LivingTravelRoscommon Castle

Roscommon Castle

Roscommon Castle wouldn’t be on the list that immediately springs to mind when one thinks of Ireland’s most famous castles – it is far less well known than others, and even visitors to Roscommon Town in Connacht Province sometimes tend to be lost. However, it is impressive and interesting enough to warrant a short visit. And it is surprisingly large. Although the interior is almost gone.

How to find Roscommon Castle

Here’s the crisis: if you are passing Roscommon Town on the N60, you will see the castle, but not the road. And if you are in the city, you will see signs, but no castle, and you will have to be prepared to take a little hike (or drive there). The castle ruins are located on a hillside on the outskirts of the city. Now “hillside” is really pushing it, it’s a modest elevation. And the castle is now part of the local amenity area called Loughnanane Park, a beautifully landscaped area with a pond (dive in to protect yourself when the ducks come ashore), protected by a gate that’s open during the day.

The easiest access is via Castle Street and Castle Lane, north of the city center.

Roscommon Castle – A Brief Description

This rather large medieval Irish monument is basically quadrangular in shape, almost utilitarian. Once Roscommon Castle featured D-shaped towers at all four corners, each about three stories high, and a pair of towers to protect the front door. Only one tower still has the original vaulted ceiling today, the rest are in various stages of disrepair. Curtain walls enclosed the castle.

Today much of the original architecture of Roscommon Castle has to be imagined, while you will still see the basic outlines of the walls and towers, centuries of neglect (and some intentional destruction) have taken their toll. Add to that the major conversions in the Elizabethan era (see below) and you have modern additions (like windows) that confuse the overall picture.

The only help in interpreting the ruins are the plaques erected by the Office of Public Works, so you’ll have to rely on your knowledge of the castles and their architecture to uncover the image.

On the plus side, entry to Roscommon Castle is free and unhindered (at least during daylight hours), so you can take your time to experience the ruins, only the highest parts are off limits (what which makes sense). Don’t try to free climb here!

The history of Roscommon castle

The original castle at Roscommon was built in 1269 by Robert of Ufford, on land seized from an Augustinian Priory; A solid fortification was apparently needed to protect Anglo-Norman interests in the area: the new fortress was quickly besieged by the locals and partially destroyed by Connacht King Aodh O’Connor in 1272, then rebuilt (stronger and better, not to be humiliated again) by the Anglo-Normans in the 1280s.

Fifty years later, the O’Connors regained possession of Roscommon Castle and made it their own for about two centuries.

However, in 1569, Sir Henry Sidney, Lord Deputy of Ireland to Queen Elizabeth I, seized the castle… and a few years later he bestowed it on the new ruler of Connacht, Governor Sir Nicholas Malbie. Not dealing with living in a sturdy stone pile, yet drafty and hopeless, Malbie began an ambitious rebuilding plan for Roscommon Castle. His castle should be his home, not the other way around. The interior was totally remodeled and light was now admitted through large mullioned windows, inserted into towers and walls.

Thus decreasing the structural integrity a bit. Roscommon Castle effectively ceased to be a fortress, modern conveniences replacing purely utilitarian design features. Malbie also created walled gardens, parts of which can still be discerned (the wall at least).

But there was no peace for Roscommon Castle throughout Irish history. Parliamentary forces took control of the semi-fortress in 1641, four years later it fell into the hands of Confederate Catholics, loyal to the English king. After Cromwell took possession of the castle again in 1562, its days were numbered: the parts simply exploded and the main fortifications were destroyed. The final blow came during thepuchamite Wars in 1690, when the remaining parts were burned and only a gutted shell was left, to be used by locals as a quarry occasionally, and generally decaying.

Today it is classified as a national monument and under the care of the Irish state, but aside from cleaning up the site, and some work required to ensure there is no further destruction, no changes have been made. It is still a ruin, although impressive.

Roscommon Castle – The Final Verdict

A sturdy, albeit ruined, fortress and a checkered history – this should make Roscommon Castle interesting enough for most visitors interested in the past. It’s worth a little detour if you’re in the area (which isn’t blessed with too many attractions anyway). Visitors interested in medieval martial architecture should definitely go exploring the ruins, everyone else can just soak up the atmosphere of the place and take a relaxing stroll through the adjacent park.

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