George Touchet, 11th Baron Audley and 1st Earl of Castlehaven was a leading English commander in the decisive Battle of Kinsale in which he was wounded. He later became one of Ireland’s largest landowners, possessing 200,000 acres stretching from the lands of the O’Driscolls and O’Mahonys in West Cork to that of the O’Neills of Tyrone. His successor, the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, married royalty as his wife Anne, eldest daughter of Lord Derby and Alice Spencer of Althorp of more recent Lady Diana fame, was at one stage heir presumptive to the throne of Queen Elizabeth I. However the 2nd Earl was accused by Anne of extreme sexual depravity and, following a sensational trial, was executed in London. Remarkably his successor, the 3rd Earl of Castlehaven of Maddenstown, Co. Kildare, became a leading commander in the Catholic Confederacy uprising and led the resistance in Ireland to Protestant advancement and to Cromwell. In the 19th century three successive Lord Audleys were involved in copper mining on their estate in the Mizen peninsula near Ballydehob in West Cork, a venture which was riddled with fraud and corruption. Their estate later became a focal point in the catastrophe of the Great Famine in the region.
In overall terms the story of the lives of the Castlehavens/Audleys can help to illuminate the shifting sands of control and dominance of Irish affairs during many of the key centuries of Irish history.
Michael Christopher Keane is a retired lecturer from University College, Cork. A native of Tarbert, Co Kerry, he now lives in Farran, Ovens, Co. Cork
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