Roscommon 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'.

In 1269 the government decided to fortify the district in the ongoing war against the kings of Connaught.  Consequently ‘Roscommon castle was founded and almost built'.  Such a comment suggests that building went on very quickly.  However, in 1272 the castle was taken by King Aedh O'Connor of Connaught (1265-74).  The castle probably returned to English hands after Aedh's death as in 1274 Geoffrey Geneville (d.1314) had work done to the fortress.  Despite this, in 1276 ‘Roscommon castle was taken by an Irish assault'.  Once more the castle had to be rebuilt.  Donogh O'Kelly captured the castle in 1308 and finally the O'Connors seized it again in 1340.  They then held the castle until 1569 when it was captured by Sir Henry Sidney, despite it being taken briefly in 1499 by the earl of Kildare.

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 north and south curtains were destroyed by the Parliamentarians in 1652 after the 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 by the end of the Glorious Revolution of William III (1689-1702).

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 equipped with massive 3 storey D shaped towers 35' in diameter.  These were served by mural stairways, an obsolete design by the thirteenth century.  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 thirteenth century.

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

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.


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry