Irish Castles

The Castles of Malahide, Trim, Scurloughstown, and Bullock—Drimnagh Castle and Bawn

From A Hand-book of Irish Antiquities by William F. Wakeman

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T HOUGH the castles of Ireland, in point of architectural magnificence, cannot be compared with some of the more important structures of a similar character in England, they are frequently of very considerable extent. Placed, as they generally are, upon the summit of a lofty and precipitous rock, the base of which is usually washed by the waters of a river or lake, or by the sea, encompassed with walls and towers pierced with shot-holes, and only to be approached through well defended gateways, they must, before the introduction of artillery, have been generally considered impregnable. Several of the early keeps are circular, but they usually consist of a massive quadrangular tower, with smaller towers at the angles. The internal arrangements are similar in character to those observable in the military structures of the same period in England and elsewhere. The outworks and other appendages to the majority of our most remarkable castles have been destroyed, not by the usual effects of time and neglect, but by gunpowder, as the enormous masses of masonry overthrown, lying in confused heaps, sufficiently testify. The cannon of Cromwell left almost every stronghold of the Irish and of the Anglo-Irish in ruins. Shortly after the Restoration the necessity for castles ceased, and, with some exceptions, the few that had escaped the violence of the preceding period appear gradually to have been deserted and suffered to decay.

Malahide Castle

The castle of Malahide, situated within a journey of half an hour, by railway, from Dublin, is perhaps the most perfectly preserved of the ancient baronial residences now remaining in Ireland. It owes its foundation to Richard Talbot, who, in the reign of King Henry II., received a grant of the lordship of Malahide, and from whom the present lord is a lineal descendant. The castle, upon the exterior, retains but little of its ancient character: portions have been rebuilt; the old loopholes have given place to modern windows; the tower upon the south-east angle is an addition of the present century; the formidable outworks have long been removed, and a grassy hollow indicates the position of the ancient moat; yet, notwithstanding all these changes, it is still an object of great antiquarian interest. The engraving represents the castle from the south-west angle. You enter through a low Gothic porch, attached to which is the ancient oaken door, studded with huge nails, and from which the original knocker is suspended. The interior presents many features unique in Ireland. The celebrated oak room, with its quaintly carved arabesques, black as ebony,—the antique and beautiful armour with which it is appropriately decorated,—and the storied panels of its northern side,—form altogether a scene worthy the description of a Scott, or the pencil of a Roberts. Several of the other apartments are well worthy of examination, particularly the banqueting hall, a room of noble proportions, and retaining its original oaken roof.

The walls of the chief rooms are hung with pictures and portraits, several of which are of great historical interest. Among the former, an altar-piece, by Albert Durer, is perhaps the most remarkable. It is divided into compartments representing the Nativity, Adoration, and Circumcision. This interesting picture, which is said to have belonged to Queen Mary, of Scotland, was purchased by Charles II. for the sum of £2000, and presented by him to the Duchess of Portland, who gave it to the grandmother of the late Colonel Talbot. The portraits are chiefly by Vandyke, Sir Peter Lely, and Sir Godfrey Kneller. Those of Charles I. and Henrietta Maria, by Vandyke, are noble examples of that great master's power. The chapel, popularly called the Abbey of Malahide, lies a little to the east of the castle. Though its architectural features are no way remarkable, it is a building of great picturesque beauty. The perpendicular window in the east end, however, should be seen, as also the tomb of Maud Plunkett, lying in the nave. Of this lady it is recorded that she was a maid, wife, and widow in one day, her husband having fallen when resisting a sudden predatory attack made by a neighbouring clan during the day of his marriage. The story forms the subject of a beautiful ballad from the pen of Gerald Griffin.

We have noticed the castle of Malahide first among those to which we propose to draw the attention of the reader, not that we suppose it the most characteristic example of an ancient fortress lying within easy access from Dublin. On the contrary, we feel that, in the various alterations to which it has been subjected, its original aspect is, in a great measure, lost; but as it remains certainly the finest structure of its age and purpose still inhabited and occupied by a descendant of the original founder, now to be met with in Ireland, it appeared reasonably to claim a priority of notice We shall now refer our readers to a castle of, at least, equal antiquity, and which, though in a state of utter ruin, will impress a visitor with a much more correct idea of the ancient feudal stronghold.

The castle of Trim, a town of Meath, upon the borders of what was once considered "the English Pale," lies at a distance of about twenty-two miles from Dublin, from which place it may be reached with little delay. The Rev. Richard Butler, in an interesting little volume entitled, "Some Notices of the Castle of Trim," has thrown much light upon the history of this once formidable stronghold. From Mr. Butler's book we have abridged the following description; the original is from the pen of H. James, Esq., R. E. The castle consists of a triangular walled enclosure, defended by circular flanking towers, and a large and lofty donjon or keep in the centre. The north-eastern side is 171 yards long, and is defended by four towers, viz., two at the angles, and two intermediate. The west side is 116 yards long, and was defended by flanking towers at the angles, and a gateway tower in the centre.

Castle of Trim

The portcullis groove is very perfect, and it seems, from the projecting masonry, that there had been a drawbridge and barbican to the gate. The third side sweeps round at an easy curve to the Boyne: it is 192 yards long, defended by six flanking towers, including those at the angles and at the gate The gate tower is circular, and in good preservation, as well as the arches over the ditch, and the barbican beyond it. This gate had also its portcullis, the groove for which, and the recess for its windlass, are perfect. The circumference of the castle wall, then, is 486 yards, defended by ten flanking towers, at nearly equal distances, including those at the gates. The donjon is a rectangular building, the plan of which may be thus described: on the middle of each side of 64 feet rectangles are constructed, the sides perpendicular to the square being twenty feet, and those parallel to it twenty-four feet, thus a figure of twenty sides is constructed. The thickness of the walls of the large tower is twelve feet, and of the smaller towers from four feet six inches to six feet. The walls were carried up sixty feet above the level of the ground, but on each angle of the large tower square turrets, sixteen feet six inches in height, are built. By this arrangement, a large shower of missiles might have been projected in any direction.

A castle, which there is every reason to believe occupied the site of the present structure, was erected by Walter de Lacy, who had obtained from Henry II. a grant of Meath. During the absence of De Lacy, while the castle was in the custody of Hugh Tyrrell, it was attacked and demolished by Roderick O'Connor, King of Connaught. In Dr. Hanmer's Chronicle of Ireland the circumstance of its re-erection is thus given:

"Anno 1220. Meath was wonderfully afflicted and wasted by reason of the private quarrels and civil warres between William, Earl Marshall, Earle of Pembroke, &c., and Sir Hugh de Lacy, Earle of Ulster, and Lord of Connaght. Trimme was beseiged, and brought to a lamentable plight, and when the rage and fury of those garboiles was somewhat mitigated and appeased, after the shedding of much blood, the same year, to prevent afterclaps, and subsequent calamities, the castle of Trim was builded."

Scurloughstown Castle We refer such of our readers as would know more of the history of this majestic ruin, to Mr. Butler's work, published by Griffiths, in Trim; and in furtherance of our original plan, we turn to the ancient tower or castle of Scurloughstown, in its immediate vicinity. This is, perhaps, as good an example as any now remaining of the keep usually found in those districts wherein the earlier colonies of the English had obtained footing. They are very numerous in the baronies of Forth and Bargie, in the county of Wexford; and examples occur in Kilkenny, and, indeed, in most of the eastern and north-eastern counties. Their plan is generally of the simplest kind. A tall, square keep, with a circular tower, in which is a spiral stair-case, communicating with its various floors, at one of its angles. The roof of the lowest apartment, and the floor of the second, are usually formed of a strong arch of stone. The other floors were of wood, and the brackets by which the timbers were supported are often sculptured into the form of a human head. The upper floors of a great number of these towers, however, were supported by beams of timber let into the walls, or resting upon projecting ledges of masonry. The doorway is generally of small size, and is almost invariably defended by a machicolation placed at a great height above it. Most of these castles were ornamented with battlements resting upon slightly projecting corbel-tables, but the merlons are rarely pierced. The water was carried off the roof generally by means of small apertures left in the wall, just above the corbel-table, spouts rarely appearing but in very late examples.

The windows, which are generally very small, splay internally, and are usually placed a little above the level of the floor, from which they were approached by a few steps, and there is generally a stone seat within the splay, upon each side of the light. When fire-places occur they are surmounted either by a flat arch, the stones of which are dovetailed one into another, or by a single stone laid horizontally. The chimney-shafts are generally quadrangular, and quite plain. In the county of Wexford, bawns, or walled enclosures, are usually found in connexion with these towers.

Bullock Castle

The castle of Bullock, standing immediately above the harbour of the same name, not far from the Terminus of the Dalkey and Kingstown Railway, was furnished with a bawn of this kind, but it is much larger than usual. The stranger in Dublin should visit this interesting ruin, as well as the neighbouring towers or castles of Dalkey; at the latter place seven of these structures formerly stood. Their history is not known, but it is very probable that they were erected by English settlers, not long after the invasion of Ireland by Strongbow, their architectural peculiarities indicating an early period; and similar buildings, connected together by a wall enclosing a very considerable space, occur in several places known to have been occupied by the old English. We cannot dismiss this subject without mentioning the interesting and almost perfectly preserved castle of Drimnagh, lying at a distance of about four miles from Dublin, on the road to Crumlin. Its bawn is still perfect, and the ancient fosse, with which the whole was enclosed, remains in fine preservation, and is still deep. Drimnagh was considered as a place of considerable strength during the Rebellion of 1641, and it appears to have been strengthened, and, in a great measure, re-edified, about that unhappy period of Ireland's history.

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