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Norman Castles in Ireland-
Athenry Castle

Athenry castle is a great example of Norman castles in Ireland.

If you are heading for Athenry make sure to visit. Athenry castle in County Galway (Ireland) is in the care of the Office of Public Works and has been beautifully restored by their master craftsmen.

Athenry Castle in County Galway, Ireland, is one of the best preserved Irish castles.

Visitor Information

The castle is located right in the centre of Athenry. Where ever you park, it will be accessible with a short walk.

The visit is well worth it for 3 Euros which includes a fifteen minute audio-visual presentation. If you can get a guided tour (phone in advance), all the better.

It will help you understand some of the more unusual features of the castle that I will be talking you through on this fun page to come, so keep reading! Opening times are between Easter and mid October daily from 10.00 a.m. to 6 p.m. with an earlier closing time of 5 p.m. during October.

Our Special Tips

While you are in Athenry, go walk the medieval streets and take in the atmosphere.

This is the bawn wall with remnants of a watch tower at Athenry Castle in County Galway, Ireland- one of the best preserved Irish castles.

Castles in Ireland- curtain wall and watch towers at Athenry Castle, County Galway, Ireland.

The Castle Wall or Bawn Wall

Athenry castle like all medieval castles in Ireland was surrounded by a strong defensive wall. Parts of the wall are still intact, so is part of one tower seen above. The walls measured much the same as the town walls, fourteen foot tall and four foot wide. On the right hand side you can see the ledge that was created for soldiers to walk on.

Notice the loop windows (splayed towards the inside) in the watch tower. They were designed for archers to shoot through. Apparently professional archers could shoot as many as 10 or 11 arrows per minute! Imagine being exposed to a hail of razor sharp arrows raining on you from above. The Normans were no toy army.

Athenry Castle in County Galway, Ireland, is one of the best preserved Irish castles. This is the downstairs vaulted room which was used as storage and was originally only accessible from above.

The vaulted basement a Athenry castle was  probably used for storage. The only way to access it was through a door from above.

Read More About Castles In Ireland

Visit Medieval Castle Towns

In The Bawn

Every medieval castle had a bawn, surrounded by the castle wall. Inside the bawn were a number of buildings. These could have been wattle and daub huts, or stone built thatched buildings and they housed whatever functions were deemed necessary at the castle.

There could have been a forge (Parke’s castle), stables (Annaghdown), workshops for leather workers or carpenters and storage areas for food. During times of danger, the bawn would also be used to protect cattle. In the bawn at Athenry castle, archaeologists found evidence of a great hall, which was probably used for gatherings, meetings or feasts.

Read here about how vaults were built in the medieval castles in Ireland, and read here about the facilities for prisoners at these castles, (if indeed they did take any...).

Garderobes

The Garderobe at Athenry Castle

Look at the next two pictures, what do you think this may be?

Garderobe at Athenry Castle in County Galway, Ireland, is one of the best preserved Irish castles.
This is the garderobe, a medieval toilet, at Athenry Castle, County Galway, Ireland.

On the two photos above you can see the so called garderobe at Athenry castle. Have a guess what it might be...

I won't keep you waiting for long...Oh what a fine French word for...a medieval toilet!

This is how luxurious life was at the medieval castles in Ireland- you sat on a wooden plank with a hole in it, two abreast, did what you had to do, and the business would then emerge at the bottom seeping down the castle wall. Phew. The smell must have been exquisite indeed. (Never mind the stain on your castle wall!)

A man called a gongfarmer would come a couple of times a year to clear away the waste in his cart. In the meantime, you put up with the stench.

Why oh why?

There was some purpose to the concept...

'Garderobe' is a French word that means, a place to hang your clothes. They actually used the stench- the ammonia in the waste- to free their clothes from bugs such as lice by hanging them above the toilet seat.

How nifty and how practical indeed! :)

Wouldn't you just LOVE to be living back in the day.

On the two photos above you can see the so called garderobe at Athenry castle. Have a guess what it might be...I won't keep you waiting for long...Oh what a fine French word for...a medieval toilet!

You sat on a wooden plank with a hole in it, did what you had to do, and the business would then emerge at the bottom seeping down the castle wall. Phew. The smell must have been exquisite indeed. (Never mind the stain on your castle wall!)

A man called a gongfarmer would come a couple of times a year to clear away the waste in his cart. In the meantime, you put up with the stench.

Why oh why?

There was some purpose to the concept...

'Garderobe' is a French word that means, a place to hang your clothes. They actually used the stench- the ammonia in the waste- to free their clothes from bugs such as lice by hanging them above the toilet seat.

How nifty and how practical indeed! :)

Wouldn't you just LOVE to be living back in the day.

Read about two other types of garderobes in other castles in Ireland here.

The Batter

Now onto the batter. Notice how thick the castle wall is at the bottom? Why do you think this might be the case? Don’t be mistaken, there is purpose behind all these features at medieval castles in Ireland, even behind those that ordinary 21st century punters would hardly notice!

This is a close up of the defensive batter wall at Athenry Castle in County Galway, Ireland, one of the best preserved Irish castles.

A batter makes attacking the castle more difficult. How? Well, for one thing, the attacker cannot undermine the foundations of the castle. A wall of ordinary thickness might give into a battering ram. 

This one above at Athenry is particularly sturdy.

And for another thing, the batter keeps attackers at the exact right distance to effectively bombard them from the battlements above-with arrows, and with whatever else was handy when you were out of arrows- hot water, hot oil, rocks, tar, or indeed with anything at all that could cause damage- such was the fury for your enemy in medieval Ireland.

One of the few decorative pieces at Athenry Castle are the masterful stone carvings on either side of the entrance door probably executed by Norman craftsmen involved in the construction process.

Detail of stone carving at the entrance door of Athenry Castle, County Galway, Ireland.

The Entrance Door

The entrance door at the medieval castles in Ireland deserved special attention as it had to be extremely well defended being the most vulnerable point in the structure.

The high up entrance door- accessible through a wooden stairs at Athenry Castle in County Galway, Ireland.

At Athenry castle the De Berminghams found a unique solution. They built an unusual entrance door which is located high up on the wall.

It must have been accessed via stairs, or, perhaps removable ladders which could be withdrawn to the inside in the case of an attack. The entrance door at Athenry castle did not have a murdering hole, and there probably was no need for one.

Any attackers making their way up on ladders could have been shot at or hauled off the 30 foot ladders very easily as they would have been very exposed. 

Beautiful traditional stairway at Athenry Castle in County Galway, Ireland.

History Of Athenry Castle

Athenry castle was built in 1235 to guard the ford or river crossing across the Clarin river. The town was in an important location at the main Dublin to Galway thorough way. Back then, Athenry was actually much bigger and more important than Galway!

The De Berminghams, Normans who had taken part in the Norman invasion of Ireland and were rewarded lands here by the English king and who were loyal to the crown, were guarding the ford on behalf of the King.

Hence, the castle was first and foremost of strategic importance. It still does give the imposing impression of a military castle. Over the centuries however, the castle was extended building storey upon storey to form a high tower house.

The stronghold ensured that Athenry remained firmly in the hands of loyal subjects of the English crown. After the town was ransacked by Red Hugh O’Donnell in 1596 however, the castle gradually fell to ruin.

Find out about a crucial medieval battle fought at Athenry during which Athenry Castle held out.

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