Roscrea Castle

Like many Norman fortifications of the 13th Century, Roscrea Castle, as we know it today, started life as a motte and wooden tower. Built in 1213, this temporary structure became known as King John's Castle, and it was not until 1281 that the building of the stone structure began. The land on which the Castle was built was the property of the bishop of Killaloe, and he did not give permission for a military fortification to be built without first being promised generous grants of land from the King. Compensation for its construction was not paid until 1280, the year before its stone successor was built. In 1315 the Castle was granted to the Butlers of Ormond, who held it until the early 18th Century.

Architectural Features

Roscrea Castle was "constructed anew" in 1332. It comprises of a gate tower and two D-shaped corner towers, which were originally joined by a curtain wall. Access to the courtyard was by draw-bridge through the rectangular gate tower that measures over 90 feet in height. Its chimneys and gables are early 17th Century features, but the lower levels of the Castle are the original stonework. The two towers housed three storeys, one of which has an octagonal interior called the "Duke of Ormond's Tower". Although the tower was much ruined conservation work has been carried out in recent years by the OPW, and one can still see the Duke's coat of arms, in stucco, over a fireplace there.

The 1600s: An Eventful Century

The most colourful chapter of the Castle's history was written during the mid 1600s, when the Confederate and Cromwellian Wars raged through the countryside. In 1646 Eoin Roe O'Neill, at the head of 1,200 men, stormed Roscrea and took the Castle, reportedly killing every man, woman and child there whilst doing so. The only survivor was the town's governor's wife, Lady Hamilton, who was a sister to the Earl of Ormond. Three years later she was forced to play host to O'Neill in the Castle once again, and he and his men refused to bring their visit to a peaceful end without being paid 7. They then left the Castle in peace, carrying "saddles, pots, pans, gridirons, brandirons (and) ploughirons". They even took "women's gowns and petticoats" from the Castle. In 1650 Roscrea surrendered to Cromwell, and his son, Ireton, quartered in the Castle that September. During the Williamite War of the 1690s the Castle and the town did not figure largely in the proceedings. However, following William III's victory, he ordered that Roscrea Castle be demolished, as "it would be dangerous for the peace and safety of the Kingdom if it fell into enemy hands". The Castle gained a reprieve though as it was deemed that it provided a vital haven for the settlers and their animals against "pilfering thieves in the night".

The Damers and the Military

In 1703 the Duke of Ormond sold the Castle to the King's Hospital, Kilmainham, and 19 years later it was bought by the Damer family. During the 1800s it was used as a barracks for soldiers engaged in "ball practice". In 1892 the Castle became a National Monument and several repairs were carried out on the structure.

Today, the OPW cares for Roscrea Castle, which is open to visitors from April to October annually.

Source - Cunningham, "Roscrea and District"

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