Medieval

(c. 1150 – 16th century)


CASTLES AND OTHER FORTIFICATIONS

For general information, an essay on the transition of Norman and early Angevin castles from wood to stone and their technological and social development during the reigns of Henry II, Richard I and John, is available here.

Ulster History Park reconstruction of a typical motte-and-bailey castle.

bailey entrance through wooden palisade with typical outbuilding inside;

wooden bridge and stairway to motte with lord's entrance or watchtower/guardhouse on summit.

 

Dromore Castle, Co. Down. A typical motte and bailey castle dating back to the Anglo-Norman invasion of the 12th century.

Looking across the outer, northern embankment towards the inner motte.

The eastern ditch with the outer embankment to the left, the motte to the right and the bailey beyond.

The outer bailey seen from the top of the motte.

The western embankment and ditch.

 

Clough Castle, Co. Down. Another Anglo-Norman motte and bailey castle dating back to their original incursion in the 12th century. However, Clough received a later 13th century stone tower and 15th century stone addition. Excavations at the summit of the motte revealed post holes for what may have been a wooden hall. The summit of the motte would have been encircled with a palisade of sharpened stakes and surmounted by a two or three storey wooden look-out tower.

The main site at Clough viewed from the west.

The approach to the motte from the lower bailey.

The ditch between the motte and bailey has been much infilled. The view is looking westwards towards Slieve Croob.

 

Cahir Castle, Cahir, Co. Tipperary. The word cahir is derived from the Irish Cathair, meaning a stone fort so there has probably been a fort on this site for millenia. The earliest parts of the castle belong to the 13th century, construction may have begun soon after 1215 when Philip of Worcester received a royal grant. By the 14th century it had been swept up into the Ormonds' control, the Anglo-Norman Butler family who controlled and/or owned much of south-east Ireland during the medieval and early modern periods. Being a strong and important site the castle was developed and grew through several rebuildings and even survived the Cromwellian pillage of Ireland when the garrison deemed it more prudent to surrender than face the power of the Parliamentary artillery. As with many sites it was "restored" in the 19th century to make it "more medieval" but, having survived these indignities it finally passed from the Butler family and into state care in 1964. The site is under the care of the Heritage Service and the Office of Public Works. Admission charge, guided tours available but not obligatory, video presentation. Open throughout the year, phone +353 52 41011.

The modern entrance way, created in the 19th century complete with Butler coat of arms over the door.

The original gateway keep is on the left and the subsequent gateway from the middle to inner bailey is in the centre, complete with machicolations and protecting tower.

The later-period medieval gateway, looking from the killing zone between the portcullis and the gateway to the inner bailey. The portcullis is the only fully working example in Ireland and provided the sound effects for the film Braveheart (also entirely filmed in Ireland!).

The original gatehouse keep with slightly later flanking square tower. It is possible to make out the blocked-up gateway.

The gatehouse keep was developed when encircling mural walls and towers rendered central keeps obsolete (see essay). The gatehouse keep brought the strength of the massive central tower to reinforce the encicling walls' most vulnerable point, the entrance. The stonework of the original gateway can be seen in the keep's surviving stonework. Most of the windows are of early modern or more recent periods. The crenellations throughout the castle are 19th century "corrections" of the dilapidated original characteristic stepped Irish crenellations that have survived on other structures.

 

Dundrum Castle, Co. Down. One of the series of motte-and-bailey castles established by the Anglo-Normans across Ulster during their 12th century invasion. It was subsequently developed with stone towers, curtain walls and a keep by John de Courcy (or Curcy) but fell into Magennis hands during the later period of the expansion of power of the local Gaelic lords. The stone buildings date to this later Magennis period.

The name Dundrum derives from the Irish for castle of the rock. The fortifications were built up on a natural rocky prominence giving excellent views across Dundrum and Newcastle bays and far out to sea.

The natural stone outcrop on which the castle was built can be seen below these fragments of the medieval curtain wall.

The rearmost curtain wall, much reduced by subsequent use, stone robbing and general dereliction.

The inner keep, its round shape indicates its late design for the period. It is currently undergoing stabilisation renovation (2002).

The gateway linking the motte (later inner bailey) with the outer bailey.

All that remains of the south-eastern curtain wall.

The later Magennis stone buildings.

 

Trim Castle, Co Meath. A classic Anglo-Norman castle of the 12th and 13th century. The square keep was the original structure (although perhaps itself superceding a shortlived wooden motte-and-bailey castle) but developments in seige warfare, both engines and techniques, as well as the increasing sophistication of crossbows led to the transfer of the defensive structure to the encircling walls, strengthened by enfilading mural towers (see essay). Trim also exhibits the first stages of the development of gateways into, elsewhere, massive gateway-keeps which combined the living quarters which the earlier keeps provided together with strong defence at the walls' weakest point, the entrance. Most of the eastern wall is completely demolished, courtesy of Cromwell's artillery in the 1650s. Some remains of the town wall are also visible. The castle has been extensively restored since these photos were taken and public access is now available to all parts of the site..

An overall view of the curtain wall, the main (south-eastern) gateway and the original keep beyond.

The north-western gateway entrance, perhaps a later addition to the curtain wall.

The keep undergoing stabilisation and restoration work. It's square shape and that of the tower indicates it was built during the first stage of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the late 12th/early 13th centuries.

The rounded inner face of the south-eastern gateway. The circular mural towers are indicative of a slightly later period than the keep, when castle technology was responding to the greater firepower and accuracy of seige engines and crossbows.

 

 

The Abbey Gate, Kilkenny town walls, dated to between the 13th and 15th centuries, variously rebuilt, demolished, modified and incorporated into later buildings.

 


ANGLO-IRISH ARISTOCRACY

Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary. A Tudor mansion built in the 1560s as a new extension to a 14th, possibly 13th century Anglo-Norman castle. The mansion incorporated two of the original square castle towers but was built as an undefended Tudor house, perhaps the only one so constructed in what was regarded as hostile territory by the Anglo-Irish aristocracy. Although much of the earlier castle was subsequently levelled in the 17th and 18th centuries and the house afflicted by "improving" tenants, the surviving buildings are practically complete and have many unique features still in place. Of particular interest are the long gallery, the wainscotted private chamber of the 10th Earl of Ormond (a favourite of Queen Elizabeth) and the beautifully restored oak roof. Only one tower room remains accessible. The site is under the care of the Heritage Service and the Office of Public Works. Admission charge, viewing by guided tours only. Open from mid-June to September only, phone +353 51 640787.

A front view of the Tudor manor house with the remains of the earlier castle behind.

The east tower, fitted out as guest quarters when the house was built and the remaining usuable parts of the castle were incorporated.

Decorated gateway from the house courtyard into the original outer bailey and watergate of the castle.

The western tower. This contained the private family rooms and could be easily defended if the "natives" proved too hostile. There is still some evidence of the Tudor fireplaces visible.

 


ECCLESIASTICAL SITES

Jerpoint Abbey, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny. Founded c.1160 by Donal MacGillapatrick, King of Ossory. Taken over by Cistercians from Baltinglass Abbey, Co Wicklow (a daughter house of Mellifont Abbey, Co Louth) in 1180 after the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland of the 1160s and '70s. Remains illustrate original Cistercian decorative austerity together with additions of the 15th century when the operation of the rule was relaxed. In 1228 the number of religious was fixed at 36 monks and 50 lay brothers. The Abbey passed to the Earls of Ormond at the Dissolution in 1540. The remains of a deserted medieval village established by the Abbey to house estate workers have been discovered about a mile to the north-west of the site. At its height the Abbey controlled about 14,500 acres of farmland. The site is under the care of the Heritage Service and the Office of Public Works. The remains represent the best example of the stone structures of an Irish Cistercian abbey but there is little visible evidence of the substantial ancillary wooden structures apart from levelled platforms in the surrounding fields. Visitor centre with photo display, guided tours available, admission charge. Open from March to November, phone +353 56 24623.

The Abbey church, the tower was added in the 15th century.

Surviving arches between the nave and the north aisle.

The nave's Early Gothic arches and upper windows unusually placed above the piers rather than, more usually, above the arches.

The original Early Gothic eastern windows of the nave.

Looking down the nave, under the tower, from the chancel.

Looking westwards down the nave towards the chancel and later tower. The bar tracery of the western window, just visible, indicates that it is of a later High Gothic Decorated period style.

An overall view of the nave and eastern windows.

The restored western range of the 15th century decorated cloisters.

Looking across the restored 15th century cloisters, the kitchen, refectory and calefactory would have been beyond the 19th century south wall built to preserve the site.

 

St Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny, Co. Kilkenny. Early Gothic cathedral built between 1202 and 1285 by Anglo-Normans on site of earlier ecclesiastical settlement. The cathedral preserves much of its original style and form, the interior view of the wooden roof structure is especially fine. The choir stalls exhibit exceptional Medieval continental carvings and there are a large number of early stone memorials. The font is original and St Kieran's Chair, a stone used for the enthronement of Bishops may be pre-Christian. An early Christian stone tower stands immediately outside and may be climbed in the summer months (weather permitting) by those fit enough. The cathedral is open throughout the year, Monday - Saturday (9am-1pm, 2pm-6pm) and on Sundays (2pm-6pm). There is no admission charge but visitors are requested to make a donation towards upkeep of the fabric, a small price for such a fine example of an Early Gothic cathedral.

The main nave and tower from the west, note the characteristic Irish stepped crenellations.

The early Christian round tower within the precincts of the cathedral.

Looking down the nave to the Early Gothic windows above the altar.

 

Rock of Cashel, Co. Tipperary. A site probably in use for at least 2000 years. The earliest extant remains are Cormac's Chapel, a Romanesque church of the early 12th century, and a round tower of about the same date. The present Early Gothic style cathedral was begun in the 13th century and the city of Cashel was walled at about the same time. Rebuilding took place in the 16th century and the rock was the site of fierce fighting during the Confederate wars. Although rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries the structures were derelict by the 19th and were repaired by the then Commissioners of Public Works. The adjoining castle probably dates back to the 12th century and illustrates the combined secular and sacred role that the site has fulfilled over the centuries. The Rock of Cashel is under the care of the Heritage Service and the Office of Public Works. The views are excellent. There is an admission charge which includes a guided tour, although this is not obligatory. Open throughout the year. Phone: +353 6261437.

The Rock of Cashel

The medieval cathedral and the earlier round tower.

The Early Gothic windows of the east choir.

The square tower at the crossing of the nave and transepts.

Remains of the castle and, left, the early Celtic cross, said to mark the spot where St Patrick converted King Oenghus (or his brother!) in the second half of the 5th century.

Another view of the remains of the Celtic cross with the south transept behind.

 

The Black Abbey, Kilkenny. 12th century abbey church complete with characteristic Irish stepped crenellations. This church is still in daily use.