There may be more impressive castles in Ireland than Maynooth Castle, but this is certainly one of the oldest, and arguably, one of the most interesting and historically significant.
Although Ireland is well known for its castles, they’re not an Irish invention. It was the Anglo-Normans in the twelfth century who began building castles in Ireland, and originally they weren’t even made from stone; they were crude but rather effective, motte and bailey constructions.
A motte is a raised earthwork upon which a wooden tower, or keep, was constructed. The bailey is a courtyard at the foot of the motte which would have been enclosed within a wooden palisade. These were defensive structures which could be thrown up relatively quickly. In later years, the wooden keeps were replaced with stone, and castles became more elaborate.
The Anglo-Normans came to Ireland in 1169, and Maynooth Castle was established soon after in 1176. The King of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada, had lost a battle in 1166 against the High King, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, and Tigernán Ua Ruairc, who was King of Breffni (where I live).
Diarmait fled to England and gained permission from King Henry II to recruit mercenaries to help him regain his Kingship. The consequences of his actions were to change the course of history for ever for Ireland.
One of the Anglo-Norman lords to answer Diarmait’s call was Maurice FitzGerald. He was awarded the lands of Kildare as a reward for his part in the invasion of Ireland, where he established Maynooth Castle as his stronghold.
The Fitzgeralds went on to become a very powerful family, appointed Earls of Kildare, and even Lord Deputys of Ireland, which in effect meant that they ruled Ireland in the name of the English King.
When Silken Thomas, son of the ninth Earl of Kildare, rebelled against the English in 1534, the castle was attacked and defeated after a ten day siege. He and many of his family were executed.
The castle was restored during the seventeenth century, but fell soon after during the Eleven Years War. The Fitzgeralds abandoned the shell of their ancestral home and built themselves a new pad just up the road. Today it’s called Carton House, and has been converted into a hotel.
This is the last post in my ‘Planning Your Visit to Ireland’ series. In January I will be starting a new series on Iconic Irish Women from mythology and history, so I hope you will join me for that. Till then, have a great Christmas and New Year!
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