Friday, June 14, 2013

Rindoon Deserted Medieval Town, County Roscommon

Strategically positioned on a peninsular that thrusts out like a finger into Lough Ree, Rindoon is one of Ireland's best preserved deserted medieval towns. The castle at Rindoon is thought to date to 1227 and was constructed by Geoffrey de Marisco. It appears that Geoffrey de Marisco was a villain on a Game of Thrones level of nastiness. He was Justiciar of Ireland between 1215 and 1228, and took full advantage of the young King Henry III by being as corrupt in his dealings in Ireland as possible. He amassed huge swathes of land and a fortune by seizing goods, lands and taxes in the Kings name and then keeping the rewards for himself. He was eventually dismissed from office in 1228. He was even excommunicated for misappropriating funds from the Church (the money was just resting in ye olde account apparently).

However he is most noted for a truly despicable event in 1234. He was a long time friend of William Marshall and his brother Richard, and when William died childless, Richard Marshall was the rightful heir to the vast lands owned by his brother. Richard was denied these lands and exiled, falsely accused of treason and associating with the Kings enemies in France by the Kings councillors in an attempt to amalgamate the huge Marshall inheritance into the Royal coffers. The councillors pressured King Henry III into ordering Geoffrey de Marisco to capture Richard Marshall, and if he succeeded de Marisco would be rewarded with all of the Marshall lands in Ireland.

Marshall and a small number of loyal men were surrounded on the Curragh of Kildare by Walter de Lacey, Lord of Meath, Hugh de Lacey, Earl of Ulster, Maurice FitzGerald, Lord of Offaly and a large number of knights and soldiers. De Marisco is said to have advised his old friend Marshall not to surrender and to fight, declaring that he would support him, however as soon as the battle started de Marisco withdrew his men, telling Marshall that he had just remembered that he was newly married to Hugh de Lacey’s sister and so could not possibly fight his brother-in-law. Despite this treachery, Marshall bravely fought on, and is said to have slaughtered six of the knights in a battle that raged for over ten hours. He fought so furiously that the others feared to approach him. They had their foot soldiers maim Marshall’s horse with lances and halberds, in its agony the horse threw Marshall at the feet of his foes, one of his enemies lifted the backplate of his armour and stabbed him in the back. Despite his grevious wounds Marshall survived, until the medical treatment he received (having his wounds probed with a red hot poker) finished him off, and the noble knight died.

De Marisco and his son William were vilified for their treachery, and were not even rewarded for their part in Marshall’s fall, as the King declared that de Marisco was in league with Marshall. The de Mariscos were declared outlaws and became pirates on the Irish sea, regularly raiding shipping to Drogheda and Dublin.

The castle that de Marisco constructed at Rindoon was one of the most important Norman castles in Connacht, and after de Marisco forfeited his lands when he was declared outlaw, the castle became a Royal possession. The castle was in the hands of a 'constable' who was responsible for its maintenence and defence, and records from the time show that money was regularly spent on the castle to bolster its defences and maintain it.
The battered slope added to the walls of the castle
The entrance into the castle
The castle is surrounded by a deep ditch and bank, and the base of the walls are clearly battered to provide protection against undermining and to deflect stones dropped from the battlements above into the front ranks of an attacking army. 
The gateway is well defended with grooves showing where a portcullis would have barred the way, and murder-holes strategically positioned above so the defenders could pour boiling fats and oil down on top of the attackers. 

Unfortunately the interior of the castle is in a dangerous state so access is currently restricted, but hopefully it will be opened to the public soon.

The defences of the castle held strong when the town was raided and sacked by Feilimid Ó Conchobhair in 1236, as he was unable to seize the castle. After Feilimid became King the following year in 1237, a period of peace and prosperity came to Rindoon, however it was not to last. Feilimid's son and heir Aed was far more warlike than his father, and successfully sacked Rindoon twice in 1270, in 1271 and 1272. The raid in 1272 was said to have been so bad that Rindoon was described as being 'levelled'. 

Rindoon Castle was repaired by Geoffrey de Geneville the Justiciar and rich Norman Lord who had inherited Trim Castle in County Meath through marriage. This work was continued by his successor Richard d'Ufford, who spent a fortune repairing the beleaguered town. Rindoon was finally effectively destroyed Ruaidrí Ó Conchobhair captured and burnt the town and seized the castle, while the Anglo-Normans in Ireland were distracted during the invasion of Edward Bruce. There were further small attempts to reconstruct the town, but it was positioned in increasingly hostile territory, and the resurgent Gaelic tribes repeatedly raided the town before it was finally abandoned. Some of the features of the site appear to date to the sixteenth and seventeenth century so it is apparent that activity, albeit on a much more muted scale, continued sporadically at Rindoon.

The remains of a windmill are also visible at Rindoon. The earliest mention of a windmill at Rindoon was recorded in 1273 when 45 shillings was paid to Richard Le Charpentier for steel to construct the mill. A mill also appears in the 1636 maps.

These remains are likely to date to that first half of the seventeenth century. The remains are of a round stone tower three stories tall (probably still at its original height). The tower is set on top of a low mound and surrounded by a ditch, it is thought the mound may well be the remains of the site of the original medieval mill. 

The church at Rindoon
The church appears to be of thirteenth century date. It is a typical nave and chancel church and is positioned on a height overlooking the beautiful Lough Ree. There are a number of other medieval features to discover at Rindoon, like the stone walls that once enclosed the town, and you can still make out the plots where houses and field systems give tantalizing glimpses of everyday medieval life
The defensive walls that surround the town
Rindoon is a fantastic site to visit, and as well as the intriguing history and archaeology, it makes for a lovely walk. It is similar in feeling to the other deserted medieval town I visited in March, at Newtown Jerpoint in Co. Kilkenny. At both of these sites you get this real atmospheric feeling that the medieval past is only covered by a thin veil, that the quiet fields covered with sheep were once vibrant markets, streets and houses thronged with people going about their daily lives. A site well worth a visit!

If you would like to learn more about this incredible place I strongly recommend taking a look at The Rindoon Conservation Plan by the Heritage Council (opens as a PDF). Rindoon is roughly half way between Roscommon Town and Athlone on the N61 and it is well signposted from the road (sat nav co-ordinates N53.54389°  W008.00299°), there is a small area to park your car. The main part of the site is about a 15min walk through fields, the fields are full of livestock (cattle and sheep) so do remember to bring appropriate footwear and please close all gates behind you. 

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All photographs © Neil Jackman /
A cow making good use of one of the direction stakes for a good scratch!