Featured image for Carlow Castle

The History of Carlow Castle

Once a grand Anglo-Norman castle, Carlow Castle is now a simple ruin standing on the eastern bank of the River Barrow. It was once an important and strong military fortress that served strategic importance due to its location. All that stands of it today is two battered towers and part of an intervening wall. While only a small ruin, it still boasts a certain sense of extravagance.

The history of Carlow Castle

Carlow Castle is a beautiful castle situated in the town of Carlow. It is said to be one of the most important Anglo-Norman castles in all of Ireland. It is now open to the public and still offers breathtaking views and a glimpse into history. Nowadays, it is a National Monument of Ireland.

The early history

The first-known written record of Carlow Castle is from the year 1231. However, the name of the builder has never been officially stated. Many people throughout time believe that the castle was built by William Marshal the elder sometime between 1207 and 1214. It was during those years that he spent time in Ireland.

Carlow Castle at sunset
The castle is situated in the centre of Carlow. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Building Carlow Castle

Carlow Castle was the first of its kind in Ireland. The reason being that it consisted of a towered keep with a massive rectangular tower surrounded by four smaller three-quarter-circular towers at each corner of the rectangle. It is said that many doubted the castle because they believed it did not support the traditional function of a keep (to serve as a refuge of last resort).

Instead, the keep diverted from the contemporary standard in England and continental Europe. For example, there was no towered curtain, no gatehouse, and no undivided great hall. There were very few castles erected in the same period.

Changing hands

In 1306, the castle was handed over to the crown. Then, in 1312, it was granted to Thomas Plantagenet until it was once again confiscated by the crown in 1537 due to the landlord being absent. Once again, in 1616, it changed hands when it was purchased by the Earl of Thomond.

Carlow Castle continued to change hands until it was taken over by Oliver Cromwell in 1650 and taken once again by the Earl of Thomond not long after. The castle was partially destroyed in the year 1814 after an attempt to create more space within the castle for a lunatic asylum. Explosives were used and unfortunately, they had the opposite effect by widely destroying the castle.

Only the west wall and two of the neighbouring towers were able to be preserved.

English statesman Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell, the English statesman. Source: Flickr.

The current day

Carlow Castle now welcomes many visitors to the grounds every year. While it has never been rebuilt or remodelled, it is still a beautiful place to visit. With picturesque views, lovely attractions nearby, and a deep history, there is no better place to see while visiting Ireland.

You may enjoy reading about other castles in Ireland such as Cahir Castle.

Carlow castle during the day with cars parked in front of it
Only the west wall and two of the neighbouring towers were able to be preserved. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Carlow Castle Timeline

  • Between 1207 and 1214- Carlow Castle is built, supposedly by William Marshal
  • 1231- The first-known written record of Carlow Castle is found
  • 1306- The castle is handed over to the crown
  • 1312- The castle is granted to Thomas Plantagenet
  • 1537- The castle is once again confiscated by the crown due to the landlord being absent
  • 1616- The castle changes hands when it is purchased by the Earl of Thomond
  • 1650- Carlow Castle is taken over by Oliver Cromwell and taken once again by the Earl of Thomond not long after
  • 1814- The castle is partially destroyed in the year after an attempt to create more space within the castle for a lunatic asylum

Carlow Castle facts

  • A local physician tried to remodel the castle as an asylum in 1814
  • The castle was built without a foundation
  • The castle’s two corner circular towers are 25 feet thick and rise higher than the battlements
  • The castle changed hands multiple times during its time
  • Carlow Castle is a National Monument of Ireland

Books on Carlow Castle

  • 800 Years of an Irish Castle-Carlow Local Authorities by Turtle Bunbury (2014)

Tourism

Carlow Castle is completely free to visit. You can wander around whenever you please as it is open all day, every day. Nearby, you can visit Huntington Castle, Royal Oak Distillery, Delta Sensory Gardens, and the Carlow County Museum.

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