Castleroche


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 castle.  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 de 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 this purpose.

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.

Description
The castle occupies the irregular summit of a natural scarp and is faced by a rock cut ditch to the E.  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 S 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 W wall, while a later building was built along its N side behind the gatehouse.  The hall forms the S and SE extremity of the castle, being adjoined by the twin-towered gatehouse to the N.  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 N.  This is due to the drop of the bedrock on this side of the castle site.  The basement had 4 lights to the S and one large, blocked doorway or light to the E.  The hall was on the same level as the gate passageway and has three large windows to the S.  To the W were two doors and a flight of mural steps.  There was obviously a 3rd floor judging from the remains in the curtain to the E.

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 E enceinte.  The gatehouse was reached from an outer ward and apparent barbican via a drawbridge.  The gatehouse was obviously residential and is 4 storeys high, although all the internal W portion has gone.  The surviving part of the E end, coming off the N 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 N tower was vaulted.  There is a garderobe exit tight in to the SE curtain.

At the N 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 S.  Perhaps this was once a small round keep.

The NW and 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 S 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 S wall of the hall, and therefore probably post-dates it.  The junction is also apparent at the W 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 W in the ward are the foundations of a square building that may have been a tower keep or a later building of uncertain purpose.

The post holes for hoardings are readily apparent along the E curtain which still retains its battlements, as does the great hall.  However it should be noted that the remaining hall battlements to the E are quite different to those on the N curtains, having much shorter merlons.  The curtain here is also pierced with 4 narrow loops.  These curtain loops are quite lacking in the N half of the castle.

There was also a large rectangular masonry outer ward to the E.  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 October.  Please feel free to look over the details by clicking here.

 

Copyright©2017 Paul Martin Remfry


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