The village of Castletownshend grew up around the castles built by the Townshend family from 1650. In the early days the village was not based so near the Castle but further round the western part of the harbour in Castlehaven near the Glen of St Barrahane, where the ruins of the old Church and graveyard can be found, near Castlehaven Castle. The village moved to Castletownshend after the building of the present Church of Ireland Church in Castletownshend (called St Barrahane’s) in 1826.
The original castle was built by Richard Townesend where he tried to settle after his many military campaigns in Ireland with Cromwell before the restoration of Charles II in 1666. Originally called Castletown then later Castle Townsend, the village was finally named Castletownshend in 1870.
Castletownshend is famous for being the home of writers Somerville and Ross who wrote the Irish R.M. books, and the studio/museum in Drishane House is open to the public at seasonal times through the year.
Shana Court was built in 1745 by the British Government on land owned by the Townshends for use as a Customs house for Skibbereen which at the time was a thriving port. It has large cellars underneath for contraband.
It became a private residence in 1860 and was home to Elizabeth St. Lawrence (née Townsend) until her death in 1885. It was passed down to her Great nephew, Maurice F S Townshend.
The master bedroom in Garden Flat was a haberdashery shop in the 1920s, known as ‘The Two Trees Store’, opened by B. Lillie Townshend (Grandmother of the current owner of Shana Court, Geraldine).
In the 1930s and 1950s the house was used for overflow guests from the Castle who slept there and ate their meals at the Castle.
Shana Court was owned and run as a holiday house by Rose-Marie Salter-Townshend from 1944 until she passed it on to her daughter (Geraldine) in 1996.
St Barrahane’s church
The Church is named after the local 5th century hermit.
The present Church was built in 1826 at a cost of £1,384 with stone from Horse Island, one of the Islands at the mouth of the harbour. There are 52 steps up to the church – one for every Sunday of the year. In the porch is an oar from the ship’s boat of SS Lusitania, sunk by enemy action in 1915, just beyond the harbour. It stands here to commemorate the drowned passengers brought into the harbour.
The floor mosaic was designed and commissioned by Edith Somerville and was laid by Rust & Co. of England in 1925.
The Organ, which was built by Foster & Andrews of Hull in 1872 and installed at a cost of £168.0.6d., carries a plaque stating that Dr. E. Œ. Somerville acted as organist for seventy years, from 1875 to 1945.
There are three stained glass windows in the Church by Harry Clarke of Dublin (1889-1931), one of the greatest glass craftsmen of modern times. The small window in the South wall of the Chancel is of exceptional beauty, depicting St. Luke the Apostle. There are also three stained glass windows by Powell of London.
The altar table is made of oak and is very ancient. It had previously been in the hall of Shana Court and was presented to the Church by Edith Somerville in memory of Violet Martin.
Edith Somerville and Violet Martin are buried side by side on a bank at the East end of the church.