Bridgeacrin - Castleroche

Castleroche, like its sister castle at Carlingford, were both built by the Anglo-Normans as part of the process of taming and colonizing north Louth in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. So as might be expected, they share a number of characteristics, most notably their siting atop large rocky outcrops of natural rock. While this was undoubtedly done to supplement their defensiveness, the placement was also designed to impress and strike awe into the native population. So what we see today as wonderfully photogenic monuments would in the medieval period been viewed by the local population as a blatant displays of power.

For such an impressive structure, Castleroche is sadly bereft of history. While the date and founder is recorded - it was built by Rohesia de Verdon in AD 1236 - nothing is known of its history in the later 13th or 14th centuries. For the 15th century the only substantial piece of historical information surviving suggests that it was repaired by one Richard Bellew c.1464. This all the more puzzling when one considers that the flat, rock-girthed plateau to the east of the castle proper appears to have been the site of a medieval village or borough[*1], complete with a mortared stone wall. Here Wright's perspective drawing of the castle is invaluable, showing as it does clear evidence of the wall where today only a few grassed-over foundations are visible.

Castleroche also shares another characteristic with King John's Castle, Carlingford: it belongs to the category 'Keepless Castle' on the basis of its layout and architecture. Both castles are defined and protected by a substantial mortared stone wall of a form known to archaeologists and architectural historians as a 'curtain wall' or by the borrowed French term enceinte. Entrance to the interior of Keepless Castles was channeled solely through a well-defended gate which also doubled as a keep or heavily defended tower. The gate at Castleroche is a magnificant example of such 13th century military design, and is the most commented-upon aspect of its architecture. Comprising a narrow vaulted entrance passage set between two tall semi-circular towers, it was further protected externally by a wide trench or fosse and a draw-bridge. Though little trace of the latter survives, the discerning visitor will find the traces of its abutments in the base and along outer edge of the fosse directly opposite the entrance.

Within the protective envelope of the curtain wall, stood a series of buildings, of which the 'Great Hall' was the most important (for further details, see Sweetman 2000). At Castleroche, the Great Hall occupied that whole SE part of the interior where substantial but fragmentary remains of it still stand. It appears to have been a large three-storied structure measuring c.14m wide by c.18m on its E-W long axis. The only other major structure visible within the interior is a real puzzler which has taxed the minds of archaeologists for many years. It consists of a small but very strong tower-like structure, square in plan (L/W c.8m) with a doorway on its E side. Suggestions as to its function have ranged from a wall tower from an earlier castle, to a latrine-tower, to a well-chamber.

[*1] See

Louth Village

for a definition of the term borough.

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