It would seem likely that Dundalk was granted to Bertram
Verdun (d.1192) around 1171 when he accompanied King Henry II (d.1189)
to Ireland. In 1189 Bertram granted Dundalk its first charter
and it is thought that he converted Castle Mount, just outside the
town, into his fortress. Bertram died in 1192 at Joppa in the
Holy Land and it was only in 1204 that his younger son, Nicholas
Verdun, regained the family lands in Ireland when he paid King John
£100, a courser and a palfrey to have the lands that his
father held on the day of his death. On 27 June 1217,
Nicholas was reinstated with half the cantref of Ponte Ferrardi, apart
from the vill of Ponte, as well as the castle of Dundalk, whereof he
was disseised because he went to war against King John. Quite
clearly this shows that Castleroche was yet to be founded.
Nicholas died in the summer of 1231 and his lands would have passed to
his son in law, Theobald Walter le Botiller. However, he had
died a little before 19 July 1230 during the king's campaign to Poitou
and so a third of his lands, as her dower, reverted to his widow,
Rohesia Verdun, the daughter and only surviving heiress of
Nicholas. On 23 October 1232 she pledged 700 marks
(£466 13s 4d) to King Henry III for her father's lands and
permission not to remarry, thereby regaining all her father's lands
into her own hands. She died a little before 14 February
1247, by which time she is said to have abandoned the wooden castle at
Castletown, near Dundalk, and built the new fortress at
Castleroche. A modern legend states that she told everyone
that she would marry any man who could build her an impregnable fortress. Apparently when the architect had finished this
project for her, she tossed him out of the hall window so that she
would not have to fulfil her vow! In fact the only evidence
that Rohesia built the castle is a modern conceit that Castleroche is
actually Castlerose.... This is of course regardless of the
fact that the castle name comes from Castellum de Rupe - the castle of
the rock. The real evidence that Rose was responsible for
building Castleroche actually comes from a single entry in the close
roll which states that:
Rohesia Verdun having fortified a castle in her own land against the
Irish, which none of her predecessors were able to do and having
proposed to raise another castle near the sea for the greater security
of the king's land, the king commands the justiciar of Ireland to cause
her to have the king's service of Meath and Uriel for forty days for
It seems unlikely that this castle refers to any other but Castleroche.
After Rohesia's death the castle passed to her son, who took
his mother's, rather than his father's Butler name and became Lord John
Verdun (d.1274). He was lord of Castleroche as well as
Longtown in the Welsh Marches through his marriage to a Lacy of Trim heiress. John died
a little before 17 October 1274, after his two eldest sons had been
killed in battle in Ireland before 28 June 1271. He
was succeeded by his son, Theobald, who died in 1310. His
third son, Nicholas, was lord of Castleroche in 1315 and had to face
the invasion of Edward Bruce who made himself king of Ireland in
Dundalk that year. Castleroche
was obviously destroyed at this time and by 1317 it was reported as
being worth nothing. A few years later in 1332 the castle was
described as having been burned by the Irish. The Norman
family of Bellew later reoccupied it and a host of all the English
forces in Ireland mustered here in 1561. It is said to have
been finally destroyed by Cromwell in the Civil War.
The castle occupies the irregular summit of a natural scarp and is
faced by a rock cut ditch to the east. Not surprisingly the main
defences face this way and the rest of the enceinte is simply enclosed
by an irregular curtain wall only some 5' thick. The ward is
roughly 200' long by 130' wide. At the south end is a large first
floor hall, some 58' long by 42' wide. The first floor of
this was reached via a mural stairway in the west wall, while a later
building was built along its north side behind the gatehouse. The
hall forms the S&SE extremity of the castle, being adjoined by the
twin-towered gatehouse to the north. The ground floor of the hall
is beneath the bulk of the level of the interior and a whole floor
beneath the gate passageway to the north.
This is due to the drop
of the bedrock on this side of the castle site. The basement
had 4 lights to the south and one large, blocked doorway or light to
the east. The hall was on the same level as the gate passageway
has three large windows to the south. To the west were two doors
a flight of mural steps. There was obviously a third floor
judging from the remains in the curtain to the east.
The gatehouse towers of this are more rectangular, like Dunamase, but have been
rounded to the front. They are also slightly offset to allow
for the curvature of the castle east enceinte. The gatehouse was
reached from an outer ward and apparent barbican via a
drawbridge. In disign it should be classified as a twin towered gatehouse. Various English examples survive at Beeston, Bungay, Clifford, Dover, Longtown, Pembridge, St Briavels, the Tower of London and Whittington. In Wales they exist at Caerphilly, Carmarthen, Chepstow, Criccieth, Degannwy, Dinas Bran, Llanstephan, Llawhaden, Neath, Oystermouth, Powis, Rhuddlan, Tinboeth and White Castle. In Scotland they can be found at Kildrummy and Urquhart and finally elsewhere in Ireland at Carrickfergus, Limerick and Roscommon.
In its final phase the gatehouse was obviously residential and is 4
storeys high, although all the internal west portion has gone.
The surviving part of the east end, coming off the north wall of the hall, is
at a most odd angle. The internal embrasures are all strongly
pointed, while the original entrance arch is less so. The
gateway was later reduced to allow for foot traffic only and at least
the north tower was vaulted. There is a garderobe exit tight in
to the SE curtain.
At the north extreme are the remains of a vaulted basement of another
irregular, but roughly D shaped tower about 26' in diameter.
The outer part of this is largely reduced to its foundations, although
the interior wall still rises above the curtain battlements.
This shows that this tower was also 4 storeys high. A
straight external stair running alongside the curtain reached the
doorway to the south. Perhaps this was once a small round keep.
The NW&E curtains are thicker than those to the SW. They
are also solid. The SW curtain is pierced by 4 loops and a
drain. Two pits and an internal retaining wall show that
builds once stood here. The south curtain also makes one side of
the great hall and this, the thinnest curtain at the site, is also
punctured by 4 loops. It is also quite clear that the SW
curtain butts against the south wall of the hall, and therefore probably
post-dates it. The junction is also apparent at the west end of
the castle where the northern hoarding quite obviously comes to an
abrupt end at the apex, although there appears to be no change in
masonry style. Obviously the join was well
integrated. This shows quite clearly that the castle is not a
single phase structure.
Towards the west in the ward are the ruins of a square building that
may have been a tower keep or a later building of uncertain purpose, possibly a well house.
The post holes for hoardings are readily apparent along the east curtain
which still retains its battlements, as does the great hall.
However, it should be noted that the remaining hall battlements to the east
are quite different to those on the north curtains, having much shorter
merlons. The curtain here is also pierced with 4 narrow
loops. These curtain loops are quite lacking in the north half of
There was also a large rectangular masonry outer ward to the
east. The idea that this was a single build castle built by Rose
Verdun in 1236 obviously needs to be rethought.
If you would like to visit this and
other great castles of Ireland I am leading a tour there in
feel free to look over the details by clicking
Paul Martin Remfry