Dublin Castle

From the Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 7, August 11, 1832

The Castle of Dublin was commenced to be built about the year 1205, by Meyler Fitzhenry, Lord Justice, and was finished in 1220, by Henry de Loundres, Archbishop of Dublin. But it was in the reign of Queen Elizabeth that it became the seat of Government - the court was previously held sometimes in the Archbishop's at St. Sepulchres, sometimes at Thomas Court, and sometimes at the Castle of Kilmainham. But the only part of the vice-regal residence which now bears the mark of antiquity is Birmingham Tower, the repository of the public Records of Ireland. All the old towers, bastions and flankers of the old fortress are gone, and have given place to as ordinary and sombre a palace as can well be seen. But Birmingham Tower is an object worthy of arresting the attention of any one interested in Irish history.

It was the ancient keep or ballium - the stateliest and the strongest tower - of the Anglo-Norman fortress. As such, it was the great state prison, where those Milesian Chieftains were confined when taken prisoners, whoso rank and activity rendered them conspicuous in the struggles between the Anglo-Normans and the Irish. Here also were kept in "durance vile" the still more dangerous and troublesome Anglo-Irish lords, whose irregular power was so vexatious to the state as to make it complain that they were "ipsis Hibernis Hiberniores:" or in simple English, "more Irish than the Irish themselves!" In this way, has Birmingham tower enclosed, doubtless much against their wills, a Fitzgerald or a Nugent, as well as an O'Neil or an O'Donnel. In the year 1331, Sir William de Birmingham and his son Walter, were committed to the care and keeping of this "strong place," - the father came out - but to execution, and the son was pardoned because he was in holy orders.

Here was confined Richard, first earl of Westmeath, who, born in captivity, in the Tower of London, where he witnessed the death of his father, Christopher, on his release concocted with O'Neil and O'Donnel, the insurrection which gave occasion to James the First to make the settlement of Ulster. O'Neil and O'Donnel fled beyond sea; Nugent was apprehended, and condemned to die. The day before that fixed for his execution, he, by means of a rope conveyed to him in a basket of oranges, by John Evers his faithful servant, escaped out of a window, and, mounting a fleet horse, got safely to Cloughouter Castle, his island fortress in one of the lakes of Cavan; here he remained safe for some time, in spite of all the rewards offered for his apprehension, until he suddenly made his appearance before the throne of the English monarch, who, in favour of his ingenuous confidence and youthful beauty, pardoned him and restored him to his honours and estates.

The most dangerous antagonist the English Government ever had to contend with in Ireland - Hugh Roe O'Donnel - was also confined here. This enterprising chieftain was the son of Hugh, Chieftain of Tyrconnell; his mother's name was Inneen Duff- "dark Ina"- daughter of Mc Donnell, lord of the Isles; he was born in the year 1571. In early life he not only displayed considerable genius and independence of spirit, but he made these qualities acceptable to his countrymen by the noble generosity of his manners and the matchless symmetry of his form. In former times the O'Donnels of Tyrconnel, and the O'Neils of Tyrone were often addressed by the English monarch as equals, and sometimes called on for aid against foreign foes, and occasionally written to as kings; and it was therefore natural that young Hugh should desire to substantiate his independence, so often acknowledged. He made no secret of his intentions, which were soon the subject of conversation all through Ireland, and reaching the ears of the Lord Justice, created no small alarm at Dublin Castle. Sir John Perrott, then the head of the Irish government, instead of endeavouring to gain over the young chieftain by honours and concession, laid a plot to seize him, which, though successful for the time, was as unworthy as it afterwards proved injurious.

In the year 1587, a ship was fitted out, and stowed with Spanish wine, and directed to sail to one of the harbours of Donegal. Accordingly, the vessel, fraught with the merchandize most acceptable to a Milesian chief, put into Lough Swilly, and cast anchor off the castle of Dundonald, near Rathmillan. The captain, disguised as a Spaniard, proposed to traffic with the people of the fortress, and they, nothing loth, bought and drank until they became intoxicated. The people of the adjoining district did the same, and all the surrounding septs of O'Donnel, Mc Swiney, and O'Dogherty, entered into jolly dealings with the crafty wine merchant. It could not be supposed that when all were laying in stores of sack and Allicant, the young prince of the country should stay back. No; as was expected, he arrived with his followers at Mc Swiney's castle, who sent the captain notice that his chieftain was arrived, and therefore he must prepare to send some of his very best vintages on shore for his use. The captain replied that what he purposed to sell was already disposed of - but if the young prince would come on board, he would let him taste some of his choicest sack, intended as a present to the lord deputy. This invitation was accepted - the young chief went on board, and he and his followers drank of wine and strong liquor as Irishmen used to drink. When they were all intoxicated, their arms were stolen from them, the hatches were shut down, and next morning saw the vessel clear of Lough Swilly, and on its way for Dublin. Thus was this base design accomplished; and Red Hugh, in his sixteenth year, found himself a captive in Birmingham Tower, where he remained for three years and three months - a long period for a fiery impatient spirit at such a period of life.

In the year 1591, he and some of his followers descended by means of a rope on the drawbridge, and getting safe off from the fortress, they escaped towards the Wicklow mountains, and reached the borders of O'Toole's country. There O'Donnel was obliged to stop - his shoes had fallen off his feet, and, passing barefooted through the furze and brakes that covered the hills, he soon broke down, and his companions, consulting their own safety, left him with the one faithful servant, who had assisted him and them to descend from the tower. This man, secreting his master as well as he could, proceeded to the residence of Phelim O'Toole, who also had been a prisoner in Birmingham Tower, and while there, had entered into bonds of friendship with O'Donnel, and a solemn pledge of affection had passed between them. But the O'Toole betrayed his friend; and the young chief heavily chained, and under a stricter ward, was again consigned to his apartment in the tower. A second time, he effected his escape, having, by means of his trusty servant, got down through a shore funnel into the poddle, and creeping along the muddy stream, again took refuge in the Wicklow hills. He did not again trust himself to the O'Toole's, but continuing right on over these high and desolate hills, endeavoured to reach the fastnesses of Feagh Mc Hugh O'Byrne, in Glen Malur.

In the early period of their flight, they were separated from Henry O' Neil, who had escaped with him from the prison, and as the night advanced, Arthur O'Neil, another of his companions, who had also escaped from prison, being a heavy and inactive man, was obliged to give over, and he laid down drowsily, and slept the sleep of death. Young O'Donnel got a little further, stationed himself under a projecting rock, in order to shelter himself from the snow hurricanes that swept the hills, and sent his servant to Glen Malur. Feagh Mc Hugh, on the arrival of the servant, sent his people, provided with all possible refreshments and clothes, for the relief of the fugitives. O'Neil was found dead - O'Donnel's young blood was still circulating, but his feet were dreadfully frostbitten. Every hospitality that the O'Byrne could show to him he did; and when he was able to ride, he forwarded him and his faithful servant, Turlough Boy O'Hogan, on good horses, towards the province of Ulster. On their arrival at the Liffey, they found its usual passes guarded, for the government were on the watch to prevent O'Donnel's escape to his own country. But the Liffey, is, in so many places, fordable that he found no difficulty in passing it, and getting through the plains of Meath.

On coming to the Boyne, they were obliged to throw themselves on the patriotic fidelity of a poor fisherman, who not only faithfully ferried them over, but also, with no small courage and address, drove their horses before him as cattle he intended to sell in the north country, and so driving them to where their owners were lying in secret, he furnished them with the means of reaching the hills of Ulster, thus regaining, after five years absence, their own principalities. On Red Hugh's arrival, all the different septs of the country, the O'Donnel, the O'Dogherty, the O'Boyle, and the Mc Swiney, elected him as THE O'DONNEL, in the room of his father, who was now much advanced in years, and willing to resign his government to a bolder and a steadier hand. It would completely go beyond our limits to recount all the adventures of Red Hugh O'Donnel, after he became the head of the various septs of the country. His long imprisonment had given him a cordial hatred of the English - and for a series of years he was the scourge and the terror of the government. He kept his mountain territory of Donegal in spite of Elizabeth's best generals, carried his incursions even to the remotest parts of Munster, and made his name be respected and his power feared to the very mouth of the Shannon. At last a fatal error - the only military one he was known ever to make, caused by a rivalry between him and O'Neil, about leading an onset - was his ruin. He was totally routed by Lord Mountjoy, at Kinsale-fled to Spain and died in Valladolid in the year 1602.

The only other historic recollection which we can give in this number connected with the Castle, is an account of a judicial combat which took place in the inner court in the year 1583. Teig Mac Gilpatrick O'Connor having killed some of the followers of Connor Mac Cormack O'Connor, the one O'Connor appealed the other before the Lords Justices. Teig O'Connor pleaded that the men whom he had killed had been confederating with Cahir O'Connor, and were rebels, and said that he was ready to maintain his plea by combat. The challenge was accepted, the defendant chose the weapons, sword and target, and the next day being appointed, the Lords Justices, the Judges, and the Counsellors, all in places appointed for them, with a great concourse of military officers were present to witness the combat. The court was called, the combatants were led forward, according to custom and usage in these trials, stripped to their shirts, oaths were administered that the thought their quarrel just, and on the signal being given by the trumpet, they rushed forward, and began the combat. After a fierce struggle Mac Cormack,. receiving two wounds in the leg and one in the eye, attempted to close upon Teig O'Connor, who being too strong for him, so severely punished him, (in modern phrase) or as a knight chivalric would say, pummelled him, that his helmet loosened and so cutting off his head, Teig, in triumph, presented it on the point of the sword to the Lords Justices, who immediately recorded his acquittal.