Castle Dunamase

Leaving Athlone, I headed to Portlaoise (“Port-leesh”), the farthest east in my circuit through western Ireland, and squarely in the Irish Midlands. My hotel was posh, but located in the middle of the city—and a city of significant size. For the first time, navigating out to neighboring sites was a challenge, especially without a GPS. It was not a problem once I got out of the city, but that few miles of endless roundabouts and stop lights presented the biggest challenge.

Universally, when I asked hotel staff for points of interest within driving distance, the name of Castle Dunamase was first on their lists for me. With some detailed driving instructions to get myself out of Portlaoise, I managed to find the right “dual carriageway” (2-lane highway) headed in the proper direction, and I traveled less than an hour through the countryside to find my destination—difficult to miss, actually.

The castle ruins

Map of the former Castle Dunamase, determined by archeological digs here

Dunamase Castle was an ancient fortification, located on a hilltop known as the Rock of Dunamase, with a panoramic view in every direction. Archaeological digs have shown the first occupants arrived in the 9th century, building a fort (“dun”) on the site, pillaged by the Vikings in 842. The Castle was built on the ruins of the fort, in the second half of the 12th century, and became one of the principal fortifications of Laois with the arrival of the Normans. MacMorrough, King of Leinster, kidnapped the wife of the King of Breinfe, and brought her to Dunamaise, his home. He was later driven from Dunamaise and Ireland by rival clans, but MacMorrough gave his property and his daughter Aoife to the Norman conquerer Strongbow in 1170, to enlist his help in regaining his lands. With the Norman invasion of Ireland, and the help of Strongbow, MacMorrough regained Dunamase and his surrounding lands.

Remains of the Barbican Gate, entry to the castle complex

Slit in the wall for the longbow archers defending the castle

View through part of the ring wall to ruins of the castle

Doorway into the castle

Now mostly in ruin, there are still significant pieces intact, and I found it well worth the trip to visit. Some of the ring wall is still standing, as are remnants of some castle walls. It was an important fortification on a major roadway centuries ago, and some say it’s haunted. In fact, there have been many decapitated skulls unearthed in archaeological digs there, suggesting that invaders were killed and their heads were posted on the walls, as warnings to others considering storming the castle.

A portion of the castle still standing

Carved decoration on one of the arches

Farm viewed from the castle above

One of the highlights of my visit was meeting a couple, oddly in formal dress in a very unusual location. I commented on her heels and his dress shoes and suit–and she took off her overcoat with a huge smile, to reveal her wedding dress. They were Australians, who were wed in a civil ceremony a week earlier in Australia (to make certain the marriage was legal), and then married again in Ireland. Ireland was one of their favorite places to visit, and they were awaiting the wedding photographer to take their “official photos” at Castle Dunamase. They had “run off” to be married, and family and friends had absolutely no idea–so the photos were going to be a part of their announcement to their friends, for when they returned to Australia with shiny new wedding rings. A nice story to encounter, as I left and headed off to my next destination.

Just married couple, at Dunamase for their wedding photos

You must be logged in to post a comment.