Rosecommon was probably conquered in the early thirteenth century by the
English family. It was acquired by the Crown on 30 July 1215, when
King John ordered the barons of the Dublin Exchequer to pay Philip
English (Angulo) an annuity of 10m (£6 13s 4d) for the cantref of Roscoman' in
Connaught until the king could requite him with other land in exchange. Richard Burgh (d.1242) of Askeaton, who had acquired the rights to
Connaught in 1224, obviously did not think that the English claim to
Roscommon was sound and consequently he ceased payments to Philip and
his heirs. Consequently on 30 September 1232, after Richard Burgh
had stepped down as justiciar, the new justiciar, Maurice Fitz Gerald
(d.1257), was ordered to let Philip English have 10m (£6 13s 4d) yearly at the
Dublin exchequer ‘as he was wont to receive for the cantref of
Roscuman until Richard Burgh was made justiciar of Ireland'.
Possibly this arrangement ended when Richard Burgh
assigned the 5 cantrefs of Roscommon to Felim O'Connor in 1235.
There does not appear to have been an early castle at Roscommon and the
new Henrician castle was apparently built on a virgin site above the
lake for King Henry III by Justiciar Robert Ufford in 1269. In
reply King Aedh O'Connor of Connought plundered and burned the fortress
before his death in 1274. The castle was then repeatedly
attacked, being captured by Donogh O'Kelly in 1308 and finally falling
to the O'Connors in 1340. It then remained in their hands for
over two hundred years until 1569 when it was captured by Sir Henry
Sidney. It was also captured and briefly held in 1499 by the earl
In the 1580s the fortress was remodelled as the
chief residence of Sir Nicholas Malby, the governor of Connought.
He turned it into a Renaissance fortified house, adding the current
sumptuous windows and fireplaces. Despite its downgrading from
fortress to palace the Catholics took the place in 1645, while the
N&S curtains were destroyed by the Parliamentarians in 1652 after
castle's surrender. Despite this it was besieged again in the
Confederate Wars when it was surrendered to Cromwell and only finally
fell out of use after the Williamite Wars in the late seventeenth
Roscommon castle is a typically ‘Edwardian' quadrilateral
enclosure with D shaped towers at each corner and a twin tower
gatehouse towards the east. The bulk of the castle is alleged to have been built for Edward I
in the 1280s, but all appears to be the same build as the
postern and should probably be assigned to the castle designed and
built for Henry III after 1269. The fortress consists of a single
ward, 165' by 130', with walls 8' thick. The corners were
with massive 3 storey D shaped towers 35' in diameter. These were
served by mural stairways, an obsolete design by the thirteenth
The loop embrasures, where they survive, make shallow points and there
is the odd inserted 'Romanesque' doorway hidden in the ruins.
There are also some surviving crossbow loops. These have
German cross style sighting slits and again appear to be late
Centrally in the east wall of the enclosure was a massive twin-towered
gatehouse similar to those common in Wales. This structure was 72' wide and contained many commodious
apartments and the constable's chamber. On the first floor were
fireplaces and garderobes. This has been compared with Harlech,
but unlike Harlech and its few sister gatehouses, Roscommon has no rear
stair turrets which marks out the Harlech type of gatehouse.
Instead it is more akin to the normal twin towered gatehouse.
Various English examples of these can be seen 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, Castle Roche and Limerick.
The rectangular postern, which is now used as the main entrance to the
site, is opposite the main gatehouse. This once had a portcullis
as well as a drawbridge judging by its pit. The tower
is 38' long by 29' wide. It is often stated, without a shred of
evidence, to be a relict of an early castle. The similarities and
apparent uniformity of the masonry would suggest the opposite.
There was once a moat and outer defences that apparently never
progressed beyond the wooden stage.
Paul Martin Remfry