By Gemma Grant
Situated in the centre of Enniscorthy town, Enniscorthy castle is among the oldest and best preserved of Ireland’s castles. The old castle has a rich and varied history from its Anglo-Norman beginnings in the early thirteenth century.
The first Norman name associated with the castle is that of Prendergast. The Welsh adventurers arrived in 1169, when Maurice de Prendergast, a Fleming from Prendergast, Pembrokeshire, Wales, led a group of some 200 archers to Ireland.
Prendergast was part of the first wave of invaders, eager to help Diarmait Mac Murchada, King of Leinster, regain disputed territory and gain as much land as they could for themselves.
Maurice joined forces with Fitz Stephen and Diarmait Mac Murchada in their attack on Wexford. He would later return to Ireland to serve Richard de Clare, (Strongbow) and helped him in his attack on Waterford. For services to Strongbow, Maurice de Prendergast was granted land in Wexford and died in 1205.
Maurice’s son Philip, married to Maude de Quincey, was considered the builder of Enniscorthy castle, but another source cites Philip’s son Gerald, as being the castle builder. Philip died in 1229 and the building of the castle is said to have taken place between the years 1232-1240, during the tenure of Gerald, who died 1251, leaving two girls, Maria and Matilda.
The new arrivals, could never be guaranteed the luxury of quiet country living.
Some one hundred years plus, after completion, the castle saw new owners when it fell to Art MacMurrough Kavanagh, (1357-1417). Described as one of the most formidable of the latter kings of Leinster, he reigned for forty-two years, dominating the Anglo-Norman settlers of Leinster.
On the departure of King Richard ll from Ireland in 1395, Art renounced his fealty to the Crown and ensured that much of his kingdom would be be ungovernable.
Following the Tudor conquest of Ireland, the power of the MacMurrough Kavanagh clan was finally subdued. The clan offered tribute and free passage to the king’s subjects, whose marching feet and canon saw Irish holdings sacked and villages burned.
By 1535, Deputy Lord Leonard Grey, was appointed marshal of the English army in Ireland. Grey helped in the overthrow of the MacMurrough Kavanagh clan and his name is associated with Enniscorthy castle, said to have been in a ruined condition at that time.
Grey’s sister, Elizabeth, was the second wife of Gerald Fitzgerald, ninth earl of Kildare. Her stepson, Silken Thomas 10th earl, was in rebellion when Grey arrived. The young earl offered to surrender to Grey on condition that his personal safety be guaranteed.