Askeaton Castle

The castle is alleged to have been founded by William Burgh (d.1206) as Es Geiphtíne in 1199.  This was after King Domhanall MacCarthy (d.1206) had ravaged Munster in 1196, destroying the castles of Dun Cuireda, Cora, Mag Ua Mairgili and Lismore as well as attacking William's castle of Kilfeakle
(between Tipperary and Cashal).  Askeaton was certainly operational by 13 October 1203 when William went to Caen to meet King John.  Prior to this he had pledged his castles of Kilfeakle and Askeaton (Hinneskesti) to the king for his good behaviour.  The king's justiciar, Meilor Fitz Henry (d.1220) was to return the castles to William when the king released him.  The castle was seized by the Crown on William's untimely death in 1206 until 5 July 1215 when King John ordered the castle of Askeaton (Askelou) to be returned to Richard Burgh (d.1242), the son of William (d.1206).  The same day, 5 July 1215, the king recorded that Richard Burgh had made a fine of 100m (£66 13s 4d) with him to have the castle of Askelon.  Richard was to give Aumary Beaufo an exchange for the castle and the king was to be quit of the exchange and security was to be given for the fine.  Therefore the justiciar of Ireland was to cause him to have seisin

Richard Burgh died in Gascony about 17 February, 1242.  With this Askeaton castle was seized once again by the Crown.  At this time Richard's heir, Walter Burgh (d.1271) was about 12.  Consequently the Crown handed out the fortress to other parties.  On 3 November 1249, it was recorded that:

Earl Richard Clare of Gloucester and Hertford (d.1262), having given surety for William le Gros, to whom the justiciar of Ireland had committed his castle of Asferkerlon, that he should faithfully serve the king and stand trial in the king's court, if any should charge him, mandate to Justiciar John Gray to cause William to have seisin of the castle.

William le Gros died childless after 1249 and the castle somehow passed to Thomas Clare (d.1287) the second son of Earl Richard Clare (d.1262) and favourite of King Edward I (1272-1307).  He was lord of Bunratty and husband of Juliana Fitz Maurice, the granddaughter of Justiciar Maurice Fitz Gerald (d.1257).  In 1318, on the death of Richard Clare, the son of Thomas (d.1287), the castle was granted by Edward II (1307-27) to Robert Welles (1295-1320), the second husband of Matilda (d.1327), the eldest daughter of Thomas Clare (d.1287).  Presumably the castle had previously been held by Matilda's first husband, Robert Clifford, who was killed at the battle of Bannockburn on 24 June 1314.  Robert Welles left no heir in 1320, but his brother, Adam, who died in 1345, left an underage son, John Welles (d.1361).   By 1348 the castle was held by Earl Maurice Fitz Thomas of Desmond (d.1356) and then passed down that family line.

In 1579 William Pelham (d.1587) ordered Earl Thomas Butler of Ormond to besiege Askeaton castle as he was not strong enough to attack it.  Returning in 1580, Pelham attacked and took Carrigafoyle castle on 27 March, slaughtering the entire garrison after a 2 day siege.  With this the garrison of Askeaton promptly surrendered in terror of their lives and the castle was given to the Berkeleys.  In 1599 the castle was besieged for 247 days by the earl of Desmond, but relieved by the earl of Essex (d.1601).  The castle was taken again by the Catholics in 1642, but was taken and slighted by Captain Daniel Axtell acting under Cromwell 10 years later.  The garrison commander, Patrick Purcell was then executed by hanging.  The castle later had an afterlife as the Irish headquarters of the Hellfire Club from about 1740 to 1800.


Askeaton castle is set in the middle of the River Deel protecting a bridge which now allows access to the site.  The castle would appear to have been planned as a concentric structure from the first.  On an inner rock, some 130' N-S and 80' E-W stands a polygonal ringwork with 2 garderobes on the south end of the west wall.  There are also traces of a ditch around the rock to the east.  These defences are fragmentary and much of the NE of this site has been damaged by quarrying.  In the NE corner stood a possibly thirteenth or fourteenth century tower house, known as the Desmond Tower.  This lies on top of the inner curtain to the west and had an attached hall to the south.  Some of the windows in the tower are shoulder headed and similar to others found at Caernarfon and Cerreg Cennen in Wales.  There appears to have been no access from the curtains to the tower.  Of the early, lower part of the hall to the south, 2 early loops survive to the west.  The two lower floors are vaulted.  The two later storeys above this are built in a sumptuous style and still retain a fine chimney to the west.  A latrine block to the west of the tower still stands to full height.  Note the interesting corbelled out projections between this and the tower.  At the south end of the enclosure was an internal rectangular tower possibly added in the fifteenth century and known as the Constable's Tower.  This has fireplaces at its two surviving levels as well as a garderobe.  Presumably the constable lived here as there was no room for a constable's chamber above the diminutive gatehouse.  The entrance was to the east and consisted of two rectangular thickenings of the curtain wall containing a gate and a portcullis.  Not enough remains to suggest if there was a drawbridge, but this seems likely.

The outer ward was built directly above the river, but now only the north wall and a fragment of the west side survives, although there appears to be a single fragment built into the wall of the eighteenth century club house to the east.  On the west side is a hall-like structure running E-W which may be an early chapel converted into a solar.  This has been built into by a fifteenth century first floor hall which appears to have been connected to the inner ward via a bridge.  This has a vaulted ground floor and impressive windows in the aisled hall above.  A stair turret overhangs the river while the curiously poor junction between the curtain and the hall block to the 
north suggests that these date from very different building phases, as too does the fact that this curtain was pierced by a series of rectangular gun loops.

A seventeenth century print of the site shows that there was also a rectangular tower in the east side of the inner ward which was the destination of the bridge from the outer hall block.  This also shows that the rest of the outer enceinte did not seem to be seriously fortified.

Why not join me at Askeaton and other Irish castles this October?  Please see the information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2018 Paul Martin Remfry