecting rents and meeting Quakers, as he travelled the country.

Cork by the 1680s had become an important stopping point for voyages to America. There was a huge increase in trade with the Americas from Cork Harbour (some of the Navigation Acts, prohibiting trade to/from Ireland had lapsed in 1680) and many ships took on board, provisions of beef, butter and salted fish, before commencing their onward journeys. Cork Harbour itself was indeed a safe haven for ships during those troubled times in Europe and Ireland. Following the 1641 Rebellion, the brutal Cromwellian Plantation, especially in Cork had changed land ownership considerably. This was followed by the Restoration of Charles II and on his death in 1685, James II, his brother ascended to the English throne. Later still in 1690, the Battle of the Boyne took place.

Religious intolerance was rife in this period in Ireland and elsewhere, with both Catholics and Quakers suffering discrimination. The New World promised religious freedom for Quakers. William Penn decided to go and settle a huge tract of land “granted” by King Charles to his father Admiral Penn. However, in order to make it profitable, he had to sell the land to “adventurers” mainly his members of the Quaker community, even as he planned a state, based on a model of democratic government and religious tolerance.

The Voyage of the Welcome in 1682.

Thirty-eight year old Penn had left his wife and children at home in Warminghurst in Essex and travelled over a hundred miles, to join the Welcome at the Downs near the port of Deal in Kent on 30th August 1682 for the voyage to America. Before he left he had written a letter of advice to his wife and children in case he might never see them again.

George Vaux in 1932 at a Quaker meeting described the departure of the Welcome. It was a wooden vessel of 300 tons, over 100 feet long, depth of 13 feet with three masts under the command of Captain Robert Greenway. It had earlier sailed down the Thames from London to Deal to pick up Penn and then sailed for America on 31st August 1682. Aboard were supposed to be about 100 Quaker emigrants and upwards of 30 crew who had boarded in London. The Welcome was to be the first of a convoy of over 20 boats carrying Quaker emigrants, who had purchased land in Pennsylvania to America.

An account in 1917 by the Philadelphia Welcome Society, gives a tantalising clue as to the Welcome’s progress…..”In sailing from England it was the custom to stop at the Azores, Canary Islands or West Indies for repairs or provisions”. As the normal voyage to America took about 30 days, the Society observed that the Welcome took 57 days and commented that in the circumstances the ship would have been known as “a dull boat” or “an odd tub”.

Other contemporary Quaker accounts say it was “a prosperous voyage of three months”, but the records indicate that the ship actually arrived in Pennsylvania on 27th October (after nearly 8 weeks). Normally a voyage took 4/5 weeks. It could not be described as a “prosperous voyage”, as upwards of a third of the passengers died after succumbing to smallpox, Penn himself was immune as he had the disease as a young fellow. There were no Irish names listed among the passengers in the reconstructed lists, with the exception of Irish born Dennis Rochford, who had lived in England for some time.

So the question is …..why did the voyage take at least 2/3 weeks beyond the normally expected journey time? There is no mention of running into the Spanish pirates on the trip. Did the Welcome call into Cork Harbour however briefly, for repairs, provisions. additional passengers or some other reason, possibly medical treatment for some passengers? This stop would have allowed the virus immune Penn (even if smallpox had already broken out on the ship) to have joined the local Quaker families of the area for perhaps a final farewell to his friends and relations? One passenger, a carpenter, Richard Townsend confirmed that the ship left Deal, but is then silent as to the voyage itself.

Marion Balderston in an article in 1962, in the Huntington Library Quarter, “The Real Welcome Passengers” gives a further clue. She initially confirms that virtually no account of this voyage has survived, letters, a full ship’s log, not even all the port books. “We know nothing of the voyage except that the smallpox killed 30 persons”.

Balderston argues convincingly that there were at a maximum just 65 passengers (and perhaps as low as 50) onboard the Welcome at Deal as it set sail. Her contention is that upwards of 30 further passengers may have been picked on the way. In a letter to James Harrison dated August 1681, Penn in reference to his planned voyage, had stated that some of his friends “had not settled their affairs but when they go, I go”.

She assumes these were his Sussex Quaker friends, Shipley friends and other English Quakers and further assumed that the Welcome could have anchored in the quiet waters off the south coast “by the Isle of Wight” or New Haven or Cowes to pick them up on the way. Penn made a key comment when he later wrote that it “was two weeks before they saw the last of England”, six more weeks before they sighted land in America. That appears to rule out a stop in Cork.

However, Penn had Quakers Friends in Ireland too, friends he was very loyal to as he earlier had fought alongside them for their religious rights even to the extent of serving a jail term with them in 1667 when he could have been released from jail immediately.

Did he call into Cork as well to collect them or even try to personally convince them to join him later? Penn refers to seeing “the last of England”, but in the context of the 1680s Ireland, he was an English landlord, he probably regarded planted Ireland as a part of England. He had virtually no contact with the native Irish, he rarely mentions them, his friends were old English planters and family of former soldiers of the Cromwellian army. Perhaps he did not make a mistake in terminology as has been suggested or confused England’s coastline with the southern coastline of Ireland. To William Penn…… Ireland did not exist as a separate entity.

Why is there no account of the voyage?

Were the passengers later so traumatised by the death and appalling suffering on the ship that most’ including Penn subsequently said very little about the voyage itself? Was the Welcome in fact overcrowded due to the additional passengers? This may have facilitated the outbreak of smallpox and perhaps the less said about the voyage, the better? The only evidence of the unfolding tragedy is based on the records of the last wills of some passengers, but it must have been a frightening trip for all involved, with people dying regularly and being buried at sea. Among those who died were Grace and Mary the two very young children of Dennis Rochford.

Penn was in charge of the voyage and responsible for the passengers on board. As the most important passenger on board he himself may well also have decided, due, not alone to the unclear future he faced in America and his own uncertain business interests to call to say farewell to his old friends in Cork.

Did William Penn leave from Dundanion?

Previously we have examined the progress of the Welcome, the ship chartered by Penn to take him to America, it seemed to have spent up to two weeks, after leaving Deal port in the vicinity of the coastline of “England”.  No relevant record of this period has been located to date which gives an account of this progress.  We have argued that either Penn made a simple error when he mentioned England alone, or he may have regarded Ireland/Cork as part of England, or indeed he wished to keep secret his visit to Cork.

The deeply important Cork Quaker friend connections.

Several Cork Quakers, fed up with persecution, had planned by this time to go to America.  These included William Crispin of Kinsale, Frances Rogers and Jasper Farmer.  Joseph Pike of Cork had invested in lands in Pennsylvania also.  Penn as a real estate promoter would have good reason to seek to reassure existing local investors and encourage new investors to buy land in Pennsylvania in what was a commercial enterprise before he himself departed.  At the end of the day, he was a businessman, he was a planter and in Pennsylvania, he kept slaves on his farm.

A good friend of his was the Cork Quaker Joseph Pike who had accompanied Penn on an earlier journey to Holland. In Penn’s earlier visit in 1669 and 1670, he stated in (My Irish Journey 1669-1670 edited by Isabel Grubb) that he had stayed in Cork with Elizabeth (Jackson) Pike, Joseph’s mother. Elizabeth’s husband, Richard Pike had died “a prisoner” on “the fourth month” in 1668, a year earlier.  On landing in Cobh, Penn went immediately to Cork, the entry on his diary for September 26th 1669 reads “We came to Cork, We lay at Elizabeth Pike’s”.

It was mentioned earlier that Penn had been arrested and jailed in 1667 after a Quaker meeting had been raided in Cork.  Among those arrested at that meeting and jailed with Penn were Francis Rogers and Richard Pike.

Joseph Pike was Richard’s son and Elizabeth Rogers was Francis Roger’s daughter so the friendship and kinship ties between the families would have run deep, enhanced by their shared sense of injustice at their persecution by the authorities.  Penn stood by his friends.

It is important to note that on 5th June 1682, Joseph Pike had married Elizabeth Rogers (daughter of Francis Rogers).  This marriage brought together two of the children of two of his longest-standing Cork Quaker friends with whom he had served time in prison. It seems very plausible that Penn would have visited Cork to meet up with them, just three months after their marriage, especially in a situation where he might never see them again.

There is a further reason also, Joseph Pike was an investor or a potential investor in the Pennsylvania settlements and a visit may have been important to convince the Pikes and their friends to travel and join Penn in the New World.

Eventually, Joseph and Elizabeth Pike decided not to go to Pennsylvania for some reason, although later the Pike family became the owners of 10,000 acres in Chester County, Pennsylvania, which is still known as Pikeland.  However, many of the extended Pike family did emigrate to Pennsylvania.  This land was given to Joseph by William Penn.  Some 200 Quaker families from Ireland did also make the journey to America in subsequent trips, while many others settled into commercial life in Ireland.

Having now considered that Penn had a motive to visit Cork at this time, then it is likely he visited the Pikes and even stayed again with the family.  Elizabeth (Jackson) Pike, Joseph’s mother was still alive also.

Cork Harbour.

He would have arrived in Cork Harbour, which is under 200 miles (322 kms) from Cornwall, and he would have travelled North, through the harbour to Blackrock and the obvious docking pier at Dundanion Castle.  This is quite a substantial stone pier that has survived for over four centuries.  This pier may have served the wider community and not just the occupants of the local castle alone during its long history.

Penn could even have stayed at Dundanion Castle, close to the Harbour if his trip was conducted in secrecy or indeed he could have stayed elsewhere in Cork.  The likelihood is that the Welcome lay at anchor somewhere in Lough Mahon or at Cobh and Penn used a smaller boat to and from the Dundanion Quay or nearby Kings’ Quay to come and go to the Welcome.  Most of the passengers and crew of the Welcome may have had no idea where they were or indeed where Penn had gone.

From the Quay he may indeed have sailed into history to found Pennslyvania, giving rise to the local folklore.  Penn called his new territory Sylvania (Latin for wood)….but King Charles ordered it be named after Penn’s father Admiral Sir William Penn.


Why has no detailed written account of the Welcome trip been located?  Aside from the trauma of the voyage itself, the Quakers faced much institutional hostility and kept many of their activities secret and within their tight-knit groups, so Penn may not have wished to publicise his visit to Cork anyway.

Why did the journey of the Welcome from Deal to America take such a long time?  What was the reason for the delay?  Marion Balderston’s article provides an explanation, although she does not consider an Irish explanation.  That Penn and the Welcome did in fact drop into the local area is very much a possibility, he certainly had the time.

Cork was then in the business of supplying provisions for Atlantic crossings, Penn had the local contacts, he had both friends and business partners, he had multiple reasons and he was in charge of the voyage.  He might simply have wanted “a parting glass” with his friends before his life changed forever,.. although Penn was once described as “a most sober-minded Quaker”.

One cannot ignore local folklore and tradition!

A local and very respected historian Paddy O’Driscoll (1921-2010) was always adamant that William Penn left Dundanion Quay for America and he specifically mentioned the Pike connections.  His view was that so little was written down at the time or indeed has survived that one had to depend on the local bealoideas of the people whose people have lived in the community for centuries and passed on the oral stories of their own community.

Why is there such a lack of written evidence?  Was it that everyone wanted to get on with their new lives after witnessing family and friends die in the confined spaces of the Welcome?  Or was it that mistakes were made by Penn and people moved on anyway to forget, and build new lives for those who survived the voyage of the Welcome?

At this stage his visit to Cork may never be proved conclusively, but there is a very strong possibility the Welcome arrived in Cork on its way to Pennsylvania in early September 1682.  There is little evidence that the Welcome called into the other ports either in the south of England, however it seems pretty certain that it did!

As the Dundanion Castle ruins approach their 500th year, the remains that exist may not stand much longer due to the possible impact of age, neglect and climate change.  It will be a tragedy for all Cork people should this important landmark eventually disappear in a pile of rubble given its historical importance to the story of our community and city.  Do we wait to locate reliable evidence (which may not exist) or do we as a City act quickly to safeguard this castle for future generations?

My thanks to Richard T Cooke for copies of various articles by C.T F McCarthy.  For background information, I read Cllr. Kieran McCarthy’s webpages and Diarmuid O Drisceoil’s recent publication, The Ring of Blackrock.  The Welcome Society of Pennsylvania assisted also.  Marion Balderston’s article in the Huntington Library Quarterly Nov 1962, solved one riddle but opened another.  The Quaker records online provide an excellent background to William Penn.

The arguments made are opinions….please let us know of errors of fact.

If anyone has any further information or suggestions, please reply.

Pictured Photos 7-9.

Nano Nagle, William Penn, and Sir. Walter Raleigh.

* Colin Rynne: The Archaeology of Cork City and Harbour Collins Press 1993. Fireplace at the Castle p65
** Henry Alan Jefferies: Cork Historical Perspectives, Four Courts Press 2004.

Photo of Dundanion Castle, as it stands today.
Wall of Dundanion Castle, as of today.
Old photo of Dundanion Castle
Photo of Church Avenue in Blackrock. Church Avenue was formerly known as Kings’ Quay.
Etching of Dundanion Castle.
Ruins of Dundanion Castle, as of today.
Nano Nagle.
Sir William Penn, former resident of Dundanion Castle
Sir Walter Raleigh
Portrait of the Welcome.
Portrait of Native Americans, greeting Sir. William Penn.
Another old photo of Dundanion Castle.
Dundanion Castle, as of today.
Coat of Arms of Cork City.
Coat of Arms of the State of Pennsylvania.

Published by ferdiaomahony

Writer of local news and history, in the community of Mahon, Blackrock, Cork. Graduated from UCC, with a BA in History and Politics.

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