Tuesday 3 January 2017

Newcastle Castle Co Wicklow

                  Above Image: The West & South walls with armorial crest remains
                                       above door

                                Above Image: View of the West wall and Motte

                             Above Image: Ruins as viewed from the Churchyard

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.


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.


  1. The history of what you are calling Newcastle Castle, Co Wicklow, built by Hugh de Lacy during 1177 (?) - 1184 seems to be a cycle of it being captured from the English Crown by the O’Beirnes (a.k.a. O’Byrnes) and/or O’Tooles and later surrendered back. Originally a motte and bailey castle it may have been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The English called it Royal Castle or Royal Oak Castle and the O’Beirnes called it Mackinegan Castle.
    It looks as if the name became anglicized as “Markingham Castle” in 1542 after the O’Byrnes surrendered their manor and the “castle of Newcastle Mackinegan” to the Crown and, with it, the demesne lands of the same manor. What sort of state the surrendered castle was in then is not recorded.
    In 1565-1566 Jaques Wingfield, Master of the Ordnance at Dublin Castle was appointed to the Constableship of Dublin. He was also appointed by the Earl of Sussex --the Lord Deputy of Ireland-- to have “Newcastle (Markingham) with the parsonage impropriate”.
    There is no record that he ever lived there but at the same time Sir Francis Agard(e) was appointed sheriff of the O’Byrne country and made Newcastle his military and administrative centre of operations.
    This may have been when the large “Elizabethan manor” building, the ruin of which is seen there now, was started on as a conversion of part of the old Norman castle –probably the gatehouse. If Newcastle Markingham was to be the administrative centre for Co. Wicklow a suitable house for sheriff Agard and his family was presumably needed in addition to what was left of the very Spartan and basic Norman castle. Stones and masonry from the castle ruin were probably re-used to build this apparent manor.
    In 1576 Sir Francis Agard received a grant of Newcastle and the surrounding lands thus ending its 400 year history as a Royal Manor. Whether or not he lived in the ruined house we see today is unknown but he died just a year later in October 1577. His fine effigy tomb, known as the Agard monument, where he is interred together with his daughter Cecilia Agard (d. 1584), can be found in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.
    In 1606 administration from Newcastle Markingham ended on the shiring of Wicklow and its transfer to the county town. The fortified house and castle ruins were then presumably abandoned.

    1. I'm glad you finally got to the root of it Geroge32 and thanks for sharing all this informatiom.

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  3. They seemed to have added a lock to the gate. Truthfully when I was there there was some building work going on adjacent and a builder walked down from the castle and hopped over the fence while I was there. He said he met no one but the horses but that it was private land. There is a house up the driveway, I'm sure you could enquire there. If I'm in doubt I generally try to ask around locally in a shop or such and it often gets the result you want.

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  4. There are 3 horses in the pictures above. 2 white ones and a dark brown one. In one picture one of the white horses is standing in the foreground and the other white one along with the dark brown one are standing near the large ground level opening to the castle structure.

  5. Hozier lives in the adjacent property lol