Roscommon Castle in the town of Roscommon, Ireland, is one
of the most important Irish castles.
Roscommon town is a two hour drive from Dublin, an hour and ten minutes
from both Sligo town and Galway City, 1.5 hours from Westport, and a
half hour drive from Athlone. The roads around here aren't great, so do
take it easy!
The castle itself lies on the outskirts of Roscommon town. Leave
the square in the town centre heading for Castlebar and Galway, and take the
first turn to the left, between buildings.
There is no signpost. If you arrive
at the roundabout, you have gone too far. What you are looking for is the town’s
park. The castle is accessible through the park over a wooden ramp all year
Here comes the good news.
This is a free heritage site! And, the castle is accesible all year. Wonderful. No excuse now not to stop on your way through Roscommon town.
The castle was built by the Crown starting 1275 as a
stronghold against Gaelic chieftains in this part of the country. Any territory
west of the Shannon however was notoriously difficult to hold, and the history
of Roscommon Castle reflects this.
As early as 1340 the castle was captured by
the kings of Connacht, the O’Conors. They remained in charge of the castle for
some two hundred years.
Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney finally captured the
castle in 1569. From 1578 it was held by Sir Nicholas Malbie who served as the
governor of Connacht.
Sir Malby initiated a huge renovation project at the
castle transforming the medieval fortress into a Renaissance manor house with
fashionable large mullioned windows and formal gardens.
From 1641 to 1645 the
castle was held by Parlamentarian forces, re-captured by the Confederates, but
finally conquered and ‘decommissioned’ by Cromwells’s forces.
Under Cromwell, Roscommon
Castle was badly destroyed and suffered the fate of so many Irish castles that
had their defences destroyed, stairways broken and battlements knocked down.
After a bad fire in 1690 the castle fell into ruin altogether. When looking at
the ruin today, it seems that there is a lot of stone missing belonging to the
towers and manor house buildings. It is likely that much of this stone was
taken by locals and reused in the building of town houses, dismantling a piece
of unique medieval Irish culture. Today the castle is a National Monument.
As a castle visit, the structure is certainly fascinating to look
at from the inside of the curtain wall.
Access to the surviving tower would
have been amazing, but the gate is locked, understandably.
The kids had a great
time exploring inside the bawn. So, if you are in the area, definitely stop off
here and have a root around. Look out for medieval details in the walls such as arrow loops, battlements, machicolations and old fireplaces.
Roscommon town could make a lot more of this important piece
of Irish culture and heritage. The County Council invested in a couple of
elaborate brochures on the castle, but the site itself does not have any
displays to help visitors understand what it is they are looking at, never mind
mentioning the fact that this is one of the most important Irish castles with
huge importance for Europe as well.
Roscommon is a good place to break a journey, so if you are passing through, have lunch here and plan in at least 30 minutes for a peek in the park and castle.
Plan this as a day trip from Galway, Westport, Athlone, Sligo or anywhere else within a two hour radius.
To make a day of it, combine your visit with other attractions in the general
area to make a day of it, such as the Rathcroghan
Royal Site at Tulsk, County Roscommon, a 15 minute drive from here; or a
visit to Strokestown Park House at Strokestown,
County Roscommon, a 25 minute drive from here.
If you feel particularly adventurous, you might like to visit the abandoned medieval town of Rindoon which is located on a peninsula in Lough Ree, near the small village of Leecarrow, County Roscommon.
Before you head off, find out here what makes Roscommon Castle so special.
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