Carlow Castle c.1680
This is one of the earliest surviving sketches of Carlow Castle made
by Thomas Dineley when he paid a visit to Carlow in 1680. Some
distinguished historians who have studied this sketch find it
difficult to relate his 14 windowed east wall with later drawings
and descriptions of the Castle
The first castle in Carlow was
built by the invading Normans - by the middle of the 14th century over
150 castles had been built in Ireland.
The present Carlow Castle building commenced circa 1205 and was
completed in c.1209 by William le Mareshal, Earl of Pembroke and Lord of the Manor of
Carlow. The castle served as a strategic defence and administrative post
for the garrisoned town. In 1361 Lionel, son of King Edward III, moved
the Exchequer from Dublin to Carlow and spent over £500 on improving the
fortifications of the town. It was not long before the officials of the
Exchequer were looking for an increase in salaries claiming that they
'were being forced to sit in Carlow far from proper habitation'. This
combined with the fact that attacks and raids on the town had
intensified meant that Carlow had become a dangerous place to live in.
In 1382 a raid on the town by the McMorough's, O'Karroll's and other
Irish enemies caused great havoc. the residence of Carlow sent a
petition to King Richard II for funds to rebuild the town. The fifteen
year old Richard had his own problems to deal with, he ignored the
appeal and so what was left of the Exchequer was removed back to Dublin.
twelve years later, in an attempt to submit the Irish, Richard II
arrived in Ireland with 34,000 men at arms and 5,000 archers. A major
part of this campaign was fought in Carlow.
Note from Michael Purcell: Charter
sanctioned by King John (1199 - 1216) - (for whom John Street in
Carlow was named) with first Seneschal officially appointed in 1210.
The town was subject to further
attack by hostile clans and tribes such as MacMurrough Kavanagh's, the O'Toole's, O'Byrne's, O'Lalor's and O'Moore's. In 1494 the castle was
attacked and seized by James Fitzgerald of Kildare. The introduction
into Ireland of the siege gun and cannon in 1488 meant that stone
castles became vulnerable and ineffective as strongholds. Among those
who over the next 150 years were to lay siege to the castle were Silken
Thomas (1534), Rory Oge O'Moore (1577), Sir Morgan Kavanagh (1641),
Thomas Preston (1646) and finally Oliver Cromwell (1650), who along with
his son-in-law, General Ireton, lived up to their reputation and left
the castle in ruins.
The castle and much of the town had been granted to
Donogh O'Brien, Earl of Thomond, in 1616. Following the seizure of the
castle by Cromwell it was returned to the Earl of Thomond, O'Brien
Murrogh O'Brien; it later passed to the Hamilton family.
In 1397, and the 20th year of
Richard 11. this castle was surprised by one of the Kavanaghs, named
Donald McArt, who styled himself 'King of Leinster,' in whose possession
it remained a considerable period.
In 1577 this town then fortified,
sustained a long siege against Rory O'Moore, who was then in rebellion
against Queen Elizabeth I, but it was ultimately compelled to submit to
this plundering assailant, who inhumanly put many of the brave
inhabitants to the sword.
In 1642, a detachment from the Duke
of Ormond's army rescued 500 Englishmen, who were imprisoned in the
castle, where they were almost starved. In 1650, speedily submitted to
the parliamentary forces and Cromwell, on his first approach. In a late
effort to modernise this venerable pile, its foundations were so
undermined, that the whole fabric gave way, as the only monument of its
former magnificence no longer remaining, is a confused mass of ruins.
The Castle was attacked on numerous
occasions and survived in reasonable repair until 1814 when Dr.
Middleton attempted to convert it into a lunatic asylum. He undermined
the foundations so badly that all remains of the Castle today are two
towers and a wall.
Carlow Castle, Carlow Town:
Hugh de Lacy built a stronghold here about 1180 to defend the River
Barrow, the frontier of the Pale. The present remains are the west wall
of the keep with two of its former towers. The castle withstood repeated
attacks during various periods of history, but in 1814 an ambitious
local doctor tried to remodel it as an asylum. In an effort to demolish
the interior he placed explosive charges at its base - the blast
demolished all but the west wall and towers. Best views are from across
the nearby River Barrow.
Carlow Castle is now the imposing centre piece of a major urban
(Source: Michael Purcell & The Official Guide to Carlow
Up-Date 2007 -
Due to recent excavations carried
out at the grounds of Carlow Castle (1996) some of the previous theories
have been proved inaccurate.
Built on what was originally a large
rock-like island surrounded by marsh and water this was to prove one of
the structures greatest defensive advantages (Ceatharlough:
stone-on-the-lake). If one stands today at the Castle Tavern pub on
Castle Street facing the castle ruins you will be aware of the drop in
street level facing you, that hill leads down to near-enough the level
of the river Barrow in the adjoining area.
First structure erected on this island was a
timber and earth manor and castle and was erected circa 1180 by Hugh de
Lacy for John de Clahull who held Catharlogh (to avoid confusion
hereinafter referred to as Carlow) at that period.
By 1200 - 1210 John de Clahull had lost
control of Carlow and William Marshal had taken his place in Carlow as
lord of Leinster. The building of a masonry castle was commenced circa
1210 without any foundations being laid, such was the level of the
ground and was completed in 1220.
Marshall wished to create a market town that
could trade with other towns situated along the river Barrow. A Charter
dated 1223 records that the borough of Carlow had been established
adjacent to the castle by July 1210. The castle, manor and town later
passed into the ownership of Hugh Bigod, earl of Norfolk , later the
holdings passed to Donagh O'Brien the earl of Thomond and in time much
of it was acquired by Robert Browne, ancestor of present-day Robert
Browne-Clayton who in September 2006 handed over the Browne family
archives to me. I have now handed the archive to County Librarian Tom
King in trust until such time as a Archival / Heritage Centre is
established for and in Carlow .
The castle area was excavated for the first
time ever in 1996 by a team of archaeologists under the direction of Dr.
Kieran O' Conor of the Office of Public Works. In the 1997 Autumn
Journal of "Archaeology Ireland" Dr. O' Conor published a summary of his
When I interviewed Dr. O'Conor in 1996 he
stated that Carlow castle " is one of the most important in the
evolution of castles in either Ireland , England or France, there is
nothing to match the architectural style of Carlow Castle to be found
anywhere until at least 20 years after it's completion"
The caption under picture # 2 in 1994
edition of "Carlow in old picture postcards" records that; in 1813 the
Hamilton family leased the castle to a physician , Dr. Philip Parry
He spent two thousand pounds in an effort to
make it habitable. His intention was to convert the building into a
lunatic asylum He attempted to create an underground passageway by using
dynamite blasting powder. On 13th February 1814 having denoted some
explosives under the eastern wall , the wall collapsed and brought down
the east towers and adjoining walls. It was said at the time that had he
being successful in his ambitions to establish a lunatic asylum the
first lunatic admitted would have been Dr. Philip Parry Price Middleton.
Between the Thomonds and the Ormonds they
owned all the land within a 3 or 4 day horse ride of Carlow, I believe
they or their agents anglicised or named many of the townlands within
(Source: Michael Purcell 2007)
The first Seneschal of Carlow Castle, Geoffry
Fitz-Robert, was appointed in 1207 .....Extract of one reference to
the castle from the Charter, granted in 1208 to the Burgess of
Catherlagh by William Earl Marshall, Earl of Pembroke,
states "That no Burgess shall be drawn into any suit, or answer
any plea which shall arise within the bounds of the Borough, in the
castle, or elsewhere, than in the hundred court of the town; except
pleas which concern the men of my castle or my bailiffs; but it shall
be held in the hundred court of the town".....the Charter was
witnessed by John Marshall, Thomas Fitz-Winton, (Seneschal of
Leinster), Falk Fitz-Warine, Walter Purcell, William Grasse, Junior,
Hamond Grasse, Roger Hyde, Rudolph de Ralegh, Robert de Crupt, Masters
Henry, Hugh, Ralph and Robert, clerks, and many other assembled
Burgesses and bailiffs.
In March 1971 Victor Hadden gave a talk to the
Old Carlow Society, I recorded the talk and later it was transcribed
by Brian O' Flynn, at the end of his talk Victor stated: "The Castle
of William Marshal here in Carlow is probably unique, not for its
size, or its strength, or its date, or its architecture but for the
wonderful records and accounts which are still extant and which show
beyond all doubt the highly evolved system of administration and
accountancy which enabled the Normans to control the agriculture and
economic welfare of most of Leinster, from their Castle in Carlow".
This led me (Michael Purcell) on a search to
find the records relating to the Castle at Carlow, following Victor's
advice I contacted Lord Norfolk, as the ownership of the castle had
passed into the hands of Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk and Earl
Marshal of England. In 1306 Roger died without issue, naming King
Edward 1 as his heir, in 1312 the castle was granted to Thomas
Plantagenet de Brotherton, under his instruction all the records
consisting of several hundred rolls of accounts were removed to the
Tower of London. I travelled to London many times and viewed the rolls
and with the aid of a scholar in mediaeval Latin we were able to
transcribe many of the documents.
I have a history of Carlow Castle
ready for publication and hope to do something with it in 2013. There
are also many other records extant including the Exchequer rolls,
Gifts and Grants and also
a letter dated 1588 from Queen Elizabeth 1
addressed to her "Right Trusty the Lord Deputy in which she
refers to the Castle and lands of Catherlagh, belonging to our cousin
Henry, Earl of Kildare". The records date from circa 1200 to 1650,
after the surrender to Cromwell's forces on the 24th July 1650 the
castle was allowed to fall into decay.
Matching the research of Victor Hadden and Dr Kieran O'Conor, I
think it is safe to assume that the Castle at Carlow and its keep was
finally completed in 1213...another reason for a celebratory event in
2013 may be the fact that the first Royal Charter for Carlow was
granted on 29th September 1613 by King James the First, in which he
appointed twelve "good and honest men" to a new Corporation with John
Kerton, Gentleman, "the first and modern portrieve" (Town Clerk or
recorder) of Carlow town assisted by "the first and modern 12 free
burgesses" (Councillors) named as - John Bare, Esquire,
Sergeant-at-Law. Sir Robert Jacob, Knight. Sir Adam Loftus. Anthony St
Ledger. Peter Wright. William Greatrake. Nicholas Harman. John
Bloomfield. John Ely. Robert Whiteacre. Robert Sutton. Richard
Keating. ......Granted to the inhabitants of Carlow by James the
First, by the grace of God, of England, Scotland, France and Ireland,
King, Defender of the Faith, and soforth "under our royal signet and
sign manual, at our palace at Hampton Court in the tenth year of our
reign of England, France, and Ireland, and of Scotland the forty-sixth
year of our reign".
(Source: Michael Purcell 2012)
Castles of Co. Carlow |
Kings of Leinster |