Gemma Grant continues her series on Castes of Ireland

Described as the ultimate symbol of Norman glory and eventual conquest of Ireland, the heavy wooden gates of Trim castle eventually gave way when the battering ram dislodged them from their hinges. The castle fell to thousands of warring Scots led by William Wallace. In this fierce battle, there were no deaths or injuries, just a multitude of extras, happy to take part in Mel Gibson’s film, Braveheart. Trim Castle made its Hollywood debut as the chosen location for several scenes in the popular film.

The old castle could afford to take a bow as it was considered the largest Anglo-Norman fortification in Ireland, taking Hugh de Lacy and his successors some 30 years to complete from humble beginnings in 1172. When eventually finished, it was all but impregnable.

The 11 feet thick walls were protected by a ditch and water-filled moat, complete with draw bridge. For extra defence, the old castle, like all good castles should, can boast of arrow slits, a murder hole and things nasty, guaranteed to hopefully, deter unwanted attacks.

Its outer curtain wall over 1.4 miles long, was built on the actual bedrock, making it impossible to undermine its foundations.

The original king of the castle, Hugh de Lacy, lord of Meath and chief governor, was the best chance King Henry ll had at holding in check the ambitions of another of the king’s nobles, Richard de Clare, Strongbow.
Hugh de Lacy was born into the Hereford branch of the Lacy family, powerful landholders on the Welsh marches. For services to the crown, he was given a grant of the ancient Celtic kingdom of Meath, his territory extending from the Shannon to the sea.

Portions of the spoils were given to de Lacy’s faithful knights, the lion’s share he reserved for himself, making Trim his principal seat of residence. By 1173, de Lacy, as was his custom, had built a fortified stronghold, motte and bailey to protect his household, ward off the indigenous neighbours and to hold the newly acquired land for King Henry ll.

The initial construction was described as a ‘strong castle with a deep and large ditch’, furnished with all the necessary supplies, to keep the new lord reasonably content. When de Lacy left for England in c. 1173, he left his castle in the hands of his knight, Anglo-Norman nobleman and crusader, Hugh Tyrrell.

The Tyrrell family were of Norman origin, coming to England with William the Conqueror. Hugh Tyrrell was rewarded with the lordship of Castleknock and his descendants given the title, barons of Castleknock, a title that eventually phased out.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own