The forthcoming series will explore the history of the major castles of Ireland, those involved in their construction and destruction. The history of the castles is the history of medieval and modern Ireland. By giving the castles a voice, we learn of invasions, battles – lost and won – intrigue, betrayal, love, romance and, more importantly, the survival of Ireland, writes GEMMA GRANT
Perhaps you may like them, hate them or, are completely unaware of them. The fact of the matter is, there are some 3,000 scattered throughout the island of Ireland. Most of them in a serious state of disrepair, with little of the original edifices remaining. By the 1400s, Ireland’s medieval building boom, saw more Castles erected than any other European country.
Castle building arrived with the Normans, in the early 1100s. Diarmaid Mac Murchada, King of Leinster, needed outside help to reclaim lost territory. He approached the English, promising his daughter Aoife in marriage to Richard de Clare, better known as Strongbow. Aoife’s dowry came with a generous helping of land. Lots of land. Many view this period of history as the beginning of the end of Gaelic Ireland.
To protect what they had been given and what they would take, the Normans built massively, impressive castles on newly acquired Irish land. The Irish, used to the ring forts, had never witnessed the likes of the Norman castles. For many of the chieftains, they were a blot on the horizon, an encroachment on their homeland that would ensure continuous battles between native and newcomer, guaranteed to last for some eight hundred years.
One of the most impressive, Dublin castle, Norman fortress and seat of power, was build in 1204 on the orders of the unpopular King John. Built on an early Viking settlement, the castle would see its fair share of trouble. It also played host to many famous names from history.
The O’Neill, and the O’Donnell were ‘guests of the Nation’, as was St. Oliver Plunkett, imprisoned in Dublin Castle before his execution in Tyburn, England. James Connolly, one of the 1916 leaders, was taken from the castle to face a firing squad, for his part in the Uprising.
Ironically enough, it would also be the castle used for the transference of government, when General Michael Collins in 1922 saw the last Viceroy of Ireland hand over the keys of power.
Bunratty Castle, in Co. Clare, enjoys nothing better than offering a céad míle fáilte to all. A far cry from its war like past, when Irish clans fought over and give it in marriage. Today’s visitors can experience medieval Ireland in peaceful surroundings while wining and dining in the great hall and being entertained by Bunratty singers in period costumes.