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.”
Tower houses are very visible in the Irish landscape still. Start
looking, and you will soon spot them practically everywhere.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The back gate of the bawn wall at Annaghdown Castle.
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