In the year of our Lord, 1858, the Shirleys of Lough Fea boasted that their estate house contained the largest room in County Monaghan. The honour was not secure, however—a nearby Baron, Lord Rossmore, was determined to claim it for himself. He extended the drawing room of Rossmore Castle to steal the distinction from them. But the rivalry wasn’t over. Lord Rossmore had to extend the drawing room five times to stay ahead of the Shirleys’ relentless construction, and in the end his drawing room still came in second to their Great Hall.
Even though it lacked the largest room in the county, no one could deny that Rossmore Castle was beautiful, built as it was on top of a hill with a panoramic view and 117 windows to see it through (the Shirleys only had 96). Its towers and turrets looked as if they had been lifted straight out of a fairytale illustration, even more so when there was a party on, and there were a lot of parties. The guest lists were star-studded as well—the Prince of Wales was a personal friend of Lord Rossmore. But, as can happen in fairytales, the castle vanished. This had more to do with dry rot than magic, but the effect was the same.
You can visit Rossmore Castle today—my family recently did—but you can’t see it. There are steps up the green hill. You can walk where the Earth was moved to become an appropriate setting to accommodate the architectural jewel, the proud seat of powerful Barons. You can walk up the steps like the Prince of Wales before you, and stand where he stood. The only difference is that if you go there today, you’ll be standing in lovely green grass.
There’s no sign of tower or turret, no trace of the second-largest room in County Monaghan. You won’t need an invitation to enter, no servant or suave socialite will stop you. You can pass freely through once-solid walls, like a ghost of the future on a hill where the air is still heavy with history. You can stand in that place and breath in the lingering scent of pride fallen into disrepair and demolished, of fabulous parties and prestigious people, forgotten.
The green grass is lovely, though.
“All people are like grass,
And their glory is like the flowers of the field;
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
⁃ 1 Peter 1:24-25