Dundrum, judging by its name, was probably an early fort or dun.  Excavation has shown that the site was occupied as early as the first century AD.  Over a thousand years later it was fortified by John Courcy (d.1210) when he moved into Ulster in or soon after receiving a grant of the place from King Henry II in 1177.  In 1204 he was dispossessed of his earldom by Hugh Lacy and failed to retake it in 1205.  King John seized the castle for the Crown in 1210 and it was only returned to Hugh in 1227.  It seems to have reverted to the Crown on Hugh's death in 1242 and expenditure was recorded at the site in the 1260s.  The fortress was said to be ruinous in 1333 when it was taken over by the Magennises.  It was taken from them by Lord Grey in 1538, but was held by Felim Magennis in 1610 who surrendered the fortress to King James I.  In 1636 King Charles granted the fortress to Sir Francis Blundell and he built the L shaped house in the outer ward.  The castle was retaken by the Magennises, but was slighted by Parliament in 1652.

Dundrum is an unusually designed castle.  It has a oval upper ward set on a boss of rock in typical ‘dun' fashion.  However the curtain, some 180' long by 130' wide, is only some 3' thick.  This is unusually thin, but there was a narrow wallwalk on top and this was further strengthened by a hoarding, the post holes for which are still everywhere evident in the surviving masonry.  Entrance was apparently gained via a hole in the wall entrance to the east.  Excavation has shown that this had a rock-cut pit in front of it allowing a drawbridge to be operated from a platform on the battlements.  This may have some similarities to the wallwalk operated portcullis at Longtown castle in the Welsh borders, owned by the Lacys.  Later at Dundrum a single D shaped tower was added to the SE of the entrance.  This commanded the approach from the outer ward.  At some time, probably in the thirteenth century, the D shaped tower was converted into one side of a gatehouse which had rectangular two storey guardhouses internally of the entrance to E&W.  Such a hybrid gatehouse is unknown elsewhere.  Access was gained to both rear guard chambers via doorways inside the gatepassageway.  There was a gate set at the rear of the curtain wall and this was backed immediately by a portcullis.  Access to the upper floor was gained via a straight stair up the west face of the west tower.  This concluded in a vice set partially in the curtain.  The only lighting in the tower was via loops facing the courtyard to the north.

The argument that the entrance to the castle was only from the west and therefore that there was no room for a western D shaped tower has been advanced, but rather makes a mockery of the outer ward which then becomes merely an extension of the inner ward and leaves no communication between the two enclosures unless the original hole in the wall gateway was still in use when the gatehouse was commissioned.  Such an eventually seems nonsensical, although there was no apparent means of egress from the inner to the outer ward at Ewloe in Wales.

On the west side of the ward is an internally placed round keep which was originally of 3 storeys.  This had a diameter of 48' with walls a slightly more reasonable 6' thick.  Even so, this is a remarkably less powerful castle than Carrickfergus, apparently built at the same time by the same person.  The keep entrance was at first floor level and led into a hall.  This had a light to N&S with seats and what appears to be a doorway to the west towards the curtain.  This was later partially blocked to make a loop.  From beside the entrance a spiral stair led down into the basement as well as to the upper levels.  The upper storey was remodelled in the fifteenth century when four or five mural chambers seem to have been added to the walls, although it is possible that they date back to the conception of the tower.  They certainly have a similar air to the keep at Dinefwr, where the outer wall has gone, but the inner one remains.  A doorway was also added into the basement at this time.  There is an insignificant batter at the base and some traces of a slightly corbelled out wallwalk with drains.

Round keeps are not common in Ireland, Nenagh being a much more powerful version than Dundrum, Clogh Oughter, Hook Lighthouse, Inchiquin in Cork, Kilkenny, Shanid in Limerick and the keep at Waterford.  However, round keeps under 50' in diametre proliferate in the Wales with examples at Bronllys, Caldicot, Cardigan, Dinefwr, Dolbadarn, Dolforwyn second tower, Dryslwyn, Ewloe second tower, Laugharne, Llanstephan, Llawhaden, Machen, Nevern, Skenfrith,
Tenby and Tretower.  Similar under 50' diameter round keeps exist in England at Barnard Castle, Caus, Hertford, Huntington, Launceston, Longtown, Lyonshall, Orford and Pembridge.  Pure round keeps also exist in Scotland at Bothwell, Dirleton, Dumbarton, Inverlochy and Kildrummy, which also had mural chambers like Dundrum and Dinefwr.  There are various round keeps in France with examples at Chateau Gaillard, Chateau sur Epte, Chateaudun, Chateaurenault, Chatillon sur Indre, Chinon, Conches, Coucy, Freteval, Gisors and Roche Guyon.  There are also various larger round keeps over 50' in diameter which are listed under Pembroke castle.

Judging by the butt joint to the NE, after the inner, upper ward was fortified in stone, the lower outer ward was fortified with another thin, nearer 5' thick, irregular wall with an entrance to the west.  There appears to have been no flanking whatsoever with this.  However, the irregular west wall was once again much thinner at more like 3' again.  To the vulnerable east there are once again a battery of ground floor loops through the curtain.  This echoes Dunamase and to a lesser extent, Carlingford.  Entrance is currently gained through a modern arch underneath the inner gatehouse.  Presumably this was the original entrance and then access was gained to the inner gate via a ramp of some description.  The current ramp to the inner gate external to the outer ward must surely be a post defensive feature.  The irregular area enclosed within the outer ward has a diameter of some 220'.


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry