Castlecoote

The village of Castlecoote as it is known to-day got it’s name from ‘Coote. Literally translated it means Cootes’’ Castle. The original name was Baile Mhic Oireachtaigh, which can still be seen over the Post Office in Castlecoote.

Some traces of the castle still survive, the ruins were probably used to provide stones for the new residence which was built in the 1790’s by the resident Coote family. Predecessors of these built the castle and one of these, Sir Charles Coote was the president of Connaught in the 1640’s.
The castle was the centre of much activity, being under attack and siege many times. In the vicinity stood a house lived in by Brian Gunning, grandfather of the famous Gunning sisters or “Hibernian Beauties” as they were known.

Maria and Elizabeth Gunning lived for a time in Castlecoot, however, by 1745 their mother had leased a house in Dublin. The story is told that they visited their uncle Barnaby in Holywell, Derrane where their looks were made more beautiful by the waters of the well there. Their mother was the Hon. Bridge Bourke, youngest daughter of the 6th. Viscount of Mayo. Around this time a fortune teller foretold the greatness in store for the two girls, but their financial situation continued to dive great concern. They had to borrow gowns for their presentation to the Lord Lieutenant at Dublin Castle. They were such a sensation that the Viceroy, Lord Harrington, advised their mother to take them to London.

These well bred young ladies were untitled, very poor and had little hope of breaking society’s mould by marrying nobility without name or fortune. The power of the media ( and a very ambitious mother) played no small part in their success. Newspapers reported their movements, verses in their praise filled magazines, portraits were painted by such renowned artists as F. Cotes and print shops sold thousands of copies of “The Fair Hibernians”. They were presented at the court of George 11 and were the toast of high society.

Elizabeth first marriage was to the Duke of Hamilton. He had the reputation of being a womaniser and a heavy drinker. He died at the early age of thirty-seven. Elisabeth’s second marriage was to Colonel John Campbell, heir to the Duke of Argyle. She died at the age of fifty-seven in 1790.

Maria married George Coventry and became a Countess. She was unfortunate in
her early twenties to contract consumption (a common ailment at the time). She died at the age of twenty-seven in 1758.

Their grandfather’s memorial plaque is set in the wall of the Church of Ireland, Roscommon, noting him the father of sixteen children.