The castle dates back to 1185 when the Lord of Ireland fortified an earlier religious settlement.

Built as the sister castle to Ardfinnan Castle in 1185 by the Lord of Ireland, Prince John of England to guard the river crossing, the castle site was originally occupied by Lismore Abbey, an important monastery and seat of learning established in the early 7th century. It was still an ecclesiastical centre when King Henry II of England stayed here in 1171, and except for a brief period after 1185 (when he had assigned his son King John of England to build a ‘castellum’ here) when it served as the episcopal residence of the local bishop. It was a possession of the Earls of Desmond, whose lands were broken up during the plantations following the killing of The 14th Earl of Desmond in 1583. In 1589, Lismore was leased and later acquired by Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh sold the property during his imprisonment for High Treason in 1602 to another infamous colonial adventurer, Richard Boyle, who was later created, in 1620, The 1st Earl of Cork.

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