Historically, March is the month we celebrate St. Patrick. Okay, in the States, March is the month we celebrate getting drunk on the 17th and eating boiled cabbage.
Fun fact: While Corned Beef and Cabbage may be an Irish-American dish, it is not a native Irish dish.
But if you’ve wondered what Norman castles existed in Ireland during the time of St. Patrick while he preached the Gospel – continue reading!
While a Britain by birth, but born into a Roman family, Patrick was kidnapped by raiders when he was a young man. Once in Ireland, he was sold as a slave and served as a shepherd. A lonely and low-value position.
After six long years, in which he spent much time reflecting on his faith, he escapes on a ship and landed back in Britain. And Patrick was finally reunited with his family.
Sometime after his return to Britain, Patrick dreamed he received a letter entitled “The Voice of the Irish”. The legend goes as he read the letter, he heard the voices of the Irish begging him to come back to Ireland. He dragged his feet for a while before answering the call because he felt he needed more training.
Once in Ireland, his hesitation vanished and he traveled over Ireland preaching and baptizing. And like the Apostle Paul, he too was cast into chains.
Historians aren’t entirely sure when Patrick lived and died, but given his writings, they speculate sometime between 432 and 496. And some historians believe he died around 460.
Norman Castles in Ireland
For the romantic in you, Patrick predates the Norman stone castles in Ireland by over 600 years. Bummer, right? Imagine all the stories you could have read if the two coincided…
Who are the Anglo-Normans?
When the Vikings settled in northern France and intermarried with the locals, the area became what is now Normandy. Then the Normans set out to colonize parts of Britain, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
The Normans who came to Ireland came from Britain, so they had the name Anglo added on. Anglo implies a relation to the English culture.
The Anglo-Normans came to Ireland about 1169. They had already conquered Britain and needed another diversion.
As the Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland and began conquering lands, they build earthen fortifications. However, the more land they conquered and the bigger their defenses needed to become. And since Ireland is plentiful with rocks, they began building stone fortifications, or castles. (Though some historians now argue this timeline. Some of the conquers may have begun building their stone castles as soon as the land was conquered.)
The older castles were designed with safety in mind. A tower was built with few windows, trip steps, and several floors to gain height to better see longer distances.
Anglo-Normans knew to use natural defensive features to help protect their tower houses. Building their castle on a river or on a cliff or the top of a hill, so the enemy has numerous disadvantages.
For some of the tower occupants, looking out from the top of their towers must have offered visual stress relief. Partly for the beauty of the countryside and partly for being able to sight the enemy from such a great distance.
But the tower houses weren’t enough and so a tall wall was added around the tower house. This could be used two-fold. Make it more difficult for the enemy to get to the heart of the fortification, the tower house. And allow some of the townspeople to seek shelter inside the tower house complex, the castle grounds, from enemy attacks.
As the need for the defensive structures began to ease, the rich Anglo-Norman lords began building large stone houses. While we still consider them castles, they have too many windows and are not defensible enough to be a fortified structure. But they do stir the imagination, especially for telling fairy tales and of princesses who need rescuing.
Can you pick out which are fortified structures and which are grand houses?
If you visit Ireland, you’ll have around 30,000 guesses. That’s how many castles are in Ireland.
An Abbey? This site and structure have an interesting history. The first structure on this site was a castle built in 1278. The castle was destroyed sometime after 1318 and the land was given to Franciscans.
The Franciscans founded Quin Abbey in 1402. Archeological studies suggest the building was built in sections over time, instead of all at once. And the castle structure was incorporated into the friary.
The last Quin friar was buried in 1820.
You can read more about our first visit to the Abbey here.
Roscrea was built in 1280. If you take a tour of the castle, what you see in the Great Hall is original to the 1300s.
The circular steps in the castle are called trip steps. Not only are the steps built in a clockwise direction to impede an attacker’s right sword arm, but the steps are uneven to further off-balance invaders.
Read more about our visit to the castle here.
Cahir Castle was built on a rocky island in the River Suir. Work on the castle began in the 1200s. The Butlers took possession of the castle in 1375 and over the next few centuries added on to what you see today. The Outer Ward was added in the late 1400s. The Middle Ward was created in the 1500s.
Next to the Ralty River, not too far from the Shannon, is Bunratty Castle. This castle was built around 1425. And was built by the same clan as those who destroyed the castle at Quin.
(When Covid is over and they resume the traditional nights, it’s worth the experience!)
On the shores of Lough Leane is Ross Castle. The castle was built in 1460. One tip we learned while touring this castle – most castles were whitewashed. So back in the Middle Ages, instead of gray castles off in the distance, you would have seen white castles.
Part of the ruin you see before you was built around 1480. And part was built around 1648. Can you tell which part is the original castle?
(Other sites to see along the way past this castle.)
So, which Norman castles in Ireland look like fortified structures to you? And which ones look like grand houses?
You can let me know on FaceBook here!
(P.S. If you notice some of the dates aren’t the same across the websites linked to this post and wonder when the castle was actually built? I don’t have a good answer for you. Frustrating when informational sites don’t agree, isn’t it?)