The site on which Hollow House can be found on is one that has changed and adapted throughout its time starting in the 17th century. The first sign of life in the area is the bawn wall for the residence that was said to be “built by de Renzi” it can be assumed that there was a castle on the site because of an ordnance survey stating ‘Castle in ruins’. It is certain that they were living incredibly comfortably for the time because of their previous home in Clonony castle for eight years from 1612 to1620 before leaving and eventually buying the land where Hollow House stands today. The bawn and circular towers found in the area were originally built with defence in mind, as time passed their use became more domestic. The towers were repurposed as pigeon towers.
Remaining part of the bawn wall from the outside
The gardens at Hollow House have been described as early-eighteenth century by Maurice Craig and William Garner but the 1838 ordnance survey of Tinnycross seems to confirm no such gardens are depicted. However, the same survey also left out a large lake near Birr castle so it is still possible that the features were simply left out for some reason or another. This same issue presents itself with putting a date on the creation of the decorative pond in the garden as it first appears in a 1910 ordnance survey of Tinnycross, but since the 1838 survey may be unreliable, it is uncertain when the pond was actually built. The farmyard beside the house shows signs of being built in the mid-late 1800s, the largest building has a corner slab with the year 1863 seen on the wall. The pond in the garden includes two stone structures built in three tiers of oddly shaped limestone rocks, the gaps in these stones were more than likely used by water fowl as a shelter. These structures were decorative pieces more than anything, it is unfortunate to note that one of these structures was destroyed by a falling tree in recent years, the stones from the structure remain in the place where it once stood.
Long shot of the gardens, house, pond and turrets at Hollow House,
Sir Matthew De Renzy (1577-1634) was born in Cologne, Germany. It must be noted that the surname de Renzy has been spelt de Renzi or de Renci and these spellings were used interchangeably on different documents. He became a cloth merchant in Antwerp, one of many merchants who held control over the trade in the city, this fell apart due to a decline in trade in the area which was caused by a conflict between the Dutch United Provinces and the ruling Spanish Hapsburgs which led him to move to London in 1604, he found himself in financial difficulty in early 1606 and when he was unable to recover enough money from merchants who owed him, he was then declared bankrupt. With his creditors were pursuing him so he fled rapidly to Ireland via Scotland arriving in Dublin in August, without a penny to his name.
His main ambition upon arrival was to obtain land and he understood that to achieve this successfully he would need friends in high places. He made many good contacts in Dublin and further afield including Sir Arthur Chichester, then Lord Deputy of Ireland. As a polyglot he was fluent in Latin, Italian, English, German, French and Spanish and set about learning Irish he learned both spoken and colloquial Irish from Conchubhar and Tadhg Mac Daire MacBruaideadh he also learned classical Irish in Sligo from Tadhg Ó hUiginn so that he could read Irish manuscripts and write in the language this new skill aided him in communicating with the Gaelic Lords at the time and gaining the trust and more importantly, their land. He acquired 100 acres in Clonony where he lived in the castle that remains standing to this day. His 100 acres expanded to over 1000 acres in the following years.
In around 1620 he sold his land in Clonony and became a government administrator in Dublin, he was knighted in 1627. Not much is known about his marriage but he was first married in 1608 to Mary Adams and his second marriage was to Anne Maypowder. His interest in the Irish language was purely from the perspective of a planter attempting to gain land in a functioning Gaelic Lordship that still remained in Offaly at the time. Despite his affinity in their language the local farmers and families often disrespected his claim to the land he lived on often ploughing on his land and de Renzy had to fight hard to keep his claim on any land in the area both legally and literally, this conflict may have been the reason for the defensive style found at Hollow House. He also had a son Matthew de Renzy, his heir. In 1630 he purchased land near Tinnycross Co. Offaly, in the name of his eldest son. De Renzy died in 1634, his son Matthew Jr. commissioned a memorial for his father in St. Mary’s Church Athlone where it can be seen today.
Matthew Jr. was listed as the owner of the land in Tinnycross in the Down Survey of 1654-6, during his ownership of the land he let it to Francis De Renzy who lived there with his wife Elizabeth Keane. Francis died in 1665 and is commemorated in Durrow church with a carved grave slab. This stone was moved outside to the north face in about 2004. His wife remarried and eventually died in 1686. The land came into the hands of the Cox family of Ferns through another Matthew De Renzy in 1704. Sir William Cox was cited as the owner in Griffith’s Valuation of 1854. He leased it to Edward Kelly who has been noted to live in Tinnycross in a list of landholders in King’s Co. 1824 and Griffith’s valuation 1854. It is also noted in Griffith’s valuation that Edward Kelly was also leasing small amounts of land to several people in the area, Michael Seery, William Freyn, Christopher and Elizabeth Hackett and James Lynham. It can be assumed that the land remained to be leased to different families for residence and farming for the next 50 or so years until eventually coming into the hands of the Walsh family where they would continue to live in the area for most of the 20th century and beyond.
Map of 1838 showing Hollow House with the inscription “Castle in ruins”
The beginning of the 20th century sees Hollow House being inhabited by two young men Patrick Walsh, 18 listed as the Head of the Family and his younger brother Andrew, 17. Looking at the House and Building Return from the 1901 census the landlord listed for their dwelling was Michael Walsh who appears to be their father from his own census record with many children and of perfect age to have had both of the brothers. Another link between them is that Michael is listed as a farmer under his own occupation while the young men put themselves down as farmer’s sons. The evidence suggests that the brothers had started to farm on their own just north of where their father lived and worked with the rest of the rather large family having eight other children at home and a servant to help either on the farm or around the house. By 1911 we can see that Andrew has started a family with his wife, Elizabeth and two young children Michael and Patrick.
Archaeology.ie provides the following:
Townland: BALLYNASRAH OR TINNYCROSS
Description: An early Georgian farmhouse is situated on the site of castle of which nothing remains. The four round corner towers along with bawn wall and round arched gateway with triangular pediment and spiral finials all belong to the late 18th or early 19th-century and were built after the castle was destroyed probably by the occupiers of the now ruinous Georgian farmhouse.
An early Georgian farmhouse is situated on the site of a castle of which only the bawn survives. The four circular angle towers along with part of the bawn wall (OF009-023001-) appear to date from the seventeenth century. The round arched gateway with triangular pediment and spiral finials appear to belong to the late eighteenth or early nineteenth-century and were built after the castle was destroyed probably by the occupants of the ruinous farmhouse. The back wall of this cottage is part of the earlier bawn wall of 17th century date. Probable plantation castle of 17th century date with large rectangular bawn wall with four corner flanking towers. The wall and angle towers are defended with gun loops that provided flanking fire along the outer face of all four walls of the bawn.
The above description is derived from the published ‘Archaeological Inventory of County Offaly’ (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1997). In certain instances the entries have been revised and updated in the light of recent research.
Townland: BALLYNASRAH OR TINNYCROSS
Scheduled for inclusion in the next revision of the RMP: Yes
Description: An early Georgian farmhouse is situated on the site of a castle of which only the bawn survives. The four circular angle towers along with part of the bawn wall appear to date from the seventeenth century. The round arched gateway with triangular pediment and spiral finials appear to belong to the late eighteenth or early nineteenth-century and were built after the castle was destroyed probably by the occupants of the ruinous farmhouse. The back wall of this cottage is part of the earlier bawn wall of 17th century date. Probable plantation castle (OF009-023—-) of 17th century date with large rectangular bawn wall with four corner flanking towers. The wall and angle towers are defended with gun loops that provided flanking fire along the outer face of all four walls of the bawn.
Compiled by: Caimin O’Brien.
Date of upload: 23 May 2011
Griffith’s Valuation 1854
A list of landholders names in King’s Co. 1824. Available at RootsIreland
map images found on – https://osi.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=bc56a1cf08844a2aa2609aa92e89497e
Offaly History wishes to thank Aisling Walsh for her work for the Society as a transition year student from Sacred Heart, Tullamore. Well done