The earliest evidence of human habitation in Ireland is 6500 BC at Lough Boora, County Offaly just 15 minutes drive from Kinnitty Castle. These early nomadic men would have hunted and gathered on the edge of the then lakes which have now turned to peat bogs and would also have lived for times in the Slieve Bloom Mountain range which commands expansive views of the country.
Renowned for being the birthplace and early home of legendary Finn MaCool along with being the spawning ground of the Salmon of Knowledge which brought him the wisdom of the world, the Slieve Blooms rolling hills inspire.
The Castle has a long and colourful history which dates back to ancient times. Located on an ancient druidic ceremonial ground, where leylines cross and mystical forces are prevalent, the area around Kinnitty can be considered to be the solar plexis chakra of Ireland.
Born in Munster in the 6th century, Saint Finnian was a disciple of Saint Brendan, at whose wish he founded and governed a monastery at Kinnitty (Cean-e-thich) in Offaly of which he is the patron (Benedictines, Farmer, Husenbeth). This monastery was part of an extensive monastic network across Offaly including Clonmacnoise, Durrow & Rahan, which were among the main 'learning centres' of Europe in their day. Subsequent raids by the Vikings led to their decline. The High Cross associated with St. Finnian's monastery which is now located directly beside the castle, depicts 'the presentation in the temple', 'the crucifixion', 'Adam and Eve' and intertwining birds.
The Clans of the O'Carrolls of Ely occupied the territory around Kinnitty and are reputed to have had over 40 castles around the 11th century, one of which was located on the motte which is found just behind the current castle. The Castle is one of the strongholds of the O'Carroll family of which one Charles Óg O'Carroll was one of the original signatories of the American Declaration of Independance. The descended family still maintain vast estates in Maryland.
In 1630 William O'Carroll built a new Castle in close proximity to the Abbey. This was confiscated in 1641 by the English forces as part of the plantation of Offaly or "Kings County" as the county was then known. In 1664 the crown granted an estate, which included Kinnitty Castle, to Colonel Thomas Winter as reward for military service.
Other castles associated with the O'Carrolls of Ely include Leap Castle, owned by Sean Ryan & Emmell Castle in Cloughjordan, owned by Hollywood actor Patrick Bergin, both of whom can be sometimes found in the Dungeon Bar playing with Con of Kinnitty.
The estate was sold by Colonel Winter's descendants to the Bernard family in 1764. It then became known as Castle Bernard. In 1811 Lady Catherine Hutchinson, wife of Thomas Bernard, commissioned the famous Pain Brothers, architects of Dromoland Castle and Adare Manor, to extend the castle to what Kinnitty Castle is today, a gem of neo gothic architecture.
In the mid 1890's Montgomery Hitchcock and family lived in Kinnitty. Little was it known at the time that his son Rex Ingram would go to Hollywood to become a noted director of spectacular silent movies.
In 1922, as with many stately homes in Ireland, the Castle was burned down by the Republican forces. The Castle was rebuilt in 1928 and the Bernard family lived there until 1946 when it was sold to Lord Decies who in turn sold the Castle to The State in 1951. The State retained ownership until it was purchased by the Ryan family in 1994 and has since been transformed into a luxurious 37 bedroom hotel.
The last, custodians of Kinnitty Castle, Cornelius Ryan, Kathleen Seret and their children, Maureen, Cormac & Neil ,recently dispossessed by KBC IRELAND BANK are descended from Milesius, King of Spain through the line of Heremon, eighth son of that monarch.
The founder of the family was Fiacha Baiceada, son of Cathire More, King of Ireland, A.D.144. The ancient name of the family was Maobreann, signifying "Country Boy". The Chiefs of the Clan were styled Lords of Idrone and Owney, and their possessions were located in the present County of Carlow and throughout Leinster. This territory of the Ryans was subjected to the intrusion of the Anglo-Normans almost from the landing of the latter in Ireland in 1172.