Rock of Dunamase, Co. Laois,
- Dunamase c1792
- Rock of Dunamase
- Dunamase c1794
The Early Christian Period.
Dunamase originated not as an Anglo-Norman castle but
as Dun Masc, an Early Christian dun. Its first and only mention in the
annals is for the year 843/4 when it was plundered by the Vikings and
the abbot of Terryglass killed in the raid (AI, sub anno 844, AFM, sub
anno 843). It should be noted here that there have been no finds to date
to suggest that the site was occupied in Prehistoric times.
The arrival of the Normans in the late twelfth century
saw a refortification of the Rock. The two surviving elements which
belong to this early phase are the hall at the top of the hill and an
early gate-tower into the lower ward.
In the early part of the 13th century the defenses
were remodeled entirely in stone using a more aggressive form of
defense. The old gate tower was blocked up and a new gatehouse built to
the south projecting forward of the new curtain line to provide depth of
defenses along the gate passage as well as permitting flanking fire
along the base of the curtain. This phase was built mostly in uncut
limestone, but the one feature which does distinguish it from the
previous and subsequent phases is the use of cut sandstone around loops,
portcullis slot, doorways etc.
- The Great Hall was part of the early Norman castle
built in the late 12th century. It was occupied at
various times through the centuries, the latest in the
The excavated evidence suggests that Dunamase was
abandoned by the middle of the 14th century and this ties in with the
historical sources which stop in the 1330's. Some histories suggest that
it was taken over by the O'Mores, which may be true for the land but
they did not use the buildings. There are no archaeological features or
finds which can be used to suggest that the castle was inhabited in the
later medieval period.
More interesting and comprehensive
data can be found about this ancient castle at the following location
Rock of Dunamase
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Rock of Dunamase (Dun Masc "the fort of Masc" in Irish Gaelic), is one
of the most historic sites in Ireland. Its ruins date back many hundreds
of years. The Rock stands 150 feet (46m) tall in the heart of what is
otherwise a flat plain, and was ideal as a defensive position with its
view right up to the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
Excavations in the 1990s demonstrated that the Rock was first settled
in the 9th century when a fort or dun was constructed on the site. In
845 the Vikings attacked the site and the abbot of Terryglass was killed
there. There is no clear evidence of 10th-11th century occupation.
The castle was built in the second half of the 12th century. Who
built it is not recorded, but Meyler FitzHenry is the most likely
candidate. Strongbow is another possibility, as it was he who controlled
Leinster as heir of Dermot McMurrough. With the marriage of Stongbow's
daughter and heir, Isabel, the castle passed into the hands of the
Marshal family. William Marshal, who later became Regent of England in
the minority of Henry III, had 5 sons all of whom succeeded him in turn
and died without issue. So in 1247 the Marshal lands were divided among
William's 5 daughters. Dunamase fell to Eve Marshal and then to her
daughter, Maud, who was married to Roger Mortimer. The castle remained
in Mortimer hands until 1330 when another Roger Mortimer was executed
for treason. By the time the Mortimer family was rehabilitated the
castle seems to have passed out of the area under Norman control. There
is no evidence that the castle was taken over and used by the local
Irish lords and it seems to have become a ruinous shell by 1350.
Nor is there evidence that the castle was reoccupied in the 17th
century. It played no part in the Cromwellian wars, except that it was
blown up at that time to prevent it being used. In the later 18th
century Sir John Parnell started to build a banqueting hall within the
ruins and this work incorporated medieval architectural details taken
from other sites in the area. It is these features which have lead some
writers to believe that there was a later medieval rebuild and
reoccupation of the castle.
Located in County Laois, the site is a short distance from the N80,
between the towns of Portlaoise and Stradbally.
- References: A summary of recent work at the Rock
of Dunamase, Co. Laois, by Brian Hodkinson, in JR Kenyon and K
O'Conor, The Medieval Castle in Ireland and Wales, Dublin 2003
- The Sources for the History of Dunamase Castle,
by B.J. Hodkinson,Laois Heritage Society Journal, No 1, 2003.