The Galway castle is a Norman structure located on the west bank of the river Corrib. The castle was built in 1297 on top of an existing Gaelic fort. It has also been referred to as Caisleán na Gallóglaigh or Castle of the French, as it was occupied by French forces for some time during the seventeenth century.
It’s known locally as “Caisleán Teyrn Pharlaimint Shraith”, or Earl’s Palace, and was for many centuries Galway’s most important fortification, controlling access to Middle Quay and providing defence against attack from invasion forces arriving from upstream at Lough Corrib.
The original earthwork castle was built in 1297, when the Anglo-Normans took possession of the town. The castle was strategically positioned so that it would control access to Galway harbour. In 1306, during the rebellion of the Gaelic Irish against English rule, Castleconnell was destroyed by a force led by Edmund Butler.
In 1394, Richard II of England (1377–1399) sent representatives to Galway requesting that the town be loyal and provide men for his wars in Ireland and Scotland. The request was denied, and Richard II then sent a larger army on 19 February 1395 under John de Bermingham. This army burned the town, destroying about 60% of Galway’s buildings and killing about 300 of its citizens. As a result, the town was not required to provide troops for Richard II’s Scottish war.
In 1451, Galway was besieged by the Earl of Ormonde and his allies, on behalf of the Earl of Desmond. This force included the McCarthy clan from east Connacht, who were defeated by an army led by John Burke and John Mac Caghwell. Trenches were dug in front of Castleconnell to hinder attacks on it from Middle-Quay, using stones taken out of the Dominican friary there for that purpose.
The Siege of Galway in 1642-43 occurred during the Irish Confederate Wars, when the Catholic Confederation, or “Confederate Catholics”, with the aid of forces from Spain and France, tried to wrest control of the city and its environs from Irish Protestants. They were opposed by an alliance of Irishmen loyal to King Charles I and English Royalists, led by Sir William Parsons.
Galway Castle was captured several times during these wars. In 1652, it was captured by Cromwellian forces under General Ludlow (who arrived from Waterford), who ordered it to be destroyed; however it was held by Confederate forces for a number of years afterward. In 1689, it was again captured from Irish Royalist forces by the forces of King James II.
In 1691, the Jacobite army of King James II were garrisoned in the castle before their defeat at the Battle of Aughrim. In 1716, General John O’Brien held it for Henry O’Neil against the British Forces. The last siege took place in 1798 when Colonel Anthony Kelly retook it for the United Irishmen from its former garrison, who were serving as part of a force under Viscount Clare.
The castle was originally surrounded by a ditch, an earthen bank and a stone wall. Several of the original towers can still be seen today, as well as a number of 17th century buildings.
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