It’s a sight that seems straight out of a fairytale – a corkscrew tower, spiraling up into the sky, flipped inside out, with stairs curling around the outside instead of the inside.
The tower’s name, once you learn it, reveals no further secrets: it’s simply known as “The Wonderful Barn.”
The barn sits on the Castletown estate near Celbridge, Co. Kildare. Castletown was built for William Conolly, then Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. After Conolly’s death in 1729, his wife, Katherine (née Conyngham), remained at Castletown and implemented a number of building ventures, including the Wonderful Barn.
The barn was built immediately after the famine years of 1740 – 41, with the dual purpose of both storing grain in case of future blights, and of creating employment for the local people devastated by the famine. The barn was completed in 1743.
As the Irish Georgian Society notes, “The eccentrically designed barn, which rises to a height of 70 feet in a tapering cone, is encircled by a cantilevered staircase with a crow’s nest viewing gallery. It is adjoined by a courtyard area in which two conical pigeon houses are found and also by Barnhall House which was constructed shortly before the barn complex.”
Though the barn did serve a practical purpose, its unusual design also makes it something of a folly (an ornamental structure lacking a clear use). Prior to dreaming up the barn, Katherine Conolly also employed hundreds of local people impacted by the famine to build Conolly’s Folly on the Castletown estate, a large obelisk structure, which is still also part of the estate.
Castletown is currently divided between private and state ownership. The estate is open to visitors May through August, and admission is free. Guided tours are available for the summer months for a low price, and you can also tour the estate via guided tour in March, April and September. The luxurious Celbridge Manor Hotel is also on the estate, if you want to make a full trip out of it.
For more information, visit the Castletown website.
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