The story of Irish castles starts with the Normans.
Before the arrival of the Normans in Ireland, the prevailing style of building fortifications was the building of different types of forts, such as the gigantic stone forts on the Aran Islands, or ring forts forts made by piling up earth. Gealic clans used to live in wooden or wattle and daub housing inside the protection of these forts, and there was enough space for cattle as well.
Why did they need fortified residences in the first place you might ask. Well, in those days there was a lot of conflict between neighbouring families or tribes. You could never be sure to be safe.
When the Vikings started to settle in Ireland in the mid-eighthundreds, they, too started building wooden fortifications, so called longphorts. At the Viking settlement in Dublin they built a wooden fortification on the site of what today is Dublin Castle.
Parke's Castle in County Leitrim is beautifully restored and a great example of a late medieval castle worth the 25 minute trip from Sligo town.
Then came the Normans, later called Anglo-Normans, once they intergrated. They arrived first in 1169 AD. Because they had better technology than the Irish who did not have armour at the time, and used inferior weapons compared to the invaders, the Normans were very successful. Many Irish chieftains had to accept the Normans as overlords and pay them dues while existing side by side.
The Normans were extremely adaptable.
Wherever they went, they became fully integrated into the country within a
couple of hundred years. Once in Ireland, some Normans started adopting the
customs of the Gaelic tribes. They might have started to speak Irish, too.
Other Normans spoke Welsh, French or English. There was quite a cultural
melting pot there among the Normans and with that it was no surprise that
wherever they went, they picked up technologies and brought them with them.
Among the technologies the Normans brought to Ireland was the building of
cut-stone fortified Irish castles.
The castle at Shrule, County Mayo on the photo above was built by Normans in 1238 and held out through many a battle.
Existing articles in this section:
The tower house at Annaghdown
Parke's Castle in County Leitrim
After conquering enemy territory, the Normans would first erect a wooden fortified structure, a Motte and Bailey, surrounded by wooden palisades for additional layers of defence. This would later be followed up by building a fortified castle.
These castles started to appear in Norman
strongholds in Ireland from the 13th century. You will find them in
fortified towns, with good and relatively intact examples being Trim, County
Meath, Kilkenny, Ballymote in County Sligo and Athenry in County Galway, see also the photo above of Shrule Castle in County Mayo.
So called Norman tower houses, a form of fortified country residences, which is peculiar to Ireland and Scotland, started to appear in Ireland in the 13th and 14th centuries. But although it had been the Normans that introduced the technologies of building castles, the Gaelic tribes adopted them as well. The Gaelic O’Flaherty’s in Galway, for example built a fine tower house, Aughanure Castle, in Oughterrard.
The imposing Moygara Castle at Monasteraden in County Sligo is a fine example of an early Irish castle. When the site was captured by the Norman De Lacy family from the Gaelic O'Gara Clan early in the 13th century, there were already fortifications of some sort present. The Normans probably started the castle, but some fifty years later the site was recaptured by the O'Gara's who then managed to hold onto it until the late 16th century. Carbon dating results of the castle for different parts came back with dates varying between 1220 and 1650 suggesting that the castle was rebuilt after attacks, and modernized over the entire period of its' use.
With the existing war technologies of the time, these castles were very defendable. After the invention of guns and canons however, fortified castles became obsolete. During the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland which started in 1649, heavily fortified towns such as Waterford and Wexford were won with heavy assault guns.
It became clear that castles could no longer be defended against an army. You might just about be able to defend against an angry mob of peasants! After that time, castles started featuring bigger windows and displaying the wealth of the owners. The styles of castles in Ireland from then on reflected the prevailing building styles that existed in England at the time. Again, the current invaders set the standard. Every new style of the Irish castles, usually named after English monarchs, such as 'Tudor', 'Victorian' and 'Georgian', brought a new style of castle building.
As this site grows we will be adding features on the different types and periods of Irish castles.
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