Classiebawn Castle: The Fairytale Sligo Castle And The Assassination of Lord Mountbatten

classiebawn castle
Photos by Gareth Wray (info on prints below!)

I‘ve visited Mullaghmore in Sligo and admired the mighty Classiebawn Castle from afar many times over the years.

However, for one reason or another, I was never curious enough to look into its history, which is very unlike me, as I’m a nosey f***er at the best of times.

It wasn’t until we were cooped away at home for a few weeks (March 2020… one we’ll never forget) that I spent a good chunk of time reading about Classiebawn along with many other castles in Ireland.

In the guide below, you’ll get an insight into the history of Classiebawn Castle, which includes a very grizzly assassination.

The History of Classiebawn Castle

classiebawn castle co sligo
Via Failte Ireland

The history of Classiebawn Castle is an interesting one. The castle was built on what was once a 10,000-acre estate on the Mullaghmore peninsula in County Sligo in the west of Ireland.

Like many Irish castles, Classiebawn passed through many hands over the years. In the section below, you’ll get a speedy insight into the history of the castle, many of those who owned it, and how you can see it today.

When it was built

Before we get into the story of how Classiebawn Castle came to be, it’s worth mentioning that the land upon which the castle is built was confiscated by the English Parliament from an Irish family.

Yes, that old story once again. The land in Mullaghmore was owned by the O’Connor family, but it was taken by the English to compensate those that succeeded in stopping an Irish rebellion.

The building of Classiebawn Castle in County Sligo (which was made primarily of stone from Donegal) was started by the third Lord Palmerston, who was once Prime Minister of the UK.

Lord Palmerston also commissioned the construction of the harbour on Mullaghmore peninsula.

However, Lord Palmerston died in 1865, long before the construction of the fairytale-like Mullaghmore castle was completed. It wasn’t until his stepson, the first Lord Mount Temple, took over that Classiebawn was completed in 1874.

The early days at Classiebawn

After the first Lord Mount Temple died in October of 1888, the Mullaghmore estate was inherited by his nephew, The Honourable Evelyn Ashley.

When he died in 1888, his son, Colonel Wilfrid Ashley, inherited the estate and became the second Lord Mount Temple.

Before the Irish Rebellion began, Classiebawn Castle was mainly used as a holiday home, of sorts. In the winter, the castle was used as a shooting lodge and in the summer it was used as a base for the family while they fished.

The Rebellion

Classiebawn Castle was commandeered by the Irish Free State Army during the rebellion and was used primarily as an army barracks.

A flag was flown and the army protected the castle and its estate. When the rebellion ended, the castle was handed back to Lord Mount Temple.

The Royal Family Connection

Classiebawn Castle has a very strong link to the Royal Family. In 1939, Edwina Cynthia Annette Mountbatten, Countess Mountbatten of Burma inherited the castle.

She and her husband, The 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, made a number of upgrades to the castle, like the installation of electricity and the addition of water mains.

The 1st Earl Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma is Prince Philip’s (yes, the Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth II’s husband!) uncle.

Although Countess Mountbatten died in 1960, Lord Mountbatten continued to visit the castle during the summer for many years.

The Assassination of Lord Louis Mountbatten

On a sunny day in August of 1979, Lord Louis Mountbatten was assassinated not far from Classiebawn Castle, while in a fishing boat in the water off Mullaghmore.

Thomas McMahon, a member of the IRA, made his way onto the boat the night before and attached an explosive that could be controlled remotely.

There were a number of people on-board when the explosion went off:

  • Lord Louis Mountbatten
  • His daughter Patricia
  • His son in law, Lord Brabourne
  • His grandsons Nicholas and Timothy
  • Lord Brabourne’s elderly mother
  • Paul Maxwell – a member of the fishing crew

The blast killed Nicholas, Paul, Lord Brabourne’s mother, Doreen, and Lord Louis Mountbatten, sparking outrage across the world.

It’s believed that there was another assassination attempt a year earlier, in 1978. It’s alleged that the IRA attempted to shoot Mountbatten while he was on his boat, but that bad weather prevented a sniper from taking a shot.

Visiting Classiebawn Castle

mullaghmore castle
Photo by Gareth Wray (you can buy prints of this here)

I’ve found it virtually impossible to find any up-to-date info on Classiebawn Castle, aside from the fact that it’s currently owned by the estate of Hugh Tunney, who passed away in 2011.

Hugh Tunney was a butcher’s apprentice who went on to build a meat-processing empire in Ireland. He began leasing Classiebawn Castle in 1976 and purchased it following the assassination of Mountbatten.

According to an Independent article from 2015, Hugh Tunney is survived by his wife Eileen, his children Nuala, Mauretta, Hugh, James and 13 grandchildren.

So, unfortunately, you won’t be able to visit the castle. You won’t be able to get that close to it, either, as it’s situated on 3,000 acres of private land.

However, you can admire Classiebawn Castle from afar if you head off on a ramble around Mullaghmore. You’ll be treated to mighty views of the castle with the backdrop of Bunbulben mountain.

Visiting Sligo and looking for more places to visit and explore? Check out our guide to 27 of the best things to do in Sligo.

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