Ross Castle Kilarney is a historical castle in Counties Kerry and Cork, on the Iveragh Peninsula in southwestern Ireland. It was built near the end of the thirteenth century by Maurice de Cogan, following the Norman conquest of Ireland. The present ruins date from about 1400. Ross Castle was seized by the Geraldines, who were castellans of feudal lords at nearby Dungarvan, in 1329 and remained part of their extensive possessions for over 150 years until captured again in 1642 by Confederate Catholics during the Irish Confederate Wars (1641-1653).
The castle became property of local landowner Sir William Villiers after he purchased it at auction in 1814 for £5,000. Villiers employed architect William Burn to restore the ruins and build two gate lodges. The Villiers family still owns the castle today and opened it to the public in 2012. It is listed by the Irish Tourist Association as one of Ireland’s “Top 100 Fine Gardens.”
Ross Castle was built between 1270 and 1290 by Maurice de Cogan, the Norman Lord of Dungarvan, on lands confiscated from Gaelic chieftains, in order to consolidate Norman control over this territory on the south coast of Ireland. De Cogan also built a motte and bailey castle on the Iveragh Peninsula at Dingle, County Kerry, a new settlement which became a centre for the Norman invasion.
The original structure was small and simple in design. The castle comprised four towers joined by curtain walls enclosing an area of around 300 square meters. The two outer towers were circular while the two smaller towers were square. A rectangular tower was placed on the northwest corner of the curtain wall. The main entrance to the castle was from the northeast over a drawbridge across a ditch surrounding this side of the castle. Only one wall of this entrance tower remains standing today together with parts of one other tower, while none are visible from outside due to later building activities.
In the fifteenth century, de Cogan’s castle at Dingle was attacked and burned by the McCarthys of Desmond. It became necessary to build a more substantial fortification at Ross. In about 1406, the Norman castle was extended into a large stone tower house with walls some 3.5 meters thick. The walls were constructed using local limestone and mortar made from sea sand, lime and animal fat. These were bonded together without any form of cement.
A strong gatehouse (the Great Tower) with an attached chapel was built on the southeast corner of the curtain wall containing a well that supplied water to many parts of the castle, which had no natural water source within its walls. A large fireplace and chimney were built in the tower house, as well as several rooms in the northeast corner. Three of these were built on a different floor level, adding to the defensive capabilities of the castle.
The Great Tower contained a large fireplace and chimney, which would have been very necessary given that most of the castle had no source of heating or water supply. The kitchen was nearby and was probably used for cooking for all of the people living in Ross Castle. Lacking hot water tanks or central heating systems, it is likely that this room would also have been used to store foodstuffs due to its cool temperature.
A set of apartment rooms, with fireplace and chimney, was located off the Great Tower. These would have probably been used by de Cogan himself. It is now part of the structure known as “The Keep” in the grounds of the Ross Castle garden.
A third tower house was built on the northwest corner of the curtain wall including a well and several storerooms. This would have been used to store foodstuffs for all of the people living in or traveling through Ross Castle.
A fourth tower house was built on a lower floor level at right angles to “The Keep.” This would have been used as a prison or dungeon for holding prisoners until they were released or executed.
The curtain wall was surrounded on three sides by a large ditch or moat. A stone bridge would have crossed this defensive trench, enabling movement between the towers and the gatehouse.
Following the death of Maurice de Cogan in 1329, Ross Castle passed into the hands of his son-in-law, William Liath de Burgo, a wealthy Anglo-Irish nobleman who had served in Edward III’s Scottish campaigns. Ross became one of several castles in which de Burgo based himself as he fought against both Irish forces and Scottish invaders sent by David Bruce. De Burgo rebuilt the castle in stone, including the Great Tower.
Following de Burgo’s death in 1333, his son Thomas inherited Ross Castle. He was arrested in 1348 for conspiring with the Irish to recapture Limerick and imprisoned in Queen’s Tower of Dublin Castle. His lands were confiscated by the crown and given to Sir John Darcy who built a large tower house on the southeast corner of the curtain wall.
Ross Castle and its lands passed back to Robert Liath de Burgh, another son of William Liath de Burgh, following John Darcy’s death at the Siege of Limerick in 1367. Robert died in 1387 and was succeeded by his son, another Robert Liath de Burgh. This Robert de Burgh was heavily involved in the Irish struggle for independence from English rule until his death in 1406.
In 1422, the castle passed into the hands of the Earl of Ormond when it was purchased from Sir William Liath de Burgh. The Earl undertook very little building work at Ross which may be why most of the original structure remains today.
If you enjoyed this article you might also like to read about: