Carlingford - King John's Castle

Though a small number of 'castles' are thought to have been built in Ireland in the earlier part of the twelfth century, chiefly in Connacht (for further details, see Leask 1951, 6), it was the Anglo-Normans who were responsible for the introduction of the techniques of stone castle building into Ireland after AD 1169. Most of the Irish 'castles' were probably earth and wood constructions, as were the first fortifications erected by the Anglo-Normans during the earliest phases of their colonization (see Mount Ash - Knockbridge for general details on motte-castles).

Based on their date and architecture, stone castles in Ireland can be broadly divided into three types: Keep and Keepless Castles, Hall Houses, Tower Houses and Towered & Gabled Houses. Keep and Keepless Castles were the earliest and were usually royal or seigneurial strongholds of late twelfth and thirteenth century date (for further details, see Sweetman 2000). Though broadly contemporary, Hall Houses were smaller residential buildings with the main accommodation on the first storey. For reasons that are not entirely clear, they are mainly confined to the west of Ireland. Tower houses, as their name suggests, comprise three or more storeys and were the standard defended residences of the rural gentry from 15th to 17th century date, e.g. Roodstown. Finally, there are the Towered & Gabled Houses of the 17th century, e.g. Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, in which the transition from castle to mansion is almost complete.

King Johns' Castle in Carlingford is one of two examples of the Keepless Castle in Louth, the other being that at Roche. Though they shares many features of layout, history has wove two very different paths for these castles. Nowhere is this more evident than in the histories of the boroughs established by the Anglo-Normans at Roche and Carlingford [See Fairy Mount - Louth Village for a definition of the term borough]. While urban life only took brief root at land-girth Roche, it endured on the sea-coast of Carlingford Lough, as the picturesque town attests to this day.

One clear index of these different histories is the number of alterations evident in the fabric of King John's Castle as opposed to that at Roche. The result is is a complex ruin at Carlingford, full of traces of alteration and refit. The most noticeable of these changes in layout is the huge wall that dissects the interior of King John's Castle running north to south. This thought to have been inserted c.1260 when the castle was re-configured from an oval plan to a D-shaped one (see modern plan). The result was the creation of a commodius two-storied hall (c.20 by 10m) occupying the whole western part of the castle and commanding fine views of the lough. This was accessed at first storey level from the courtyard to the east by an external wooden stairway.

Great Halls such as this were the heart of castle life. The basement, which was generally only accessible from the all on the first storey, functioned as a store for valuables. Above it was the great hall itself which acted as a reception area during the day and as a sleeping quarters at night. By the 14th century, many halls were also equipped with a solar, or upper living room, which acted as private quarters for the officer or seigneur who held the castle. As the term suggests, these were often south-facing chambers. At Carlingford a myriad of broken walls, arches, niches and fireplaces lie to the south of the hall indicating the former positions of a series of small but probably well-lit rooms which overlooked the harbour and town.

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