Coppingers Court Ruins looks more like a haunted house than a former Grand Stronghold. But it was that pervasive cryptic appeal that had Bob and I veering off R597 in County Cork, in search of its exact location.
The sunny day saw us driving along the scenic coastal road, that still allowed staggering speeds of 100 kph, en route to Killarney. Our intention was to check out Drombeg Stone Circle near Clonakilty, but our progress was interrupted when we spotted, on the far side of a valley, the ruins of a manor house or castle. Bob, letting serendipity rule the day, turned down a well-worn side road in search of the intriguing ruins. We had no idea where we were going, but sometimes, the unexpected makes for a more interesting experience.
In a perfectly pastoral setting, we finally located the derelict structure. It was kind of eerie poking around it as it was just me and Bob tiptoeing through the long meadow grasses with not a single sole in sight. It became apparent to us that a farmer was using these noble-appearing ruins to shelter his livestock as the now gaping holes in the ground floor walls were gated with rudimentary wooden barriers. Floors have given way to the bare earth that was sorely trodden and muddy from much hoof activity.
Surrounded by farmer’s fields now, with a group of cows grazing in its shadow, stand the decrepit stone walls that once supported a thick growth of ivy.
Nearby pastures were sectioned off with stone fences, and both the cows and one forlorn horse were passing the day there. Their curiosity had them coming to the edge of their enclosures to see what we were about.
It wasn’t until after Bob and I left these ruins behind that we became enlightened as to their sordid past. Continuing down the narrow dirt road, we came across a local couple walking their dogs, and they were eager to share the history with us. It turns out that the impressive multi-sided, four-storey house was built by Sir Walter Coppinger shortly before 1616. The beautiful location where it is found is the fertile Ballyvirine Valley west of Rosscarbery.
Coppinger was a well-known money-lender who planned to build a town at his Coppinger’s Court location because of the proximity to the harbour at Millcove. This was in direct conflict with locals who preferred the traditional ways of rural life. Coppinger, however, lorded it over the district, and hung anyone who disagreed with him from a gallows on one of the gable ends of the Court. Perhaps that is why the ruins seemed so ominous.
Coppinger’s plans went awry during the 1641 Rebellion when his manor house was ransacked and burned. The unfortunate event was actually due to Sir Walter’s own waywardness. Before leaving his home to settle a dispute with a neighbour, Sir Walter instructed his servants to set the house afire if he failed to return by a certain hour. Coppinger won the dispute, then settled into celebrations with ample food and wine. You can imagine his horror when, approaching his manor at a later hour than expected, the whole edifice was ablaze.
As a testament to the solid construction of Coppinger’s Court, still, today, two sets of triple chimney pots and another single chimney stack rise from the blackened rubble. Well-preserved turrets and parapets have endured the wear and tear of the centuries, and the many corbel-supported bartizans all combine to suggest the once opulent structure that dominated the valley.
As Bob and I explored the various chambers that are now totally exposed to the elements, we remarked that the walls were once wondrously filled with large windows. In fact, the mullions still remain in some of the top-floor windows of the once grand residence.
Coppinger’s Court was an impressive estate with a reputation for extravagance.
It is reputed to have had one window for every day of the year, a chimney for every week, and a door for every month. With the multiple wings that constituted the building, it is quite possible that that is true.
Because Sir Walter Coppinger is remembered as an awful despot, it makes one wonder if any ghosts haunt that abandoned building.
Bob and I sensed no spirits as we lingered in the place, just an overwhelming pervasiveness of loss and loneliness. The only sounds to disturb the unsettling silence were those of some startled doves.
Having satisfied our curiosity, it was time to motor on down the narrow dirt road. Our serendipitous interlude had done wonders for our imaginations. No wonder Sir Walter was inspired to build his dream home in the Ballyvirine Valley. The countryside is most beautiful there. As we took our leave, Bob and I were compelled to take one last glance at the forlorn Coppinger’s Court. It seemed as though someone was watching us.