Ardglass Castle

‘P.’ (George Petrie)
Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 40
March 30, 1833
Ardglass Castle

Ruins of the King's Castle, Ardglass, County of Down

The prefixed illustration, which is engraved from an original drawing by Mr. Nicholl, represents the largest of the many ancient castles of Ardglass, and is popularly known by the name of “the King's Castle.” It was a fortress of considerable size and strength; but is at present much dilapidated, and falling to decay. A second castle here is called Horn Castle; and a third, Choud Castle; but the origin of these names is now unknown, nor is the period recorded at which any of those castles were erected.

Of the remaining fortresses, the most remarkable is that called Jordan's Castle, which, though inferior in size to the King's Castle, is yet constructed with greater elegance than that, or any of the other buildings of the kind, and was a place of considerable strength. It is situated in the centre of the town, and appears to have been the citadel. This castle is memorable for the gallant defence made by its owner Simon Jordan, who, in the Tyrone rebellion, held it out for three years, till he was relieved by the Lord Deputy Mountjoy, on the 17th of June, 1601, who rewarded him for this service, both by a concordatum from the Queen and his own private bounty.

Here is also a long range of castellated houses, called by the inhabitants the New-works, and said to have been erected by Shane O'Neil about the year 1570. It stands boldly on a rocky shore of the bay, which washes it on the east and north sides, and extends 250 feet in length, and in breadth only 24; the thickness of the walls being three feet. Its design is uniform and elegant, consisting of three square towers, one in the centre and one at each end, each tower containing three apartments 10 feet square; the intermediate space is occupied by a range of 15 arched door-ways of cut stone, and 16 square windows—a doorway and a window being placed alternately next to each other all along the range, an arrangement which leaves no doubt that they were designed for shops or merchant's ware-rooms. There is a story over the shops, containing the same number of apartments, and each has its own separate stone staircase. The rooms on the ground floor were seven feet high; the upper rooms six feet and a half; and in each of these was a small water-closet, the flue of which runs down through the walls, and is washed at the bottom by the sea. They have no fire-place; and the merchants, as it would appear, were in the habit of using Horn Castle as their kitchen and dining hall. On the seaside there are no windows or apertures, except narrow loop-holes, a circumstance which, together with the centre and flanking towers, shows the secondary purpose of the building to have been a fortress, to protect the merchants from piratical assailants.

There are also ruins of other castles of lesser moment, whose names are forgotten.

Ardglass is picturesquely situated on the shore of a little harbour of the same name, in the Barony of Lecale, seven miles N.E. of Downpatrick; and though now a mean village, with very few inhabitants, ranked, anciently, as the principal town of trade, next to Carrickfergus, in the province of Ulster. Its harbour, however, which is iron-bound and full of rocks, is only fit for fishing vessels to enter; for which reason the out-trade was, for the most part, carried on in Killough harbour, from thence called by Speed, the haven of Ardglass. Its antiquity is very great, as a church was founded here by St. Patrick. It is said to have been a borough, though on its ruin the privilege of returning members to parliament went into disuse; in the reign of Henry the VI. it was a corporation, governed by a Portrieve. So late as the beginning of the reign of Charles the I., the duties of the Port of Ardglass were let to farm.

The history of this interesting town is involved in much obscurity. The ancient English family of the Savages, are generally supposed to have been the first colonists of the place, and the founders of most of the castles remaining here, to whom a good part of Lecale, as well the Ardes, anciently belonged; for it appears by an indenture, in the public records, dated the 31st of May, 28th of Henry VIII., made between Leonard Gray, Lord Deputy, and Raymond Savage, chieftain of his clan, that it was covenanted—

“That Raymond should have the chieftainship and superiority of his Sept, in the territory of the Savages, otherwise called Lecale, as principal chieftain thereof, and that Raymond should give to the Deputy, for acquiring his favour and friendship, 100 fat able cows and a horse, or 15 marks, Irish money, in lieu thereof, at the pleasure of the Deputy.”

But, however this may be, it is certain that this southern part of Lecale originally belonged to the Magennises; and the historian of the county—Harris—from whom most of our materials are taken, is of opinion, that the Savages were only intruders, of a rather recent time; “For” he adds, “there is a tradition in these parts, that when the Savages had formed a strong body of men in order to oppress the Magennises and other Irish families in Lecale, the latter were obliged to call for the assistance of the Earl of Kildare, and promised him one or two townlands, according to the extent of their territories, and by that means, that noble family got Ardglass, and other lands thereabouts. When the earl had marched as far as Ballykinlar, the Savages submitted and so the quarrel ended.”

The Kildare family are, we believe, still the chief proprietors of this decayed town, as well as of Strangford. King Henry the VIII, by letters patent, granted to Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, in fee-farm, all the grand and petty customs of the Ports of Strangford and Ardglass, with a power of constituting officers for the collection of that revenue. They continued in the Kildare family, except during the period of its attainder, until the earl of Kildare sold the same to King Charles the I., in the government of the Earl of Strafford, Anno 1637, and were then said to be worth to the King £5,000 per annum; and they were confirmed to King Charles the II., his heirs and successors, by a clause in the act of explanation, 17th and 18th Charles II.

During the various civil wars of Ireland, the castles of Ardglass frequently changed masters. About the year 1578, they were taken from the O'Neils, after a stout resistance, by Sir Nicholas Bagnal, Marshal of Ireland, who placed here a strong garrison; and they again fell into the possession of the Irish in the memorable rebellion of 1641, Ardglass, formerly gave the title of Earl to the family of Cromwell, and afterwards that of Viscount to the family of Barrington.

It is a rectory in the diocese of Cloyne—the ancient church of Ardholl, situate near the town, was the original parish church, but was removed into the town, as tradition says, in consequence of its being desecrated by a cruel murder, committed by the clan of the MacCartens, on the whole congregation assembled at the Christmas midnight mass.

There is a very curious lime-stone cavern, with a large entrance aperture, and extending 60 feet, situate at the N.E. point of the harbour.