Dunamase Castle, Co. Laois (Queen’s Co.)

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Dunamase Castle – it really is the ‘Cashel’ of Laois (Queen’s Co.), absolutely fascinating remnants of a fortress which looked out over a number of counties in Ireland.

One thing that few people tell you – to actually get to the ruins, you have to walk up a steep path

Lewis Topographical Dictionary (1837) tells us that Dunamase is part of the parish of “DYSARTENOS, a parish, partly in the barony of MARYBOROUGH EAST, but chiefly in that of STRADBALLY, QUEEN’S county, and province of LEINSTER, 3 ½ miles (W. by S.) from Stradbally, on the road to Maryborough; containing 1354 inhabitants. This place, at a very remote period, was the residence of the O’Mores, princes of Leix; and also of Dermod McMurrough, king of Leinster.”

Also, Lewis talks of Dunamase “The fortress of Dunamase occupies the summit of a precipitous rock, rising from the midst of an extensive plain and from a very remote age was the residence of the O’Mores, and with the territory of Leinster became the property ofStrongbow, Earl of Pembroke, by marriage with the daughter of Dermod McMurrough, King of Leinster, and afterwards passed again by marriage to William de Braos, the reputed founder of the castle and manor of Dunamase.

In 1264 it was held by Maurice Fitzgerald, and soon after by Lord Mortimer, during whose absence in England it was, with seven other of his castles, seized by his vassal O’More, to whom he had entrusted it. Lord Mortimer, on his subsequent recovery of the fortress, increased its strength by additional fortifications; and it was for a long period an object of continued contests between the English and the native chieftains.

It was further strengthened in the reign of James I., but was taken in 1641 by the insurgents, who were soon after driven out by Sir Charles Coote; it afterwards surrendered to General Thomas Preston, but was retaken by the parliamentarians, who in 1646 were expelled by Owen Roe O’Neill, who carried it by assault.

In 1649 it was taken by Lord Castlehaven, but the year following the garrison surrendered to the parliamentarian forces under Cols. Hewson and Reynolds, by whom it was dismantled and nearly demolished. The remains occupy the summit of a hill 200 feet high, and consist of a barbican and watch-tower defending the entrance on the southwest side, on which alone it was accessible; from the barbican a draw-bridge afforded access to the first gateway, which is defended by two towers. The interior consists of an outer and inner court; and the whole is defended by walls of great thickness surrounding the summit of the hill, which is more than 1000 feet in circuit, fortified at intervals with towers. The ruins of the keep, in which was apparently a chapel, occupy the highest ground; and adjoining it are the remains of the state apartments. Small silver coins of the early Irish kings have been found on the site of the ruins.”

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