When one thinks of the Battle of Trafalgar, what usually springs to mind is the British naval victory in 1805 over a combined French and Spanish fleet; or the death of Admiral Lord Nelson at his finest hour; or a vision of Nelson’s Column surrounded by tourists in central London. Here in Aghabullogue parish, in the townland of Carrignamuck on a tree-covered site overlooking the Dripsey River, is a ruined ornamental tower, which has a direct connection to Trafalgar. This particular monument is not on the scale of its commemorative colleague found at Trafalgar Square, but it was erected following the involvement of a member of the local Colthurst family at Trafalgar.
On 21 October 1805, the British naval fleet found itself west of Cape Trafalgar, off the south-west coast of Spain. Nelson took a risky but inspirational decision to arrange the British fleet into two columns, and to attack their Franco-Spanish foes ‘head-on’, who were aligned in a concave formation. Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory spearheaded the attack, taking the lead and enduring heavy damage and casualties, as it engaged with enemy vessels. After hours of intense fighting and 1,700 casualties (one of whom was Nelson himself) the British fleet claimed victory. Franco-Spanish losses were in the region of 6,000 casualties, with 20,000 prisoners taken. It put an end to any possible invasion of Britain by Napoleon, and importantly guaranteed effective British control of the high seas for decades to come.
Nicholas Colthurst was a son of John Colthurst and Jane Bowen of Dripsey Castle. He pursued a naval career, and was a midshipman under Captain Richard Grindall on the HMS Prince during the Battle of Trafalgar. The ship’s crew consisted of some 750 officers, men, boys and Royal Marines. This large and powerful warship, weighing 1,824 tons, was a London Class, 98 gun, second rate ship of the line, having been launched seventeen years earlier in 1788. Its weaponry was not to be sneezed at … twenty-eight 32pdr long guns on the lower gun deck; thirty 18pdr long guns on the middle gun deck; thirty 12pdr long guns on the upper gun deck, eight more on the quarterdeck and two on the forecastle. In addition, it carried six 12pdr carronades on the poop deck and two more on the forecastle; along with twelve half-pounder swivel guns on the upper deck handrails and in the fighting tops.
A former ship’s captain once described the HMS Prince as sailing ‘like a haystack’. By 1796, work was completed to lengthen its hull by seventeen feet, which seemed to make a difference, and it was subsequently described as ‘a good sailing ship’. At Trafalgar, HMS Prince took a position towards the rear of Nelson’s windward column, and did not play any major role in the victory. The warship arrived when the battle was all but over, and proceeded to exchange fire with the Spanish flagship, Principe de Asturias. Undamaged, HMS Prince then unleased a broadside on the gunship Achille, cutting its foremast in two, and setting the French ship’s boats and upper gundeck on fire. HMS Prince, along with other British ships, was in the process of rescuing some of the French crew from the water, when Achille suddenly exploded, taking the remaining officers and men on board with it.
HMS Prince suffered no casualties during these encounters, and only sustained slight damage to its masts and rigging. It later took possession of the damaged Spanish ship Santissima Trinidad, which was the largest of its type in the world, having 140 guns on four decks. Despite limited involvement in the battle itself, HMS Prince was to be of great service in the coming days, due to its size and with the deteriorating weather culminating in a violent sea storm. Many survivors were taken on board the Prince from damaged and foundering enemy ships, including the Santissima Trinidad, which was later scuttled. HMS Prince continued in active service for another thirty-two years, having various and decreasing roles, until it was finally broken up at Portsmouth in 1837.
Nicholas Colthurst, according to Parliamentary returns, entered into service with the Royal Navy on 14 April 1797. Eight years later he held the relatively minor role, during the early stages of the Napoleonic Wars, of a midshipman on board the HMS Prince and during the Battle of Trafalgar. By 19 September 1806, he had been promoted to Lieutenant. Colthurst continued to serve in the Royal Navy, until he was commissioned as a Commander on 29 January 1841, and retired. He later died without issue.
As for the tower itself, its construction date is unclear, but the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage describes it as a ruinous square-plan folly tower, built c. 1820 with rubble stone walls and an ogee-headed opening to each elevation. The tower is also depicted as a rectangular structure on both the 1841 and 1901 surveyed Ordnance Survey maps. The Irish Tourist Association survey of 1944 describes the monument as a plain, ivy-covered, rectangular structure, which once appeared to have a stone roof, and goes on to state it was erected by ‘Capt. Colthurst of the British Navy’ to commemorate the victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Finally, the Archaeological Inventory of County Cork describes it as a mid/late nineteenth century roofless square tower, one storey in height with a high parapet wall, located on a man-made mound, overlooking both the Dripsey River and Clonmoyle House, with the tower said to contain tall stone-arched windows and a fireplace.
Today this structure, constructed at a time of monumental change in European and world history, is easily missed, blending as it does into the surrounding landscape of scrub, undergrowth and trees. It has avoided destruction unlike some of its counterparts such as Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin and Nelson’s Arch at Castletownshend, Co. Cork, but from its ruined appearance has still not manged to avoid the incessant and greatest leveller of them all … the ravages of time itself.
- Anthony Greene, ‘The Church of Ireland in Magourney Parish’ in The Coachford Record, ii, Dec 1991
- BBC History, ‘The Battle of Trafalgar’ (accessed 11 July 2018)
- C. Murphy, Irish Tourist Association: topographical and general survey (1944)
- Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd, Burke’s Irish Family Records (Burkes Peerage, London, 1976)
- Kent History Forum, ‘HMS Prince (1788-1837) (accessed 11 July 2018)
- National Archives, ‘Admiralty: Royal Navy Ships’ Musters (Series I); 01 July 1805-31 December 1805′ ADM 36/16274
- National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (accessed 11 July 2018)
- P. David Sweetman (ed.), Archaeological Inventory of County Cork Volume 3: Mid Cork (Stationery Office, Dublin, 1997)
- Return of all … Commanders … in the Royal Navy … promoted on and since the 29th day of June, 1838 in Parliamentary Papers, xxxi, 1843