Sunday, April 21, 2013

Castleroache, County Louth

Like The Rock of Dunamase, Castleroache is positioned high on a rock outcrop that towers over the surrounding landscape. Castleroache is possibly the finest example of Ireland's mid-thirteenth century castles, it is thought to have been constructed by Lady Rohesia de Verdun in 1236 to serve as a bastion of defence for the Anglo-Norman colony in Louth against the Gaelic tribes of Ulster. Lady Rohesia was a formidable woman, and is said to have thrown the castle's architect through one of the tower windows so he could never reveal the castles secrets. 

The castle is nearly triangular in shape with a projecting tower at the north-east angle. It is protected on three sides by the precipitous slope that surrounds it, with the entrance on the eastern side protected by a deep rock-cut ditch. A wooden drawbridge would have led to the interior of the castle through the two massive D-shaped towers. The drawbridge may once have had additional protection from outworks or a barbican gate but no clear above-ground remains of that can be seen today. 

These towers are rounded at the front in the defensive style of the time with a number of arrow loops at varied levels to allow the archers defending the gateway to loose murderous volleys on the attacking enemy. The towers also  have four stories at the rear that would have provided accommodation and living space for the garrison of Castleroache. 

As you can see in the images of the eastern entrance side of the castle, there are a number of rectangular cavities regularly spaced along the wall near the top (the image above gives the best angle to see them). These are 'put-log' holes, and are evidence that once wooden battlements or hoardings, once hung over the side of the castle walls, similar to those that once surrounded the mighty Keep of Trim Castle, in Co. Meath. From these wooden hoardings, defenders would have been able to fire arrows and throw stones down onto anyone attacking the walls, adding to its already formidable defences.
Area of Great Hall
However, like Dublin Castle and Kilkenny Castle, Castleroache seems to have been a keepless castle, so there was no central defensive tower to retreat to had the walls been breached. This appears to have become the defensive fashion of the mid-thirteenth century, and instead of a keep there would have been a large great hall. In the case of Castleroache, the great hall was located on the southern side of the castle (to the left as you enter through the towers).

This castle still strongly exudes a feeling of power and dominance over the landscape today. It has to be one of the most impressive heritage sites I have visited in Ireland, and it is one of those sites that is so massive, so imposing and so breathtaking that pictures cannot do it justice – it is one you must experience for yourself to gain a true impression of its size and grandeur.

To find Castleroache from Dublin, head north on the M1 and exit at Junction 17. Take the first exit off the roundabout following signs for the N53/Castleblaney, continue out on this road until you see a right-hand turn signed for Castleroache and Forkhill, take this turn and follow the road, the site will be on your right hand side up a laneway. Park on road, and please be aware that the site is on farmland, please do not block any gateways and please ensure all gates are closed behind you. Simply walk up the slope through the field to access the castle, there is an interpretation panel on your right hand side when you enter through the gateway.

I hope you enjoy this blog, we're trying to cover as many sites as we can across Ireland. If anyone has any suggestions about sites you'd like us to cover please do leave us a comment. If you enjoy information and images of Irish heritage sites then do follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ If you'd like to support us then please consider downloading an audioguide to one of Ireland's wonderful heritage sites. They are packed with original music and sound effects and are a great way of experiencing the story of Ireland. They only cost €1.99 and are fun whether you are at the site, or listening from the comfort of your own home. If you enjoy stories of the turbulent medieval period in Ireland try our guide to Viking and Medieval Dublin, visit us at for free previews and to download your free audioguide to the Rock of Dunamase  or the free audioguide to the wonderful heritage town of Kells in County Meath
All photographs © Neil Jackman /