Never Miss Any Updates! Subscribe Here And Receive Free Access To Our Irish Castles E-Course!

Enter Your E-mail Address
Enter Your First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Enjoy Irish Culture ezine.

Norman Ireland-
The Norman Tower House Castle

A visitor to Norman Ireland, Luke Gernon, wrote  of the Tower House in 1620:

“These castles are built very strong with narrow stairs for security. The hall is the uppermost room (where) ... you shall be presented with all the drinks of the house...the fire is prepared in the middle of the hall...The table is spread and plentifully furnished with a variety of meats...They feast together with great jollity...the harper begins to tune and sings Irish rhymes of ancient making.”

The Irish castle at Annaghdown, County Galway, Ireland.

Tower houses are very visible in the Irish landscape still. Start looking, and you will soon spot them practically everywhere.

These castles are so much part of Irish culture and blend in so much that one almost stops noticing them. The Tower House  Castles of Ireland were defensive castles- primarily small fortresses for their owners. These medieval castles are less about luxurious living, more about safety.

Tower House Facts

  • There are a lot of these tower houses around the country, mostly in ruins, but some have been lovingly restored by the owners.
  • County Galway alone is said to have over two hundred tower houses, many along the shores of Lough Corrib.
    Castles started being built in Ireland about a generation after the arrival of the Norman invaders who brought the technology with them.
    Tower houses are a peculiar form of residence that exists only in Ireland and Scotland.
  • In Norman  Ireland, these castles were the residences of Norman landowning families, but eventually the Gaelic tribes adopted the same technologies and design and started building them, too.
Castle at Annaghdown, County Galway, Ireland.

Annaghdown Castle as seen approaching from the woods.

Functions Of The Tower House In Norman Ireland

All Norman tower houses share certain key features and functions, catering to the needs of the inhabitants back in the day.

In Norman Ireland, a tower house fulfilled many functions. It was the land owning family’s fortification, as well as residence, it housed animals and grain storage and was a hub or head quarters for their family and for managing their estate.
A landowning family would often own more than one castle, and would move around from estate to estate throughout the year.

Find Out More About Irish Castles

Go Visit Castles

Medieval Comforts

Today, a Norman Ireland style medieval castle would be considered an uncomfortable place to live.
Tower Houses are built of solid stone with no insulation, making them a cold place to live.

Sometimes the castle's inhabitants kept cattle on the ground floor and slept on the floor directly overhead in the hope this might keep them warm. The great hall was probably the warmest room.

The great hall commonly had a central fire with the smoke escaping through an opening in the roof. Often this was later replaced with fireplaces. But even with this 17th century addition it was not going to be an awful lot warmer at the end of the day.

Defensive stairway at the Irish castle at Annaghdown, County Galway, Ireland.

Norman castles feature steep and often irregular stairs, see above, which would be considered impractical and unsafe these days. Back then, these steep stairs were part of a system of features that made your castle safe.

With rooms located directly above one another, there was a lack of privacy, a quality we consider important today that just wasn’t an issue or a concern back then.

Medieval Toilets

I am always interested in the realities of everyday life, so when we started becoming interested in castles, one of the first things I was wondering about was what Norman Ireland's castle inhabitants would have done in relation to their toileting needs. Look at the photo below and see if you can guess. You will find the answer here.

Garderobe chute for slopping out at Annaghdown Castle, County Galway, Ireland.

Functions Of The Tower House

The castle building itself was home to the landowning family, and possibly their cattle that might have been housed on the ground floor. Higher up in the building were the family’s quarters as well as a prison.

The top floor contained the great hall where the family would eat or hold feasts and where guest would be received and dined with merrymaking going on.

In the seventeenth century a minstrels gallery was added to the great hall, a place for musicians and the poet high up from where they entertained the gathering. Originally, the great hall had a fireplace in the middle and a hole in the roof to let the smoke out.

Ceiling of the great hall at the Irish castle at Annaghdown, County Galway, Ireland.

The ceiling of the great hall at Annaghdown Castle with the minstrel's gallery showing at the bottom of the image. The rustic chandelier was made by Jessica Cooke.

Safety Of The Castle

There was more to the estate than a castle itself. All around the castle building was a fortified wall called a bawn wall. Inside the bawn were various other buildings, for example there might be a blacksmiths quarters (Parke's Castle), stables, quarters for those managing the estate and for servants as well as food storage. Outside the bawn wall were some more buildings yet. The outbuildings were a mixture of cut stone structures and timber structures; some may have been wattle and daub.

When there was a threat to the estate, everyone belonging to the estate moved inside the bawn wall and the gates were shut.
At between ten and twelve foot the bawn wall was high enough to be defensible.

Back gate of the bawn wall at Annaghdown Castle, County Galway, Ireland.

The back gate of the bawn wall at Annaghdown Castle.

Hi there, hope you liked our page on Norman Ireland's biggest legacy- the medieval castles in Ireland. If you did and if you like what we do, go on tell your friends so that the may find and enjoy our content, too!

There are social functions at the top left and at the very bottom, just pick yours!

Thanks a million and warmest regards from Susanna and Colm!

Irish castles course

Return to the top of this page

Return to 'Irish Castles'

Buy Us a Cup of Coffee

We invest a lot of our own funds and free time into this website so that you can find out about Irish culture, heritage  and history. 

Please return the favour and help us cover our cost by clicking on Google ads and/ or buying us a cup of coffee! Thank you so much in advance.

Warmest regards, Colm & Susanna

New! Comments

Like what you just read? Leave us a comment!
Share this page:

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.