Desmond Castle, Adare

Adare castle is first mentioned in 1226 when it was held by Geoffrey Marisco (d.1245), a man who had been active in Irish politics since at least 1200.  The lordship of Limerick had also been under Henry II's theoretical control since the 1175 treaty of Windsor.  In 1177 it had been granted to various barons, of whom Philip Braose had gone to Limerick, but failed to hold it. 
Justiciar Geoffrey Marisco would appear to have been at Adare for some time, for it was on 4 July 1226, that he was granted a yearly feast at his manor of Addare for 8 days from feast of St James (25 July - 1 Aug).  This, as was standard form during a minority, was to continue until the king came of age.  Around this time Geoffrey's wife, Eva Birmingham, the sister of Robert Birmingham (d.1179+) of Athenry, died and he married Alice Lacy, the daughter of Hugh Lacy (d.1186) of Longtown and Trim.  It would therefore seem likely that the castle dates to the Marisco occupation of the district.  The first Geoffrey Marisco (d.1180) seems never to have crossed the sea from the SW of England, but his purported son Robert was certainly in Ireland in the service of Earl and later King John (d.1216).  He died after 1210 and it seems logical that he founded the castle.  The standard tradition is that Geoffrey inherited the land from his uncle, Hervey Montmorency, who died around 1183, but there is no recorded substance to this claim.  Neither does there appear to be substance to the claim that the first William Marisco, the grandfather of Geoffrey (d.1180) was an illegitimate son of King Henry I.  Indeed, even the paternity of Geoffrey (d.1245) is suspect, although he does not appear to be related to the Geoffrey Fitz Jordan Marisco of the Isle of Wight.  Certainly Justiciar Geoffrey held no English lands in 1238 when he was exiled.

Whatever the case of the castle's foundation, Geoffrey Marisco was probably holding the fortress as early as 1208 when Geoffrey was deputed by King John to seize Limerick from William Braose of Radnor.  Presumably he would have been using Adare, only 10 miles away as a base for this operation, although possibly it came into his hands now for he said to have captured many other castles around Limerick during this campaign.  Geoffrey was also given command of Limerick castle as royal constable.  A position he maintained for many years.  In 1228 King Hugh O'Connor of Connaught:
was treacherously killed by the English in the residence of Geoffrey Marisco at the instigation of the English, after he had been expelled by the Connacians.
Most likely this 'residence' was Adare castle.  The annals of Connaught give a fuller story stated that Hugh:

was killed with one blow of a carpenter's axe in the court of Geoffrey Marisco while the carpenter's wife was bathing him; and the man who struck him down was hanged by Geoffrey the next day.  This deed of treachery was done on this righteous, excellent prince at the instigation of Hugh Lacy's sons and of William [Marisco] the son of the Justiciar.  And it was said that the carpenter struck him in jealousy, for there was not in Ireland a man of fairer mould or livelier courage than he.

The annals of Inisfallen state:

Aed, son of Cathal Crobderg, was slain in Geoffrey Marisco's house at Buaile Mór in Laigin, without the latter's consent, for he straightway hanged the slayer with wisps.

This is somewhat confusing as Laigin is an old word which seems to mean Leinster and it seems unlikely that Hugh had gone that far east, though of course, it is not impossible. Buaile means a place for feeding or milking cows while Mor simply means great or large. In short, these 'names' don't help with the identification of the site of Hugh's slaying.  As a result of this Geoffrey resigned his justiciarship of Ireland, but was reappointed in 1230, only to resign again in 1232.  In 1234, at the royal command, Geoffrey treacherously joined the Earl Marshall, when he landed in Ireland and helped lead him to defeat at Curragh.  This resulted in King Henry seizing his lands again, although they were returned on 3 August 1235.  The same year his son, William, slew a clerk of an Irish magnate in London and was consequently outlawed.  Three years later a man tried to assassinate the king at Woodstock.  On being pressed he admitted to be acting on the orders of William Marisco.  At this the king moved against Geoffrey, thinking him complicit in the plot.  The ex.justiciar consequently fled to Scotland where he was entertained by Walter Comyn, who was probably a kinsman.  Indeed if Geoffrey's mother was Walter's aunt it would mean that she was a daughter of Richard Comyn (d.1176/82) and Hextilda Tynedale (d.1182+).  However this would mean that Richard had an earlier son called John, as one son called John was buried in 1159, while Archbishop John Comyn of Dublin (d.1212) would seem to have been born before 1145 judging by his services to Henry II in the Becket dispute.  With this disastrous turn of events William became a pirate based on Lundy island, until his capture and execution with 16 of his accomplices in 1242.  To the last on the scaffold William protested his innocence of both the death of Clement and the assassination attempt on Henry III.  In 1244 Geoffrey was finally chased out of Ireland by political pressure from Henry III and he ended his life a pauper in France in 1245.

Adare castle, on the exile of Geoffrey Marisco
in 1238, was probably taken by the justiciar, Maurice Fitz Gerald (d.1257), not that any defence seems to have been mounted.  Eventually the castle seems to have passed to the descendants of Geoffrey's daughter Eleanor who had married Thomas Fitz Maurice (d.1215), the uncle of Justiciar Maurice Fitz Gerald (d.1257).  From her the fortress passed through three sons to Maurice Fitz Thomas (d.1356), who in 1329 was made the first earl of Desmond.  At this time the castle was recorded as being in poor condition.  Soon afterwards it was permanently lost to the Irish resurgence, although it seems to have remained inhabited.

The fortress consists of a sub-rectangular wall enclosing three sides of a rectangle, the River Maigue and some light defences making up the fourth side.  In the NW corner of this enclosure was an irregular ringwork about 90' in diameter with walls 6' thick and up to 12' high.  Central in the east side of this was a tall tower keep about 43' by 35' with walls some 6' thick over a short, 45 degree batter.  This is similar in size to the keep at Criccieth and Dolwyddelan II in Wales, both native built keeps.

 This would have made it similar in size to the keep at Criccieth (43'x32') in Gwynedd, Hopton (45'x40') and the large tower keep in the bailey at Richards Castle (45'x33') in England.  The Adare keep had pilaster buttresses at the corners to E&W, but not to N&S.  It was originally only 2 storeys high.  The original first floor pitched roof is still plainly obvious as a ghost in the north side.  Probably in the fifteenth century it was raised a further 2 storeys.  The basement was originally entered only from above and the only light was from the west, close by the north buttress.  It was probably in the fifteenth century that the basement was subdivided and a ground floor entrance added.  Access to the upper floor was via an inserted flat-headed doorway in the NW corner which led to a mural flight of steps.  The south half of the tower is now gone, but there is evidence that the original first floor entrance was reached via a forebuilding.  The battlements to the north seem totally modern.

A 5' thick curtain with a fine batter, butted against the west side of the keep to N&S and formed the irregular inner ward with ‘rustic' ground floor crossbow loops only to the 
north.  The internal butt joint between the inner curtain and the outer curtain wall to the NE suggests logically that the inner curtain predates the main outer enceinte to the east.  To the SW the inner curtain continues seamlessly to the outer gatehouse and the wall above from the D shaped inner ward tower to the outer gatehouse obviously had the same hoarding.  The implication is that this wall is all of one date and the same age as the inner ward masonry curtain and it seems likely that this wall post dates the looped wall to the north of the round tower.

To the south in the inner ward was a small rectangular, boldly projecting gatetower with small loops from the passageway covering the curtain base to E&W.  This would appear to have originally been freestanding when the inner ward, standing on the postulated original ringwork, was merely defended by palisades.  This tower was obviously equipped with a drawbridge and the west curtain was parallel with its north wall.  This has since been destroyed and replaced by a more modern wall which took the inner enceinte back to the outer curtain south of the D shaped tower.  Similar gatetowers to this exist at the north end of Chepstow castle, although this is much more powerful.

To the west of the inner ward is an open backed semi-circular tower which lay opposite the manor mill, set on the other side of the ditch and powered by the old mill stream which formed the moat to the 
north of the castle.  As the curtain heights vary on either side of the tower it is likely that the tower is a later insertion to the original plan.  Other than the half round tower and a small rectangular turret where the inner curtain meets the outer one to the north, there was no flanking on the outer enceinte.  Indeed even the keep in the inner ward was kept on interior lines.

On the River Maigue side there were many buildings, starting with another rectangular gatetower to the west, which, unlike its inner ward counterpart, does not project beyond the curtain.  This is 2 storeys high and has a ground floor chamber added to the south side of the entrance.  There would appear to be a constable's chamber above.  The whole has been much altered and extended to the east to add an internal portcullis.  The mostly filled in ditch outside appears to have been fed from the nearby river and the two holes above the entrance arch suggest that there once was a drawbridge over this.

The gatetower was next to a large stables set in what was probably the original hall, which was 54' long by 30' wide, and has traces of apartments over.  Attached in a different build to the stables was the rectangular 3 storeyed garderobe tower, projecting into the river.  East of this is a highly ruined aisled hall, 72' long by 35' wide.  This appears to be of two builds, with the W&S walls being older.  To the north is a porch, while to the east are two service rooms on either side of a passage leading to a detached kitchen.  This hall has 3 surviving twin round headed lights with roll mouldings.  There are additional simple gateways in the outer ward to N&E, but probably only the 
north one is original.

Judging from all this it would appear that the first castle consisted of the keep, inner gatehouse and the first hall.  Subsequently the inner ward was constructed and then the outer ward to bring the hall into the enceinte.  Next the D shaped tower and west curtain was added and finally the new great aisled hall when the old hall converted into a stables.  Quite obviously many alterations have gone on over time, while the recent remortaring and possibly rebattlementing make all these changes difficult to judge.

Perhaps you would like to join me in visiting this and other great castles of Ireland in October with Scholarly Sojourns.  Details of the trip can be found by clicking here.


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry