This castle is said to have been built in 1181 by Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath, for his brother-in-law, Sir Gilbert de Nugent who resided in it for some time before building the neighboring "Castle of Clonyn". The second castle was burnt at Cromwell's approach during the parliamentary war.
Sir Gilbert De Nogent, came to Ireland in 1171 with Hugh de Lacy, who became Norman Lord of Meath. Gilbert settled on land at Delvin, in the modern county of Westmeath and was gramted the title Baron of Delvin.
The families involvement with Cavan began in the 1500s, when the power of the Clan Mahon O’Reillys began to decline. Clan Mahon at this time extended deep into the modern counties of Meath and Westmeath. When the Tudors came to power in England they used the Anglo Norman lords of Leinster to limit the power of the Gaelic clans. The Nugent, along with the Plunketts, another Anglo Norman family began to push Clan Mahon back to the modern borders of county Cavan in the early 1500s. Even in the second half of the sixteenth century many of the Irish chieftains did not seem to realise that there was a conquest in progress at all.
In 1532 Richard Nugent, 12th Baron of Delvin (the Black Baron) built Ross Castle on the southern shore of Lough Sheelin on the site of an earlier O’Reilly castle. The 13th Baron also Richard was killed in a skirmish near Finea in 1559. Before his death he had been granted a lease on confiscated church land in Cavan. By the time of the Plantation of Ulster the Nugents had extensive lands in south Cavan including most of the modern parishes of Ballymachugh and Mullahoran. The Nugents were always “King’s Men”, realizing full well on whose goodwill and strong arm their lands and titles rested. They did their utmost to maintain and where possible expand their foothold in the new colony.
Richard Nugent, 12th Baron of Delvin and called the Black Baron, was of bad repute. He was hard on his people, ill tempered and said to possess a mean streak, thus his nickname. One story, which is told about him to this day occurred in the village of Ross, many centuries ago: a towns-woman had just finished baking her bread and placed a large loaf on the window sill of her cottage to cool out, when a dog happened to come by. Surely surprised about such an easy meal, the dog grabbed the bread and made off with it. No sooner had this happened, that the woman realised the missing loaf and yelled out through the open window “Thief ! thief !”, upon which the puzzled dog dropped the bread and ran for cover. Now it occurred that soon after a beggar was passing through the village. He was tired and decided to take a rest under a nearby tree to have a snooze. That day the baron and his entourage were out for a hunt along the lake, when he heard the story about the bread thief. It made him angry about the lawlessness in his realm.
As fate would have it, he soon would encounter the beggar, still enjoying his rest. Knowing of the bread gone missing in the nearby village, the baron questioned the vagrant. The latter, knowing that he had done no ill, told him that he did not know about any bread. The baron flew into a rage about being lied to so blatantly, accusing the beggar of stealing the bread. The poor vagrant argued his case, but to no avail. There, on the spot the baron made his men prepare a gallows. As master of the land he possessed the right to pass judgment and to decide over life and death. The beggar was hanged right there and then. This was the nature of Richard Nugent, the Black Baron.
Later, the townspeople found the missing bread. They planted a cross at the place where the gallows stood and where, after 500 years it is remembered to this day.
The family remained Catholic in the decades after the plantation of Ulster and they went on acquiring land in Cavan, including one large grant to Christopher the 14th Baron for holding Finea for the Crown, during the nine year war (1594-1603). Like the rest of the catholic Anglo Norman families they backed the Catholic side in the 1641-53 war, and as a result they lost most of their lands in Cavan.
One branch of the family continued to live and own land in Cavan, at Farrenconnell, in Mountnugent parish, not far from Ross Castle. It was this branch that gave its name to the parish and village of Mountnugent. The most famous of them was Major General Sir Oliver Nugent who commanded the famous 36th Ulster division in the first world war. The last Nugent to live at Farrenconnell died in the 1980s.