The lands around the castle were apparently granted to Thomas Fitz Maurice (d.1215) around 1197 by William Burgh (d.1206), the lord of Limerick.  It is thought that Burgh may have been granted the cantref of Shanid as early as the 1180s when Miles Cogan (d.1182) and later Stephen le Poer (d.1190) were carving out their lordships towards Limerick.  Burgh was certainly in control of the lordship by 1203 as Kilcolman and Kilbradran within Shanid had been granted to Athassel abbey.  That year Shanid was probably taken by Meilyr Fitz Henry (d.1220) when his lands in Munster and Desmond were seized from William Burgh (d.1206) at the king's order.  Shanid was Burgh's only castle in Desmond.  In September 1204, William's lands in Desmond were restored to him.  In was probably around 1206 that Meilyr Fitz Henry (d.1220) detached the 3 cantrefs of Shanid, Killeedy and Ocarby from Cork/Desmond and attached them to Co. Limerick.

Shanid castle soon became an outlier for the major fortress of Limerick, in a similar manner to Adare, Askeaton, Athenry and Bunratty.  Burgh himself seems to have briefly been granted Limerick by Prince John in 1192/93.  Thomas' son, John Fitz Thomas (d.1261), was recorded as lord of Shanid (Seannad) in 1244, when he murdered Domhnall Ruadh the son of Cormac Liathanach Maccarthy (d.1244).  In John's inquest post mortem held in 1282, on the coming of age of his son, the cantreff of Shennede was held of the king in chief for 2 knight's fees in Oranyl in Co. Limerick.  This was worth 100m (£66 13s 4d) in 1282, but had been worth £100 in 1261.  Similarly nearby Kyllyde cantref with its castle was also held for 2 knights from John Barry and this too had reduced in value from £200 to £100.  In 1259 John had been given Dungarvan castle by the Lord Edward (d.1307).  John's great grandson, Maurice Fitz Thomas (d.1356), was made earl of Desmond in 1329 and the castle passed down their line with nearby Adare.  Shanid castle was finally destroyed in 1641.

The castle stands at the summit of a 200' high hill commanding the district.  Upon this an unusual 4' thick shell keep stands on a substantial 35' high motte with a 150' basal diameter and an oval summit some 80' by 70' in diameter.  This supports a roughly 40' diameter round tower on the south-west side, away from the bailey.  The idea is rather similar to the sites at Launceston and Tretower.  The motte is surrounded by a ditch up to 10' deep which itself has a counterscarp on the exposed sides.  A small trapezoid bailey lies to the north-east.  Oddly a ringwork, 110' in surface diameter, lies some 300' south-east.  Possibly this was a siege castle or rath of some description.  The foundations of stone buildings have been reported on the summit of this.

Most of the structure is now down, but to the west one fragment of the tower still stands to battlement height, showing the structure consisted merely of a basement with walls 10' thick and a first floor.  Oddly the exterior has been made polygonal, where at the summit, under the wallwalk are a series of narrow loops at the corners of uncertain purpose.  The battlements above seem to have been equipped with beam holes for hoardings.  There was once a Romanesque opening to the north.  The shell keep is reduced to foundations, although a hundred years ago it stood some 15' high with battlements.

Perhaps you would like to join me in visiting this and other great castles of Ireland in October with Scholarly Sojourns.  Details of the trip can be found by clicking here.


Copyright©2021 Paul Martin Remfry