You can just make out the ruins of Penn Castle behind the Design Center in Shanagarry, County Cork.
Last week after writing about Shanagarry, the little fishing village that is home to the Ballymaloe cooking school, I got a note from one of my readers, Fred Harwood, who always seems to know a damn lot about the places I’m visiting. Fred wanted to know if Shanagarry wasn’t the village where William Penn owned a castle.
I don’t know how Fred knew this, but he was right; there is a Penn castle here. I’ll tell you how I found out. Yesterday Jan decided to go for a run along the country road in to Shanagarry, which is a couple of miles away. She got a bit lost (and also realized, after passing a roadside memorial to a killed pedestrian, that this wee road probably wasn’t the best for jogging) and went a lot further than she’d expected.
On her way back, there was an older gentleman doing some gardening in his front yard. He stood up and watched as Jan approached and then yelled out asking how far she’d run. Jan said she really didn’t know, but it was further than she’d expected. So the old gent comes over to the low stone wall in front of his house and asks her where she’s from. She tells him and then he points across the street to a ruin sitting behind the Design Center and says, “You’ve heard of William Penn, I suppose. Well, that was his castle.”
It’s not much to look at, the Penn Castle. More like a decrepit stone manor house. But it’s got an interesting story. Penn became a Quaker when he was about fifteen when he met a Quaker missionary, Thomas Loe, but he sort of kept it to himself because the Quakers were persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants in England and Ireland. In 1669, when Penn was 25, he traveled to Ireland to deal with his father’s estates, including the property in Shanagarry known as Penn Castle. While there he became an integral part of the Quaker community (which still exists in this area of Ireland) and decided that he needed to take the issue of Quaker persecution directly to the King. Which he did.
Somewhat surprisingly, King Charles granted an extraordinarily generous charter to Penn giving him possession of over 45,000 square miles of land west of New Jersey and north of Maryland in return for one-fifth of all the gold and silver mined in the province (which had virtually none). At first Penn called the area “New Wales,” and then “Sylvania” (Latin for “forest or words”), but King Charles changed the name to Pennsylvania in honor of Penn’s father, an English admiral and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1660 to 1670.
In 1682 in England, William Penn drew up a Frame of Government for the Pennsylvania colony. Freedom of worship in the colony was an absolute, as was freedom from unjust imprisonment and free elections.
One last thing: Ireland is celebrating this big thing this year called The Gathering. It’s a way to get the hundreds of thousands of people all over the world who are at least part Irish to come home for all kinds of gatherings in the villages, towns and cities of Ireland. There are literary gatherings and jazz gatherings and walking gatherings and, perhaps the most famous gathering, a Riverdance Gathering in Dublin from July 15th to 21st when hundreds (thousands?) of former Riverdance cast members, as well as amateurs, will dance along the banks of the River Liffey. That should be spectacular.
Anyway, I mention this because there’s also going to be a William Penn Gathering in Shanagarry on August 25th to celebrate all things Penn. Fred, maybe you should think about going.