Tuesday, 3 January 2017
Newcastle Castle Co Wicklow
I previously spotted this unusual ruin a while back while heading for the nearby ruins of Killadreenan Church (see earlier post). It was a late spring evening and light was failing when I had finished the Church visit so I made a note to return again to check out what looked to be a Castle. That revisit took place just after Christmas this year as we happened to be in the area. It was a mild and breezy day for December and quite cloudy but nonetheless we decided to take some time out to have a look.
The ruin is known locally as Newcastle Castle of which history records was built by Hugh De Lacy, Lord of Meath around 1172AD under the command of Henry II and became an important fortification of The Pale. Indeed it may have originated as a Motte & Bailey as the Motte-like mound that still exists today would attest. The Castle known as Newcastle Mackynegan fought off the attacking O'Toole and O'Byrne clans many times before eventually succumbing to defeat and finally destruction in the 16th century.
So in fact the ruins that we see today on the hill are a bit puzzling and certainly open to debate. Some say that this is not the original Castle but a fortified Elizabethan manor built on the site. An environmental protection agency report from 2007 lists it as a 17th century L-Plan gatehouse, but a lot of research has found that elements within far predate the Elizabethan era. Another suggestion is that this is in fact the original gatehouse of the Norman Castle that has been extensively re-modelled for domestic use and indeed the great barrel vault within like most barrel vaulted chambers tend to withstand the ravages of time. I myself lean towards the latter theory as it tends to fit to most of the evidence available. There is a plaque on the roadside wall stating Royal Oak Castle 1172 (another name it was known by because of its strong association with the English crown) and most older ordnance survey maps mention a Castle in ruins and not "the site of". Locals also tend to refer to the ruins of the "Castle" and not the "Manor" and while this could be just local terminology I think there's more here than meets the eye.
As far as being an Elizabethan manor, there are remnants of some coats of arms above the doorway, a practice of the time among the gentry. I suspect that some remains of the gatehouse were greatly added to converting it to a domicile. However, who resided here and until when is still uncertain and much of the research I've done has not brought anything to light.
The ruin is highly visible from the roadside and reminds me somewhat of Puck's Castle in Co Dublin (see earlier post). The Motte and ruins appear to be on private land and a gateway and drive allows access to a different view of the ruins. There are no restrictive signs but the field gate is locked which generally speaks for itself. I would like to get a closer look here so I intend to return and find the land owner and ask permission to enter. If the ruins had been out in the wilds of the countryside I'd probably have been over the fence and gone, but in this case there is some ambiguity and also the sound of a nearby dog.(Man's best friend, scourge of the ruin hunter!) Funnily enough during our visit nobody passed along the road that I could enquire further about access. I did spot a Glebe Warden locking the door of the Church opposite but he had disappeared before I reached the spot where he had been. Since the visit I've come across the land owners name so no problem then I'll just have to go back and besides I've recently heard of another Castle ruin quite close by that will add icing to the next visit.
To find the ruins head South on the N11 Dublin to Wexford Road and at Junction 13 exit for Newcastle. The exit reaches a small roundabout. Take the 2nd exit on the right again posted for Newcastle and drive for approx 1.2KM and you will spot the ruins on your left. You can park in the lane way opposite to the right of the Church.
SECOND VISIT JANUARY 2017
I was passing this Castle about a month after my last visit so I thought I'd stop and take a few new photos as the day was much brighter. Incredible weather for mid-January. I got talking to a builder working in a small site opposite the Castle and he confirmed that it was set on private land but that he had taken a stroll up there one day on the sly and the Castle he said was pretty much waterlogged inside. I still intend to make another trip out and get up close. In the meantime the ruins seemed to have acquired a couple of new residents, two very docile white horses.