Planning Your Visit to Ireland? Lay Siege to a Castle!

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.

By Hchc2009 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

A sketch showing what a motte and bailiey would have looked like. Courtesy Wikimedia.

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.

PLanning Your Visit to Ireland? Maynooth Castle

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).


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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.

By Unknown artist of the 12th century - National Library of Ireland, MS 700, f77, right margin, taken from [1], Public Domain,

I love this picture of Maurice Fitzgerald. It is taken from a 12th text known as Expugnatio Hibernica, written by his nephew, the awful Gerald of Wales! I think you already know my opinion of him!

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.

By emergingwriter, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Carton House, now a hotel. Wikimedia.

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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37 Comments on “Planning Your Visit to Ireland? Lay Siege to a Castle!

  1. Diarmait mac Murchada abducted Derbforgaill, wife of Tiernan O”Rourke. The High King deprived Diarmait of the Kingdom of Leinster as punishment.
    Now if I were to abduct the wife of king, I would grab her and gallop away as fast as I could.
    Diarmait left with his lady fair and her herd of cattle! True romance!
    Diarmait’s base of power was around New Ross, County Wexford. His family name was anglicised as MacMurrough Kavanagh. “Kavanagh” refers to a special devotion to St. Kevin.
    The descendants of this romantic Irishman are generally known by the name Murphy or

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know your stuff, Lawrence! I think there’s some debate over whether she was abducted or willingly eloped, as she managed to take most of her possessions with her apparrantly. I think it’s a wonderful, if tragic story.


      • In compliance with the rules of complete disclosure my mother’s family name is Murphy.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ah… so now we have it! Must I address you as Your Highness, or Irish equivalent, now that you have confessed your royal lineage? 😉😊👑


          • Now, now! We will have none of that! Anyway, it is the paternal lineage that counts.
            The Uí h-Uigínn are part of Cenél Fiachach mac Niall Noígiallach.
            What does this actually mean in the modern world? Family pride.
            Does it give me the right to rule? A royal title? Absolutely not!
            Slán agus beannacht.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Maybe it should… I get the feeling a world ruled by people like you and Jane would be a much nicer place! 😊


    • Thank you Roy, that is so kind of you to say. 💕 Hope you had a lovely day today, and all the best for the New Year! 😙


  2. Marking this down as something we must see when we get to Ireland – I love castles. Spent almost half a day in Wales at Caernarvon Castle. I like to imagine what it might have been like living there centuries ago!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Noelle, hope you had a lovely Christmas! This one is nothing like the grandness of Caernarvon, although it was once. Trim Castle, or the Rock of Cashel would more than likely compete. But I like it because it is the site of ond of the oldest castles in Ireland, even though there’s not that much of it left. I love to imagine what it would have been like to live there in their glory days, too… probably not as great as we think, compared to modern standards! 😆


    • Thanks Colin. I had a bit of a disaster earlier this week, resulting in an injury to my eye, which set back all my plans, for Christmas, for the blog, for writing and study. Which is why the story I promised you never materialised, in case you’re wondering. I still can’t see very well, but it’s improving, which is good. Made me realise that as usual I was trying to do too much and getting my priorities in a muddle. Hope you enjoyed your Christmas, and Happy New Year to you. Xxx


  3. A great series, Ali, and you gave me ideas of lots of places to visit! I love castles and am often intrigued by how different they look from the “movie versions.” And the history is fascinating. Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Christmas day at home, Boxing day at my daughter’s with the kiddies then 30th a gathering with nephews and nieces as well as Yvonne , Ugo and the kids plus Mike. I just saw the cousins a week or so ago so it’ll be a while before I see them again.
    At least I’ll have time at the sales.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Omg you will need a holiday to get over the holiday!!! Enjoy it all, sounds like a lot of fun! Huge festive hugs to you and your loved ones. Xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Isn’t Maynooth still a seminary? All our priests seemed to come from there. I’m related to the Fitzgeralds, by the way, just down the way at Rathfarnham, not the Carlton House lot, as you probably guessed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes it is. We have nuns and priests from all over the world here. Why am I not surprised that you are related to the once most powerful family in Ireland??? Oh the stories you could tell! Do you have a clear family tree?


    • Thank you, David. I wish the same for you. Christmas will be quiet for us, as our families are so spread around Europe, but I love having a few days with my hubby and kids and no interruptions. What are your plans? You have quite a large extended family don’t you?

      Liked by 1 person

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