A ruined castle on a hill overlooking the town of Swords, County Dublin. It is close to the M11 motorway from Dublin to Belfast and may not be open all year round.
Swords Castle was built in 1232 by the King of Connacht Aedh mac Ruaidri Ua Conchobair, with support from Henry III, King of England. The castle last saw military action in 1316 when it was without any fighting men and was plundered by Sir Edward Bruce (see below). In 1536 it passed from Spanish ownership to that of Garret Óg FitzPatrick, 1st Baron Upper Ossory – last lord king’s deputy of Ireland before the conquest. It was destroyed in 1641 by English Parliamentarian troops after being attacked by Confederate Catholics.
The castle is notable for its large keep and the unusual shape of its bawn (circular fortification). The keep is one of the largest surviving in Ireland, and was possibly designed by master mason Hugh de Lacy, who also worked on castles such as those at Carrickfergus and in Gloucestershire, England.
It was built sometime before 1247 when ownership of the surrounding land passed to William FitzAldelm. It is thought it underwent an addition or expansion in 1286 under Henry de Loundres who owned the surrounding land. In 1303, King Edward I of England granted the castle to Richard de Burgh. Edmund FitzGerald built a small tower house here in c.1430, the building was again expanded in the 15th century by Maurice FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare.
The castle was originally designed as a square keep with a circular bawn surrounded by a defensive wall with an imposing gatehouse and two corner turrets. A low circular tower in the centre of the keep (known for its macabre torture chamber) acted as an additional refuge should attackers breach this outer wall; it is now ruined beyond recognition but can still be made out from drawings taken before it fell into ruin.
In 1536 the castle was inherited by Garret Óg FitzPatrick, a descendant of Aedh mac Ruaidri Ua Conchobair. During the wars of the 1530s and 40s, he was repeatedly accused by Sir Edward Bellingham, Lord Deputy of Ireland in charge under King Henry VIII of England of absenteeism from Dublin and alleged sympathies with Catholic rebels. The castle was attacked by rebel forces from County Wexford under Nicholas Duff in 1540 but successfully defended. However, in 1547 it was captured by the English and then abandoned.
FitzPatrick died in 1558, and his son John FitzPatrick built the castle’s eastern range. In 1575 a survey by Sir Henry Sidney, then Lord Deputy of Ireland reported that the castle had been besieged and fired upon but remained intact. A further survey made by Sir Thomas Cusack in 1590 reports that the bawn was partially destroyed but not the keep or gatehouse; he also reported that there was a paperless deed in existence detailing how ownership of the castle had been forfeited under Charles I.
In 1641 the castle was attacked by Confederate Catholics from County Wicklow and County Wexford under Murrough O’Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin in the Irish Rebellion of 1641. FitzPatrick’s son-in-law Walter Talbot had taken refuge with a small garrison inside the keep and bawn, but when attacked by the rebels they were forced to surrender and the castle was destroyed. Only the keep itself remains today with no trace of its original circular bawn.
During the 17th century, Robert Fagan built two castles on lands he purchased in Swords; these were demolished in 1770. The family of Talbot also built another castle, called Castle Talbot, on lands they had acquired in Swords; this was demolished in 1821.
The Talbots returned to live in the neighbourhood during the late nineteenth century; Charles William Ashley, son of Peter Talbot who had bought the old Castle Talbot site (see above), built a mansion house called Glenstal House on the main Swords to Dublin road. It is now a large private secondary school for girls called Glenstal Abbey School. The family also founded St Mary’s Hospital and St Finian’s Hospital.
In the 18th century, the town was a stop-off point for people travelling to and from Dublin. Some local buildings of note include The Angel Inn, a former coaching inn; St. Patrick’s Church (built between 1787–93 and designed by James Pain) which accommodated Catholics until the Act of Union in 1800 (when it became a Protestant church); and the former Swords Workhouse built in 1837 during Ireland’s Great Famine as an “Irish workhouse” or poorhouse.
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