HUNTINGTON CASTLE, COUNTY CARLOW
executive summry By Hilarius D.G from national geography magazine, original words by Turtle Bunbury
THE PAIR OF EGYPTIANS painted on the door should have given the game away. But I’d passed them several times without noticing the handle. Alex Durdin Robertson pushes the secret door open and turns to me with a mischievous smile. “Come on down.”
When you find yourself in a 17th-century castle like Huntington, you’re entitled to expect a dungeon, with maybe a few rusty iron chains dangling from the damp stone walls. What you wouldn’t necessarily anticipate is a temple dedicated to Isis, the ancient Egyptians goddess of motherhood and fertility.
But that is precisely where Alex has led me. For the next 30 minutes, I amble uncertainly around an incense-scented array of golden centaurs and exotic urns placed alongside zodiac drapes and shrines to the Virgin Mary, Lakshmi, and a host of other feminine icons. “My great-aunt Olivia had a powerful dream that God was a female,” explains Alex. “She interpreted it as a vision. My grandfather agreed, and together they set up the Fellowship of Isis in 1976.”
Huntington has always had an otherworldly ambience. As family lore goes, just over a hundred years ago, shortly before Olivia’s birth, a meteorite fell to earth and landed near the avenue of French lime trees that leads to the Big House. The rock reportedly glowed for weeks, providing a warm perch for crows which, as any Isis devotee will tell you, are the avian messengers of Morrigan, the ancient Irish goddess of battle and strife.
Set in the Slaney Valley at the foot of the Blackstairs Mountains, the Jacobean castle is located just off the main street of the winsome village of Clonegal. Battlements surmount the fairy-tale fortress, topped with a heraldic Irish flag. This was the view that first grabbed filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s attention when he zeroed in on Huntington as a location for his 1975 film Barry Lyndon.
The original tower house was built in 1625 fro Sir Laurence Esmonde, an ancestor of Alex who was among the most influential landowners in southeast Ireland. He covered the costs by placing a toll on a nearby bridge across the River Derry. And for any troublemakers who didn’t want to pay, the dungeon was also his idea.
The Blue Room, where I sleep, features oak paneling, intricately embroidered crewelwork curtains, and a 17th-century four-poster. Change the lightbulb to an oil lamps, and it could be 1625. This is one of just three guest bedrooms, pitched within a warren of creaky corridors, dark alcoves, and zigzag stairwells bedecked in oriental oddities, chain mail suits, and faded tapestries.
Alex pops his head through the dining room door moments after I have forked in the last of my breakfast of scrambled eggs. He’s been up for hours, helping his wife, Clare, get their two toddler sons ready for the day ahead.
“Let’s go see the champions,” he says. I assume he means the potbellied pigs, Boris am Hamlet, both as gray as the turrets above us. But the champs turn out to be over a dozen oak, hickory, and buckeye trees, hailed for girth and height alike. A flock of Lleyn sheep nibble the grass beneath.
As we walk and talk in the arbor, it is clear that for Alex, life is all about his wife, his two sons, and keeping his castle going for another generation. “Inherit, improve, and pass on,” he says. “That’s the unofficial motto. It’s a lot of work, but that’s OK if you don’t mind working.”