Carlow Castle

Carlow Castle


Location: Carlow Map

Constructed: 1207- 1213

Open: weekdays only


Description of Carlow Castle

Carlow Castle that is now added to Ireland's National Monument of Ireland was constructed between 1207- 1213 by William Marshall on a site of the previous citadel. Little is known of the previous citadels on the site of Carlow Castle other than existence of the motte (mound) constructed by Hugh de Lacy in the 1180s. Today unfortunately only western wall of Carlow Castle survives. The rest of the castle was destroyed by human stupidity. Carlow Castle was abandoned for several decades then someone came out with a bright idea of establishing a lunatic asylum on its grounds. To speed up the process of expanding windows in the new hospital gunpowder was used. Apparently workers assumed that there is no such thing as too much of explosives and overdid with the charges. Explosion of 1814 that was carried out by "a ninny-pated physician of the name of Middleton" brought down large portion of Carlow Castle. However whatever remains of it is still pretty impressive with magnitude and design. The access to the fortifications is through Corcoran's Mineral Water Factory.


The castle is a separate donjon of four bays, four walls and three floors with a frame of cylindrical towers. It was built of horizontally laid rubble masonry with long narrow openings, with mullioned Windows, cross loops and walls with loopholes. Initially, the donjon was two-story, the third floor was built in the XV century. The Eastern part of the castle was undermined and destroyed in 1814. The Western wall, with its frame of cylinder-shaped towers, survives to this day for its entire length. The castle was almost entirely built of limestone. It is located on an artificially flattened top of a rocky hill at the confluence of two rivers — the barrow and the Burren.

The donjon was a three-story rectangular structure with cylindrical towers at the corners. The castle may have been built between 1207 and 1213 by William Marshal on the site of the Motte and Bailey built in the 1180s by Hugh de Lacy. It may be one of the earliest examples of four-tower donjons in Britain or Ireland. The entrance to the ground floor to the North and the passage to all floors with wood-paneled floors went through a stone staircase in the thickness of the Western wall. In 1306 ownership of the castle passed into the hands of the crown, and then donated to the Earls of Norfolk, who maintained the castle until confiscation in 1537. James Fitzgerald captured it in 1494, it was then taken by Thomas Fitzgerald in 1535 and changed hands several times until it was bought by Donagh O'brien, Earl of Tormond in 1616. The castle fell during the United wars in Ireland in 1642. That year, a detachment from the Earl of Ormond's army rescued 500 starving English prisoners from the castle. The castle was later returned to the Ormonds after being liberated by Henry Ayrton in 1650. It was later passed to the Hamilton family.
In 1813, the Hamilton family leased the castle to physicist Dr. Philip parry Price Middleton, who spent £ 2,000 in an attempt to make it habitable as a lunatic asylum. On February 13, 1814, the doctor, trying to create an underground corridor, used explosive powder, which led to the destruction of the Eastern wall and the fall of the Eastern towers and adjacent walls. The masonry subsequently fell apart and was pulled apart.

The area of the castle was first excavated in 1996 by a team of archaeologists led by Dr O'connor of the Irish Civil service. In 1997, the autumn journal Archaeology Ireland published the results of the doctor's findings. Eight-week excavations took place in may-July, the focus of the work was made to clarify the interior decoration of the tower donjon. Finding the remains of a series of holes in the rounded ditches running under the walls of the donjon and their subsequent Dating was an important result. The remains of seed drying furnaces were found to the North, also found under the site where the Western wall of the donjon was originally. It seems that they belong to the same time with holes in the ditches, trenches. These features have been interpreted as depicting the remains of an earlier castle whose defences and structures were made of earth and timber. A new interpretation of historical sources says that this initial wooden castle was built in the early 1180s by Hugh de Lacy for John de Clahall.
The architecture of the donjon and analysis of available historical sources indicate that the castle was laid around 1210 by order of William Marshal the elder, and its completion lasted for years. At the beginning of the construction of the donjon, the hilltop was cleared of most of the fortifications and buildings of the wooden castle inclusive. The donjon had no Foundation, and was built on an artificially created, flattened surface of the earth. Very little evidence of the castle's seizures remained unaffected during the excavations.