Monday, July 8, 2013

Roscommon Castle, County Roscommon

In the early 13th century, the Gaelic Kingdom of Connacht was already weakened by a series of civil wars among the O’Conors, who were its native provincial overkings. In 1235 an Anglo-Norman noble, Richard de Burgo, invaded Connacht with an army of 500 highly trained and well equipped knights and all their foot soldiers and camp followers. The war was relatively short and certainly bloody. Immediately, the conquerers began to build castles and walled towns, as they had done in the south and east of the country, however parts of the west still offered strong resistance to the Anglo-Normans and held out. It was 1262 before the site of Roscommon Castle was chosen and works began in 1269, the site was chosen as it was formerly on the shores of Lough Nen, a large shallow lake that has since disappeared due to hydrological changes over the centuries. The O’Conors had a crannóg on the lake, and by constructing the castle in the heartland of the O’Conor Kingdom, the Anglo-Normans sought to send out a message about who was now the main power in Connacht.
The castle was constructed on the orders of the powerful King Edward I of England, he was a successful military minded King, and he used strategically constructed castles to dominate territories and had used this technique to successfully subdue the Welsh. Roscommon Castle is constructed in a very similar style to those great fortresses in Wales like Harlech, Caernarfon and Conwy.

Roscommon Castle encloses an area of about 45m by 50m and originally would have had a large gateway in the middle of the eastern wall flanked by two large D shaped towers, similar to the entrance to Castleroache in County Louth. The large stone walls also had projecting D shaped towers at each of the four corners, and another smaller gateway led to the west. It is through this gateway that you enter the site today, and as you pass through it you can still see defensive features like murder holes (openings in the ceiling through which the defenders would have poured boiling fat or oil, or threw down large rocks or quicklime to maim and blind the attackers). The castle would have also been surrounded by a moat and possibly by a timber palisade fence giving a strong outer defence.

Like the castle at nearby Rindoon, Roscommon Castle also found itself repeatedly under attack and siege by the O’Conors and their Gaelic allies. It appears that the O’Conors succeeded in taking the castle by around 1340 and they held it for nearly two hundred years. In 1569 the castle was captured by the Tudor Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney. The castle was granted to Sir Nicholas Malby, who spent a vast sum in modernizing and remodelling parts of the castle to make it more of a fashionable Renaissance dwelling rather than a bleak medieval fortress. However Malby also made sure that the defensive features of the castle were well maintained and that was put to the test during the Nine Years War when the castle found itself under siege by Hugh O’Donnell in 1596 and 1599. The castle saw action during the Confederate Wars of the 1640‘s, until Oliver Cromwell’s forces seized Roscommon Castle in 1652 and destroyed the fortifications. A fire in 1690 did massive amounts of damage to the castle and it was left to fall into disrepair through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Roscommon Castle today is free to enter and is a great site to explore. Situated in the grounds of Loughnaneane Park and Playground, it’s very accessible site and fun for children. The castle is down a small lane off Castle Street in Roscommon Town. It is signposted, but the lane is pretty small so easy to miss (we drove straight past it the first time). If you have time I do recommend a visit to Rindoon Deserted Medieval Town as well, it's an amazing site on a nice day. You'll find it between Roscommon and Athlone off the N61, here's our blog article about it

I really hope you enjoy this blog. Please do check out our map page to see if we’ve covered any sites in your area. If you’d like to keep up with daily posts about Ireland’s amazing heritage sites then you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. We’d love to hear from you if you have any suggestions for sites to visit or any feedback about my blog.

I also provide downloadable audioguides to Irish heritage sites through my company Abarta Audioguides. Many of these are available absolutely free to download and are packed with original music and sound effects, they are a fun way of discovering the story of Ireland through its places visit to discover the sites we have covered. Why not try a free one like The Rock of Dunamase, Kells Heritage Town or the M6 A Route Through Time?

All photographs © Neil Jackman /