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Irish: Baile Chaisleáin an Róistigh
County Cork
Mill buildings and church, Castletownroche
Grid reference: R682024
Location: 52°10’37"N, 8°27’32"W
Population: 454  (2016)
Local Government
Cork East

Castletownroche is a townland and a village in the Barony of Fermoy, County Cork. It is located on the N72 national secondary road. In ancient times, it was known in Irish as Dún Chruadha, meaning Cruadha's Fort.

Castletownroche stands beside the River Awbeg in the valley of the Munster Blackwater about eight miles from Mallow.


Bridge at Castletownroche

de la Roch

The first historical record about Castletownroche is from the late 13th century when the Anglo-Norman family of de la Roche established a fortress here.

They were descendants of Richard FitzGodebert (Richard, son of Godebert) who came with Strongbow to Ireland. Their family had a castle in Pembrokeshire that was built upon an outcrop of stone and they became known as FitzGodebert de la Roch (FitzGodebert of the Rock). From that, their Hiberno-Norman descendants were known as "de la Roch" and finally, Roche. It is from this element, and the castle they built here in County Cork, that Castletownroche gets its name.[1]

Castle Widenham

Like many of the Anglo-Norman families that arrived as invaders, the Roches eventually became loyal to interests different from those of the English crown, allied with the Gaelic aristocracy, and came to be regarded as rebels. After centuries of sporadic conflict, the Roches were routed from their castle. In 1666 Lieutenant Colonel John Widenham, who had lived in County Clare, got the castle as reward. Castletownroche was renamed Castle Widenham.

The Widenhams rebuilt the Roche's mediæval castle in its present form, utilizing the old keep as a principal part. In time it passed to the Widenham-Creaghs, and then by marriage to H. Mitchell Smyth, one of the Smyths of Ballinatray. The Nordstrom family of Germany, the owners since 1991 of what is now what they call Blackwater Castle, are unrelated to this line. The property has been restored to accommodate commercial guests.[2]

Nazi spy

Shortly before Christmas 1942, as Second World War was raging on continental Europe, a tall, well-built man in his early thirties appeared in Castletownroche, gave his name as Oskar Metzke, and said that he was a Czech who was discharged from the British Army as being medically unfit.[3] He produced identification, but when searched by the Garda was found to possess a map with aerial views of the local countryside, a compass, a combined torch and fountain pen and a Luger pistol.[3]

While the Garda were deciding what to do with him, he was left in the care of the barrack's orderly. William Mannix, the son of that officer, wrote the following account:

I was a very young boy at the time, but the story was often repeated to me by my father. Oskar Metzke was sitting quietly by the fireplace, when he asked Garda Mannix if he could eat some of his bread and cheese. On receiving permission, he walked over to the table where it lay. He started to eat his frugal meal, then turned his back on the Garda. Seconds later Oskar Metzke was in convulsions, it was obvious that he had swallowed something lethal and my father, Garda Mannix, did his utmost to retrieve it from his mouth, but already the German was unconscious. Within a matter of minutes Metzke was dead...the subsequent inquest Coroner Nagle of Buttevant revealed that Oskar Metzke had taken a deadly poison, cyanide of potassium.[3]
Some days later, the funeral of Oskar Metzke took place to the old churchyard of St Mary's, situated on a hill overlooking the River Awbeg. Many people from the village attended the simple ceremony. Some years later his body was exhumed and subsequently buried in a German cemetery at Glencree in County Wicklow.[3] It was later confirmed that the Nazis had several secret plans involving Ireland, such as Operation Osprey. However, the identity and motives of the man calling himself Oskar Metzke remain unknown.[4]

A song commemorating Metzke's arrival in Castletownroche, Oskar Metzke German Spy, by Tim O'Riordan is featured on the album Taibhse released in 2018.[5]

About the village

Annes Grove Gardens, laid out in the early twentieth century around an eighteenth-century house, are near Castletownroche. Many of the rhododendrons within the gardens were collected on expedition by Frank Kingdon-Ward. Behind the 18th-century house, paths pass limestone cliffs and overlook Awbeg River and lily ponds.[6] While originally open to the public, the gardens have been closed for a number of years. In 2016, it was proposed the gardens were taken over by the Office of Public Works (OPW).[7] As of early 2019, the gardens had not fully opened to the public and were still under development by the OPW.[8]