There has been a castle at Lismore ever since 1185 when Prince John built a “castellum” on the present site. When John became King of England he handed the Castle over to the Church and it was used as a Bishop’s Palace until 1589. In 1589 the Castle was leased and later bought outright by Sir Walter Raleigh.
In 1602, when Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower of London for high treason, he sold Lismore along with 42,000 acres for �1,500 to Richard Boyle, who later became the first Earl of Cork. Richard Boyle’s youngest son, Robert Boyle, the philosopher and father of modern chemistry, was born at Lismore in 1626.
Lismore was considerably involved in the Cromwellian wars and in 1645, a force of Catholic confederacy commanded by Lord Castlehaven sacked the town and Castle. Some restoration was carried out by the second Earl of Cork (1612-1694) but from then until 1800 very little was done to the Castle by its owners.
In 1753, the Castle and its lands passed to the fourth Duke of Devonshire following his marriage in 1748 to Lady Charlotte Boyle, the only surviving daughter and heiress of the fourth Earl of Cork (1695-1753). The sixth Duke (1790-1858), known as the bachelor Duke, undertook the most extensive restoration of the Castle. He was a patron of Dickens, Thackeray and, most importantly, Joseph Paxton (1801-1868) who joined the Duke’s establishment as under gardener in 1823 and became his friend and consultant in many spheres. Botanist, inventor, engineer, architect, town planner, and railway promoter, Joseph Paxton not only designed the Crystal Palace for the London exhibition of 1851, he also organised the army works and served in the Crimean war, and became a Liberal member of Parliament. Tsar Nicholas 1st of Russia knighted him in 1844 and he was later knighted by Queen Victoria in 1851. It was he who played a leading part between 1840 and 1858 in creating Lismore Castle as it is today.
Adele Astaire, Fred Astaire’s sister, married Lord Charles Cavendish and lived in the Castle between 1932 and 1944. When her husband died she returned to America but continued to visit Lismore for a month each summer, during which time Fred Astaire was a frequent visitor.
The present duke is Peregrine Andrew Morny Cavendish, 12th Duke of Devonshire (b. 1944).