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Rock of Dunamase Co Laois

Part 1

Kilmoreney House Page 9 Part 2

Rock of Dunamase, Co. Laois, Ireland
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 eighteenth century.

Source: Photo Database for Photos

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 c2003The 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.

Kilmoreney House Page 9 Part 2
The information contained in these pages is provided solely for the purpose of sharing with others researching their ancestors in County Laois.
Michael Brennan July 2001. All Rights reserved

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