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Carlow Castle: Rise & Fall

Carlow Castle begins as a safehaven for the chainmail-clad Anglo-Norman invaders who cantered into Ireland on their gigantic Arabian steeds in the late 12th century. In the ensuing shake up of land ownership, much of south east Leinster passed to William Marshal, one of the most powerful of these knights. Carlow was a strategically superb location to build a castle. It was one of the key crossings on the River Barrow between the Norman-controlled Pale and the unknown entity that was ‘beyond the Pale’. From here, the Normans – and later the English – were able to control the agriculture and economic welfare of much of Leinster. Turtle charts the castles evolution from timber to stone examining its ownership under the Marshal family, the Earls of Norfolk and Donogh O’Brien, Earl of Thomond, through until 1814 when a peculiar English doctor inadvertently blew two thirds of the castle down.

This essay is based on a 12-page booklet that was commissioned as part of the Carlow 800 initiative by Carlow Town Council to commemorate the construction of Carlow Castle and the foundations of what is now a cultural, creative and socially vibrant town. 20,000 copies were printed, 17,000 of which were included in the three Nationalist newspapers while the other 3000 were distributed around the town and county, with most going out from Carlow Museum & Tourist Office.

Readers might also enjoy Turtle’s interview on the history of Carlow Castle on KCLR Live with Eimear Ní Bhraonáin from 26 May 2021.



Sketched by Thomas Dineley during his tour of Ireland in 1680, this apparently depicts a rare perspective of the south and still extant west wall at Carlow Castle. If accurate, this is among the oldest surviving complete representations of the castle before it it fell into a state of dereliction as represented in Grose’s 1792 image.


Published in 1187, Topographia Hibernica (‘Topography of Ireland’) was the best-selling book about Ireland during the Middle Ages. Its author Giraldus Cambrensis, or Gerald of Wales, did much to put a positive spin on the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland, depicting the indigenous Irish as primitive savages who needed to be tamed.

Giraldus, a kinsman of the Barry and FitzGerald families, also referred to the construction of five fortresses in Leinster in 1181 by Hugh de Lacy, a skilled castle builder (and son of a Knight Templar) whose architectural legacy is to be found all across Meath and Leinster.

According to Giraldus, one of the five castles de Lacy was built for ‘John de Clahull, on the water of Barrow, not far from Leighlin.’  This was almost certainly the original timber and earth fortress at Carlow, that stood on the site of present-day Carlow Castle. Constructed in 1181, the remnants of de Clahull’s motte and bailey structure emerged during archaeological excavations conducted by Dr Kieran O’Conor in 1996 which uncovered evidence of late 12th century trenches, a corn-drying kiln and a well. [i]

Like its stone successor, de Clahull’s castle stood on an elevated rise at the very point where the River Burren enters the River Barrow, with a marshland to the east. The location was not only defensively sound but also economically smart, given the castle’s proximity to a navigable river system that played such a key role in the region’s medieval trade.

The fate of Hugh de Lacy!? A classic from Gary Larsson.

John de Clahull was one of the most trusted allies of the Norman warrior known to posterity as Strongbow, aka Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke and Justiciar of Ireland. It seems likely he was granted land in the vicinity of modern-day Carlow Town after Strongbow became Lord of Leinster in 1171.

When Strongbow died in 1176, five years before de Clahull’s castle was completed, the lordship of Leinster became vested in his young son Gilbert de Clare. After Gilbert’s premature death, the lordship of Leinster would pass to Strongbow’s son-in-law, William Marshal.

As for the architect Hugh de Lacy, he was busy erecting another castle at Durrow in County Laois in the summer of 1186 when a mason with anger management issues plunged an axe into his back. I’ve heard this cited as an early example of a labour relations dispute.




William Marshal, the man who built Carlow Castle, was one of the most epic of the Anglo-Norman knights who dominated Irish life 800 years ago. A jousting champion and die-hard crusader, he survived the turbulent reigns of six successive monarchs to become the richest man in the British Isles by his death in 1219. For the last three years of his life, he was Regent of England, making him one of the most powerful men in Western Europe. Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, declared him ‘the greatest knight that ever lived.’

William’s father John FitzGilbert was Royal Marshal – or head of household security – to Empress Matilda of England. As a small boy, William was taken hostage by Matilda’s enemy, King Stephen, who threatened to hang the child. FitzGilbert told him to go ahead. “I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!”, he claimed. Stephen briefly contemplated catapulting the boy into the walls of FitzGilbert’s castle but ultimately spared his life.

A second picture of Carlow Castle 1680 by Thomas Dineley, showing all the windows on the east wall.

William spent the rest of his childhood with a wealthy cousin in Normandy where he was knighted in 1166. By his early twenties, he was one of the most fearless men on the tournament scene, repeatedly emerging victorious from the “mock” battles and jousting tournaments. He later claimed to have bested over 500 knights. When Henry II’s son, Richard the Lionheart, led a rebellion against his father, Marshal had an opportunity to slay Richard. Instead, ever the knight, he killed the rebel prince’s horse and left it at that.

When Richard became king, he not only accepted William into his inner circle but permitted the 43-year-old to wed Isobel de Clare, the 17-year-old heiress of a massive estate that covered much of Leinster, Wales and the Welsh borders.

Isobel was the daughter of Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, better known as Strongbow, who was himself directly descended from Rollo, the Viking warrior who established Normandy in the early 10th century. Her mother was Aoife, daughter of Diarmait Mac Murchada, the deposed King of Leinster. The marriage transformed William Marshal into one of the wealthiest men in the realm.

By 1200, the Marshals had converted Kilkenny Castle into the capital of Norman Leinster and established New Ross as its principal port. They also founded the Cistercian abbeys at Tintern in County Wexford and Duiske in County Kilkenny, as well as the castles at Enniscorthy and Ferns.

The effigy of William Marshal at the Temple Church, London. The damaged was caused during the London Blitz.

When King John ascended the English throne in 1199, William was created Earl of Pembroke. In 1207, Meilyr FitzHenry, Justiciar of Ireland, led a revolt of the Leinster barons against Marshal who, having fallen out with King John, had been recalled to England. In his absence, he entrusted both his lands and his pregnant wife Countess Isabella to his loyal followers. It seems plausible that John de Clahull sided with FitzHenry against Marshal. During this time it is said that FitzHenry not only destroyed Marshal’s fledgling port at New Ross but also nearly wrestled control of Kilkenny Castle. Countess Isabella subsequently forged an alliance with the de Lacys of Meath who helped her to capture FitzHenry and suppress the rebellion.

In 1208, Marshal returned to Leinster to secure control over his lordship. Having fallen out with King John, he was to remain in Ireland until at least 1213. During this time, de Clahull left the area – quite possibly for north Kerry where both he and FitzHenry had lands. [2] It may well be that Marshal confiscated de Clahull’s castle in Carlow and effectively expelled him from Leinster. Having regained his lordship, Marshal was evidently determined to establish Carlow as the economic and administrative hub of the region. There could be no more powerful statement of his intent than to sweep de Clahull’s timber fortress aside and replace it with a mighty new limestone fortress.

By 1212, Marshal was back in favour with John, whom he served loyally for the next four years. He helped persuade John to give his Great Seal to Magna Carta, a pioneering legal document that sought to limit the king’s powers and to protect the rights of his subjects. Following John’s death in 1216, William was declared Protector of the nine-year-old Henry III. At the age of seventy, he personally led the English army to an emphatic victory over the French. As a young crusader in the Middle East, William had vowed that he would join the order of the Knights Templar before he died. On his deathbed in 1219, he did just that. He is buried in London’s Temple Church, where his reputed tomb can still be seen today.

Uto Hogerzeil’s historical reconstruction of Carlow Castle as it might have looked in 1360AD. This was commissioned by Carlow Town Council for the Carlow 800 commemoration in 2013.



Carlow received its first charter from William Marshal during the tenure of Geoffrey FitzRobert who served as Seneschal of Leinster between about 1199 and 1211. FitzRobert’s greatest legacy was arguably the establishment of the priory at Kells, County Kilkenny, in 1193. His wife Basilia was a sister of Strongbow and widow of Raymond Le Gros, the Achilles of Strongbow’s army, with whom she had lived at Castlemore, County Carlow.

The first documented reference to the castle comes in a charter from circa 1223, issued by Marshal’s son, William Marshal the younger, which sets out the rights, liberties and duties of the burgesses of the town – including their right to have their own hundred court to try cases arising ‘within the bounds of the borough, in the castle or elsewhere’. The wording of the charter indicates that the borough was established during FitzRobert’s time as Seneschal of Leinster; the burgage rent is certainly stated to have been fixed ‘in the time when FitzRobert was seneschal’. As seneschal, FitzRobert presided over the establishment of several boroughs, including Wexford and Moone.

It is sometimes said that Marshal named Carlow town’s John Street in honour of King John but sadly this remains supposition as there are no known medieval references to John Street. The king may have been involved with Carlow’s charter but the holders of lordships were not required to get royal permission to found boroughs.




Elevated high upon a riverside knoll, surrounded by marshland that was prone to flooding, Carlow Castle was primarily a defensive structure. Constructed with a light limestone that was probably quarried nearby, the central keep rose 70 feet high and was flanked by four drum-towers. The design was almost certainly inspired by the castles in Normandy that Marshal knew in his youth. Each tower was perfectly looped for archers to rain their deadly arrows upon any would-be invaders. There were at least two cruciform or cross-shaped loops in the tower walls, an innovative feature that Marshal pioneered on his castles at Chepstow and Pembroke, which were particularly well suited to the crossbow.

In Marshal’s time, the castle was a two-storey structure with a sunken roof, probably thatch, and mullion windows. The Great Hall, which occupied the bulk of the first floor, is where Marshal or his seneschals would have hosted assemblies of their vassals and tenants on the great Christian feast days, as well as important judicial and fiscal occasions. The main bedrooms – or chambers – were in the towers, at least three of which had “ensuite” garderobes, or lavatories. There was also a prison in one of the surviving towers. There was also a kitchen and an Exchequer, located in separate towers. A second floor was added, either in the late 14th century, or perhaps during the late Tudor or early Stuart period. Entry was via low, narrow doorways, while most of the light came in via the loopholes.

Above: Carlow Castle, date not yet known.


In the decades that followed William Marshal’s death in 1219, all five of his sons succeeded, one after the other, as both Earl of Pembroke and Earl Marshal of England. Remarkably none of them left any legitimate sons. In 1247, two years after the death of William’s youngest son Anselm Marshal, the substantial Marshal estate was divided between William’s five daughters.

His eldest daughter Maud inherited the ‘lordship’ of Carlow, comprising of all of present-day County Carlow, along with much of County Wexford, large parts of County Laois and the manor of Ballysax in County Kildare.

The title of ‘Earl Marshal’ – and ownership of Carlow Castle – passed to Maud’s eldest son Roger Bigod, 4th Earl of Norfolk. There is no evidence of him visiting Carlow. He was most likely too busy playing court politics in England where he was orchestrated a coup d’état in 1258. When he died in 1270, his 25-year-old nephew, another Roger Bigod, succeeded as 5th Earl of Norfolk.

In 1279, the 5th Earl made probably his only trip to Carlow, following a tip off that he was being swindled by Sir Robert Cockerel, Seneschal of Carlow Castle. Upon his arrival, Norfolk imprisoned Cockerel and appointed a trusted friend in his place. During the ensuing decade, Carlow evolved into a prosperous market town, trading with other towns along the Barrow, while the lordship at large also enjoyed an economic boom.

A second reason for the visit of 1279 was the growing threat of Art and Murchertach MacMurrough, descendants of Diarmaid, the last Irish king of Leinster. To Bigod’s surprise, the MacMurroughs viewed him as a ‘cousin’; he was, after all, also descended from Diarmaid. He is believed to have met with the brothers and, via a combination of his charm and money, along with plenty of wine and some fine furs for their ladies, he convinced them to back down. Such diplomacy worked wonders until 1282 when Stephen de Fulbourne, the newly appointed, no-nonsense Justiciar, arranged for the brothers to be assassinated in Arklow.

Between 1283 and 1292, the 5th Earl embarked upon an extensive restoration of Carlow Castle. Some 12,000 wooden shingles were shipped up the Barrow from Dunleckney Woods to cover the roof of the Great Hall. Both floors of the tower containing the Exchequer House were refurbished with 130 timber boards from Tullow. The treasurer’s office and court were at ground level, while the wooden chests of money and records were kept upstairs. The kitchen and castle prison were also given a makeover.

Lord Norfolk’s endeavours to improve and invigorate his various estates were costly. From at least 1285, he was under pressure to off-load his castle at Carlow in order to reduce his debts. In 1302, King Edward I (Longshanks) agreed to clear all his debts in return for much of his property, including the Carlow Castle. Several hundred account rolls from the Bigod archive, which survive to this day, are believed to have been transferred to the Tower of London at this time. [3]

When the childless Earl died in 1306, his estates – including what was by then considered a ‘badly roofed’ Carlow Castle – were duly taken over by the Crown. Carlow’s glory days of the 1280s were long since passed. [4] The land was running wild and had few tenants. Many of its mills and manorial buildings lay abandoned. The castle itself was in decay. Meanwhile, another generation of MacMurrough’s were growing ever more restless along the frontiers of the Pale.


Lord Norfolk’s Seneschals (or stewards) were first Sir Philip de Bocland, then Sir William Cadell and latterly Sir John de Honton. As well as overseeing the management of the estates, their role was to preside over the chief court of the Liberty of Carlow and to serve as military commander of the castle. In return, they were given a salary of £100 (about one seventh of Lord Norfolk’s gross annual income) and robes a plenty.

The castle’s second most senior figure was the treasurer who looked after the financial affairs and presided over the exchequer. In Lord Norfolk’s time, his salary was just over $13 a year.

The Constable was entrusted with the castle’s military defence. From his annual fee, he had to provide, pay, arm and feed a garrison of archers. Prior to 1368, his annual budget of £5 suggests a very small garrison but his money was bumped up to £20 in 1368 when Nicholas Cadewelly became constable. It is reckoned that the garrison in Carlow during the late 14th century probably comprised of the constable, a man-at-arms and no more than eight archers. Reinforcements were no doubt added in times of crisis.

Elsewhere in the castle there were receivers (or money-collectors), a sheriff, two lawyers, a chief serjeant, several clerks and various others. They would all become a little nervous whenever the auditor arrived over from England to go through the accounts. His job was also to carefully examine ways in which the castle might derive greater income from the lordship through, for instance, agricultural improvements and effective cultivation.

Above: The cover of the book that Turtle Bunbury wrote and produced to mark the 800th anniversary of Carlow Castle in 2013.


In 1312, six years after the English Crown acquired the liberty and castle of Carlow from Lord Norfolk, Edward II granted Carlow Castle to his own 12-year-old half-brother, Thomas de Brotherton. The youngster, who was simultaneously created 1st Earl of Norfolk, was to retain ownership of the castle for the next 26 years.

In 1316, the year de Brotherton became Earl Marshal, Edward the Bruce’s army ran riot across Leinster. Bruce’s army encamped at Castledermot and Gowran, and some 400 O’Toole’s were reputedly slain in Tullow, but there is no evidence of Carlow itself being ransacked. Nonetheless, in such turbulent times, the castle’s prime role inevitably shifted from administrative centre to military fortress as it became a place of refuge for those living on the frontiers of the Pale.

Like the Norfolks before him, de Brotherton may have had little to do with the town. During the late 1320s, he sided with Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, when they deposed and murdered Edward II. When the child king Edward III came of age, de Brotherton emerged as one of his main advisors, leading the English to a powerful victory over the Scots in the battle of Halidon Hill in 1333.

Upon his death in 1338, the lordship of Carlow passed to de Brotherton’s daughter Margaret Segrave, from whom it descended to the Mowbrays. However, Edward III gifted Carlow Castle to his new Earl Marshal and close friend, William Montague, Earl of Salisbury. Montague, who does not appear to have visited Carlow, was destined to die from wounds received in a tournament in Windsor six years later. Upon his death, ownership of Carlow Castle once again reverted to the Crown.


For most of the last half of the 14th century, Carlow Castle served as the English government’s administrative centre in Ireland. This situation was orchestrated by Lionel, second son of Edward III, who served as Governor of Ireland from 1361 until 1367. Known as Lionel of Antwerp, after the Flemish city of his birth, the King’s son was only 23 years old when he arrived. As a boy he was married to Elizabeth de Burgh, sole heiress of the Earl of Ulster. In 1347, while the Black Death ripped through Europe, young Lionel was in turn created Earl of Ulster. He was also created Duke of Clarence soon after he took up office in Ireland.

Lionel’s brief was to halt the decline of the Hiberno-Norman Lordship of Ireland which, amongst other things, had led to a sharp decline in revenue for the Crown. This was largely blamed on English settlers having adopted the Irish law, customs, costume and language to such an extent that they had become “more Irish than the Irish themselves”.

After suffering an early defeat by the O’Byrne’s, Lionel transferred his attention to Carlow. The castle had belonged to the Crown since the death of Lord Salisbury in 1344. Within weeks of Lionel’s arrival, the Exchequer was relocated from Dublin to Carlow Castle. Accessible by both river and road, the Norman fortress was more convenient than Dublin for most treasury officials. It was also more central for the King of England’s son to wage war on the MacMurroughs, the O’Byrne and the O’Mores.

Considerable improvements were made to the Exchequer building, as well as the four towers, the Great Hall and the walls. The castle interior was considerably revamped and this was probably the period when the roof was raised and a second floor installed, thereby creating further rooms for those working in the Exchequer.

In 1362, the Court of Common Pleas (or Common Bench), which dealt with civil cases, was also moved south from Dublin and placed in a new house constructed alongside the castle. It was by no means secure. In 1363, both the Exchequer and the Common Bench fled back to Dublin because Carlow town was under constant attack. However, by 1364, both the Exchequer and the Court were firmly in Carlow, where they remained for the next thirty years. Lionel set aside a large budget to wall the entire town, a project destined to drag on for many long years after his departure.

In 1366, Lionel summoned the Parliament in Kilkenny Castle that passed the Statutes of Kilkenny, a series of thirty-five acts designed to curb the settler’s enthusiasm for “going native.” Lacking sufficient resources to implement the Statutes, Lionel abandoned Ireland in a huff the following year.

In 1368, the widowed prince was married again in Italy, amid lavish festivities, to a daughter of the sadistic Milanese ruler, Galeazzo II Visconti. Some months later, the 29-year-old Duke was taken ill at Alba and died. His father-in-law is rumoured to have poisoned him. Upon his death, his son-in-law Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March – wife of his only child, Philippa – became Earl of Ulster and Earl Marshal of England. The Mortimers would ultimately sire the principal claimants of the House of York in the Wars of The Roses.

Both the Exchequer and the Common Bench remained in Carlow until 1394 despite an attempt by William of Windsor, who succeeded Lionel as Governor, to return them both to Dublin in 1372.


In 1374, young Art Mór Mac Murrough Kavanagh began his 42-year reign as King of Leinster. In 1390, he married Elizabeth le Veel, aka Elizabeth Calf, heiress of an Anglo-Norman barony in County Kildare. However, she was stripped of her lands for the crime of marrying Art, in contravention to the Statutes of Kilkenny which prohibited intermarriage between the Irish and Normans. When the barony was forfeited to Richard II – who, as it happens, was a nephew of Lionel of Antwerp – Art declared war.

Art proved so capable an opponent that in the autumn of 1394, Richard II, King of England, was obliged to sail for Ireland with an army of over 8,000 men, the largest force brought to the island in the later Middle Ages. Amongst his men was a young Henry of Bolingbroke, subsequently Henry IV.  Art repeatedly lured the English into the mountains and nearly emerged victorious. Fearsome of his growing power, the Exchequer was relocated from Carlow back to Dublin in 1394 and Carlow’s importance consequently dropped down a peg or two.

Walter Euere, Constable of Carlow since 1376, was dismissed from his post and the castle was granted to Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham and Marshal of England. On 7 January 1395, a truce was negotiated when Art and Gerald O’Byrne met with Lord Nottingham near Tullow. The truce resulted in the submission of a number of Irish chieftains to English overlordship, including several of Art’s supporters who paid homage to Nottingham in Carlow Castle On 17 February 1395.

Richard II’s Irish expedition was one of the few great achievements of his reign. However, the victory was short-lived and shortly after the king left for England, Art renounced his fealty. In the absence of any sons, Richard’s heir apparent was his cousin Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, eldest grandson of Lionel of Antwerp and Lord Deputy of Ireland for much of the 1380s and 1390s. In 1398, Mortimer was killed in Kellistown.

In May 1399, Richard once again sailed for Ireland to avenge his death but the mission was aborted and Richard was destined to be overthrown by Henry IV later that same year. The deposed king died in captivity in 1400. Art died on 31 December 1416 and was buried in St. Mullins.

Above: An illustration of Carlow Castle by Joe McLaren from Turtle Bunbury’s ‘Ireland’s Forgotten Past (2020).


By the late 15th century, the Anglo-Norman family of FitzGerald was the most powerful in medieval Ireland. Gerard Mór FitzGerald, the ultra-shrewd 8th Earl of Kildare and head of the family, held the office of Lord Deputy of Ireland for nearly forty years.

Lord Kildare briefly lost power when he was implicated in Perkin Warbeck’s plot to seize the English Crown in 1495. He was arrested and dispatched to the Tower of London, while Sir Edward Poynings was installed as Lord Deputy in his place. In response, his younger brother James Fitzgerald seized Carlow Castle in March 1495 and mounted the Geraldine banner from its battlements. The following month, Poynings sent the FitzGerald’s arch-enemy Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond, to lay siege to the castle. It was finally retaken after a four-month siege in July.

Meanwhile, the crafty Gerard Mór persuaded King Henry VII that he was an innocent man, stitched up by ‘false knaves’. The Tudor monarch not only believed him but reinstated him as Lord Deputy, declaring that ‘if all Ireland cannot rule this man, let him rule all Ireland.’

Poynings had since entrusted Carlow Castle to two Gaelic lords, Murchadh Ballach MacMurrough-Kavanagh and Cathaoir O’Connor Faly for ‘safe keeping’. When Lord Kildare returned to Ireland, he attacked the lands of these two temporary constables who duly went to defend their possessions. While they were “out”, Lord Kildare slipped back into Carlow and reclaimed the castle. The Fitzgerald’s would retain their power until disaster struck in 1534.


In June 1534, Gerard Mór’s hot-headed grandson Silken Thomas, 10th Earl of Kildare, launched an ill-fated rebellion against Henry VIII. By the close of the year, his men had secured control of six of the major castles in Leinster, including Carlow. However, the following spring the English army overpowered the FitzGeralds and Silken Thomas was obliged to surrender. Along with five of his uncles, he was executed in London in February 1537.


In May 1537, Parliament passed the Act of Absentees by which the Crown took ownership of County Carlow – and the castle – from the Duke of Norfolk and his co-partner Lord Berkeley. Five months later, James Butler, son of the Earl of Ormond, was appointed Constable of Carlow Castle. The Butlers would retain the lease of the castle through the rest of the Tudor age until the Earls of Thomond succeeded them in 1604.

The Constable, the Countess & the Artichokes

In March 1549, Brian Johns or Jonys, or Jones, Constable of Carlow Castle, was granted the Sliabh Margy land of the O’Mores, where the Butler [Galmoy] castle of Garrendenny Castle was built, just across the Laois border from Carlow town. In a letter to the Lord Deputy that same year, Constable Jones recounted a visit by Joan Fitzgerald (1509-1565), Countess of Ormond, whose husband, James Butler, 9th Earl of Ossory, died of poisoning in London in 1546. In August 1548, she was forced to marry the English courtier and diplomat Sir Francis Bryan, a depraved cousin of Anne Boleyn who was nicknamed the Vicar of Hell. The Bryan marriage was reputedly to prevent Joan marrying her cousin, the Earl of Desmond. Bryan served as Lord Justice of Ireland during the reign of Edward VI but died suddenly at Clonmel in February 1550, not long after his wife’s visit to Carlow Castle. Joan subsequently married Gerald FitzGerald, 14th Earl of Desmond. Brian Jones account of her visit is as follows:

“Whiles I was widow,” quoth she, “and had not married an Englishman, I defended and kept my own, or at the least, no man went about to defeat me of my right.Well is the woman unmarried; I am bade to hold my peace, and that my husband shall have answer made unto him.” She had a great many artichokes before her, which I suppose were of your Honour’s garden. Both lay sleeping on a pallet thereby, where she full familiarly threw all the artichokes at him one after the other. Then she addressed herself to the saddle: I attended. Then suddenly, “O Mr Jonys,” quoth she, “I know not what to say or do, except I should fight for it.” “Madam,” said I, “you have too piteous a face to be a bloody warrior;” with that she smiled; “into such an enemy’s hand (if needs I fall) God send me,” quoth I. “What say you?” said she. I answered, “Marry, Madam, you can little skill in fighting.” “Though I cannot,” said she, “I have a thousand and more that can; but God forbid that should come to that point, as I will never attempt it, but give over all, and go among my friends, and live upon my own. Now my heart is ease, Mr Jonys,” said she, “that I have disclosed my heart to my friend.” With that she departed. (See here for original).


In 1567, Robert Hartpole of Shrule Castle, a Roman Catholic settler, was appointed the new Constable of Carlow Castle and provided with six armed footmen for its defence. Hartpole was heartily disliked by the citizens of Carlow who considered him a taxation tyrant. As Governor of the newly shired Queens County (as County Laois was known), he was also despised by the Gaelic Irish who held him responsible for the massacre of several hundred unarmed men at Mullaghmast in 1577. In response to the massacre, Rory Óge O’More attacked and burned Carlow in 1578. Within months, Rory’s head was on a spike outside Dublin Castle. Upon Hartpole’s death in 1594, his son William Hartpole became constable, successfully holding it for Queen Elizabeth throughout the Nine Years War, which began that year and lasted until 1603.

Amongst the records extant about Carlow Castle is a (confusing!) letter dated 1588 from Queen Elizabeth I, addressed to her “Right Trusty” the Lord Deputy in which she refers to “the Castle and lands of Catherlagh, belonging to our cousin Henry, Earl of Kildare”, meaning Henry FitzGerald, 12th Earl of Kildare, a grandson of Gerard Mor and son of the famous Wizard Earl.

Above: Carlow Castle, as depicted in ‘Antiquities of Ireland’ (1792) by Captain Francis Grose.



On 30 July, 1604, the manor of Carlow – or Catherlagh as it was then – was granted to Donogh O’Brien, 4th Earl of Thomond, for an annual rent of £23. Also known as the ‘Great Earl’, he was one of the most influential and dynamic of the English Crown’s aristocratic Irish supporters in the early decades of the 17th century. It is not known how much time he spent in Carlow as the family were perfectly content at their stronghold of Bunratty Castle in County Clare.

The Great Earl claimed descent from Brien Boru, High King of Ireland. Raised at Elizabeth I’s court in London, he succeeded his father in 1581. In his younger years, he became a soldier of much repute, frequently distinguishing himself during the Nine Years War. He was present when the Gaelic army crumbled at the battle of Kinsale. In return for his services, he achieved his lifelong goal of persuading the English government to transfer County Clare, where his possessions were situated, from the jurisdiction of the Connaught government to become part of the province of Munster. Lord Thomond’s arrival in Carlow may have been connected to this deal as the manor was apparently bestowed upon him ‘in consideration of his surrender of certain castles in Tipperary and Limerick.’

The grant of 1604 expressly provides that, ‘in all works made within the castle, the inhabitants of Carlow are to find six workmen or labourers daily, during the said work, at their own expense ; also each tenant and cottager to weed the demesne corn yearly for three days, and a woman out of every house in Carlow to bind the sheaves for one day; each tenant and cottager to cut wood for the use of the castle for three days in summer, and each of them having a draught horse to draw the wood to the castle for three days ; also to draw the corn out of the fields to the area of the said castle for three days; to give one cart-load of wood, and one truss of straw at Christmas and Easter.’

The terms of the grant also stated that while Lord Thomond was to hold the ‘estate in fee-simple for ever of the Manor of Catherlogh’, this was ‘reserving and excepting out of the said grant the Castle of Catherlogh’ which was described as ‘the old castle with four turrets on the east of the Barrow … with the precinct and buildings thereunto belonging.’ The grant further stated that ‘the said Donough and his son and the longer liver of them to have the Constableship of the said Castle of Catherlogh, with all the entertainments as Robert and William Hartpole lately enjoyed.’

However, his lordship was unable to take actual possession of the castle because it was still occupied by the constable William Hartpole. Lord Thomond attempted to buy out his leasehold interest. When that failed, the Great Earl changed tack and charged Hartpole – who was knighted in 1608 – with treason.[5] His most damning claim was that Hartpole had ‘kept within the Castle of Carlow, Rose O’Toole, the wife of the great rebel, Feagh mac Hugh O’Byrne, at the time when the Lord Deputy had offered a reward for her capture.’ He also claimed Sir William had ‘on various occasions supplied the rebels with arms and ammunition out of the king’s stores at Carlow.’ [6] Hartpole withstood the charges and remained constable of Carlow Castle until his death on 15th April 1616. [7]

In July 1615, Lord Thomond’s son Sir Barnabas O’Brien, aka Brian or Barnaby O’Brien (who later succeeded as 6th Earl of Thomond), married Mary Fermor, youngest daughter of Sir George Fermor of Easton Neston, Northamptonshire, deceased. In the marriage settlement, Sir George’s widow and her son Sir Hatton Fermor, paid £4500 to Barnaby in return for which Lord Thormond was to grant them land of equivalent value in Ireland to live on. Upon Hartpole’s death in 1616, Lord Thomond thus assigned the office of constable to Barnabas and basically granted him the castle. [8] In 1618, Barnabas O’Brien and his wife were granted a license to run several taverns in Carlow, as well as making and selling wine. Curiously, the Herald’s Visitation of Northamptonshire of 1618 reports that Mary’s brother, Robert Fermor of Easton Neston, had been recently slain in Carlow. It is thought Mary was also related to Thomas Farmer (Fermor / Farmar), formerly a lieutenant under Sir John Bolles, the second in command to Lord Docwra, during the Ulster campaign from 1601. Thomas Farmer later settled at Youghal and was stationed by Admiral Penn in a frigate defending Bunratty Castle when it fell to the rebels; Farmer transported the Earl of Thomond and his wife, Mary (nee Farmer), to safety in Youghal. [With thanks to Tom LaPorte].

Significant work took place at Carlow Castle circa 1615-1620 and may be connected to the Thomonds taking possession. Influenced by the Renaissance ideals sweeping through Europe, the building became considerably more comfortable, with fireplaces and chimneys installed. If the second floor was not added in the late 14th century, it was certainly in place by this time.

Meanwhile, Carlow’s first Royal Charter was granted on 29th September 1613 by James I. Twelve “good and honest men”, or burgesses, were appointed to a new Corporation with John Kerton, Gentleman, as ‘the first and modern portrieve”’ (Town Clerk or recorder) of Carlow town. [9]

After the Great Earl’s death in 1624, the manor stayed in Barnaby O’Brien’s possession. Barnaby became the 6th Earl in 1639 and probably only left Carlow to move to Bunratty then. The O’Brien’s still owned 1,681 plantation acres of Carlow by 1641. This appears to have been the original demesne of the manor of Carlow.



Woodland on the Barrow


Regarding the woods on the Barrow in the 17th century, here is Eileen McCracken’s take on it from “The Woodlands of Ireland Circa 1600.” Irish Historical Studies, vol. 11, no. 44, 1959, pp. 284–285:

‘The Barrow appears to have been wooded almost from its source in the Slieve Bloom mountains to its estuary, which it shares with the Suir. The extent of these woods along the Leix-Offaly border is plainly marked on the map of Leix attributed to the late sixteenth century. At Athy there was probably a break in the woods. It was here that two monasteries were built in the fifteenth century on either side of the Barrow at the entrance to extensive woods. In the mid-eighteenth century, woods at Monasterevin, which had long been retreat for wood-kernes, still offered shelter to law breakers. In county Carlow the valley itself may have had open ground north of Leighlinbridge but the slopes of the hills that form the western boundaries of the valley were forested. From Leighlinbridge southwards the woods reached to the sea.’

I believe much of that woodland would be felled during the 17th century.


15. THE SIEGE OF 1641-1642

With the eruption of the Irish rebellion of 1641, many English settlers along the southern Pale sought refuge in Carlow Castle. At this time, the castle belonged to Barnabas O’Brien, 6th Earl of Thomond, who, as Lord Lieutenant of County Clare, was in that Atlantic county when the rebellion broke out. He subsequently fled to England, abandoning Bunratty Castle to the rebels.

The rebels were Catholic Confederates, an alliance of disillusioned Catholics, Irish and Old English alike, hoping to recoup the money and lands they had lost since the plantations began. Many amongst them also hoped to reestablish Catholicism at the preeminent religion. By now there was a substantial English Protestant settlement across County Carlow, primarily in Carlow Town, Hacketstown and in the north.

Shortly before Christmas 1641, a musket-wielding rebel force commanded by Sir Walter Bagenal and Sir Morgan Kavanagh besieged Carlow town. They may have offered fair quarter and safe passage to the sea if the castle surrendered but, in any event, such an offer was rejected. For the 400 or so trapped in the castle, life became a nightmare. A flood further hampered efforts to break the siege. Some women slipped out to forage for food; they were captured by the rebels and hanged in full view of their families in the castle. [10] A servant girl who was sent to fetch water was likewise shot. Within the castle, the besieged began to starve; Edward Briscoe and his wife watched seven of their nine children die ‘by want of necessaries’. It is thought most people in the castle slept in the bailey.

James Butler, Marquess of Ormond, was commander of the Crown forces in Ireland who took on the Confederates. Shortly before Easter 1642, he sent a force under Sir Patrick Wemys (and possibly Thomas Preston?) to relieve the town. As Wemys approached, the rebels burned Carlow and fled. By July 1643, the Leinster countryside was so scorched by war that nothing was growing and starvation was rife.

16. THE SIEGE OF 1647

The 1642 siege had been an old fashioned medieval siege. In the spring of 1647, things became considerably tougher when Carlow Castle underwent its first ever artillery siege. General Thomas Preston and the Confederates of Leinster surrounded the castle so effectively that when Lord Ormond sent fifty men to bolster the defence, the reinforcements were unable to get through. On 10th April 1647, Major Harman, commander of the King’s garrison, surrendered the castle. It was to remain a Confederate stronghold for the next three years.

Above: Portrait of General Henry Ireton, besieger of Carlow Castle in 1650, attributed to Robert Walker, after Samuel Cooper, and Sir Anthony Van Dyck, oil on canvas, circa 1650.


In August 1649, seven months after the execution of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell arrived in Dublin with a force of 12,000 men, a war chest of £100,000 and a large train of artillery, battering rams, wagons ‘and other vitals’.

Towards the end of July 1650, a section of the New Model Army commanded by Cromwell’s son-in-law Henry Ireton headed towards Carlow Castle. The troops encamped in a field on the Graiguecullen side of the river where they constructed a bridge of ropes, hurdles and straw, over which the Parliamentarian soldiers passed in single file.

Having placed his artillery and troop in suitable locations around the castle, Ireton summoned a trumpeter to sound for a brief truce, or parley, with the 200-strong Confederate garrison. He then issued the following courteous eviction order, which, appeared in ‘Cromwell at Carlow’ by Robert Malcomson, Esq.

To the Governor of Carlow Castle.
We have been your gentle Neighbours hitherto, doing little more than looking upon you. But the Time being come now that we are like to deal in earnest with your Garrison as effectually and speedily as God shall enable us. That I may not be wanting on my Part to save any of the Blood which may be spilled therein, I am willing, upon a timely Surrender, to give Terms to so fair an Enemy (especially if I find you inclinable to a more peaceable Condition for the Future). I thought good therefore to send you this Summons, requiring you to surrender the Castle of Carlow, with the Furniture of War therein, into my Hands, for the use of the Parliament and Common-wealth of England, to which I expect your present Answer.
Your humble servant,
H. Ireton.
July the 2nd, 1650.

Captain Michael Bellew, the Governor, replied:

For the Lord Deputy and Commander of the Parliament Forces.
My Lord,
This being your first Summons, I am not at this Instant prepared to give any Answer to it. I desire three Days’ Time to acquaint the Lord Bishop of Dromore with your Lordship’s Demands, and in the mean Time that no acts of Hostility be committed by your Lordship’s Army, the like being observed by the Garrison; by that Time your Lordship shall receive the Resolution of Your Lordship’s Servant,
M. Bellew.
Carlow Castle, 3rd of July, 1650

General Ireton accepted Bellew’s request and then moved on to confront Thomas Preston’s Royalist troops in Waterford, leaving Sir Hardress Waller in charge of Carlow. Waller appears to have been in command of a fresh convoy of Cromwellian cavalry and foot-soldiers who had left Dublin some days earlier and quartered near Kill while Ireton and Bellew were exchanging pleasantries. Upon arrival, his directions were, if necessary, to ‘prosecute’ the siege with ‘vigour’. Waller drew out two cannon and launched a ‘battery at Catherlagh on the Castle on the bridge’. He duly battered one of the castle towers, and then cannonaded and captured the town. Bellew surrendered the castle upon the articles of surrender. These provided that the castle, with the artillery, provision, arms, and furniture of war therein, should be forthwith delivered into Waller’s hands; that all persons in the castle should have quarter for their lives and goods, having one month’s time allowed for removal, and passes to carry them to what places they should desire; that all officers and soldiers within the garrison should march with their horses and marching arms, and have a safe convoy to Lea Castle, and a pass for ten days’ march to Athlone (one of the remaining garrisons which still maintained the royal cause); that all the “musquets within the said town should be allowed to march, with each of them one pound of powder, bullet, and match proportionable;” and that the inhabitants should have liberty to live in the town, and enjoy their corn, paying such contributions as others in their condition.

These articles were strictly observed. The garrison marched out, with the honours of war — the ” musquets” with their pound of powder, bullets, and match — and the townsmen “enjoyed their corn”, as theretofore. The garrison received a safe convoy to Lea Castle, and a pass of ten days to reach Athlone. The events as they unfolded were recorded in an officer’s diary, the following details of which were also kindly provided by Michael Purcell:

Friday, 26th. The defeated Garrison of Catherlough marched away according to the terms of capitulation. They were in number about 200 foot soldiers. We installed part of Colonel Ewers Regiment in the castle.

Saturday, 27th. We removed our quarters to the other side of Catherlagh, about half a mile from the town towards Castledermot.

Sunday, 28th. We marched towards Athy, and established quarters at Grange Mellon, proposing to view Athy and to consider fortifying the place, and to do for it as should be convenient.

Monday, 29th. By order from My Lord we were carred and marched back towards Catherlough and passing over the new bridge we went towards Cloghgrennan which is now surrendered and garrisoned and that night we established quarters beyond Leighlinbridge.”

Another account of the surrender came from General Ludlow, commander in Cromwell’s army: ‘The news of the defeat of the Irish in Ulster being brought to those in Carlo, who had held out in the hopes of relief from their friends in Ulster, together with a great scarcity of provisions in the place, besides the beating down of the little Castle, that stood at the foot of the bridge on the other side of the river which happened about the same time, so discouraged those within that they surrendered the place to the Lord-Deputy Ireton upon Terms; which he caused punctually to be implemented, as his constant manner was.’

While Preston managed to hold Waterford until 6 August 1650, the fall of Carlow meant that his besieged men could no longer be supplied via the River Barrow. As such, the conquest of Carlow also led to the capitulation of Waterford.


In order to ensure the castle would never again be used for defensive purposes, the Parliamentarian army then proceeded to demolish much of Marshal’s old castle by knocking out the windows, doors and floors.[11] And so the castle remained, abandoned and unloved while the Thomonds removed to Great Billing in Northamptonshire, England, leaving the running of Carlow manor in the hands of a series of Dublin-based commissioners and receivers. In 1667, the Countess of Thomond was informed of a plan to ‘pull down her castle of Carlow’.

The royal garrison in the castle was seemingly doing great damage to the building. In 1669, the Countess petitioned Charles II for £300 to repair the damage, claiming the soldiers had taken away the lead of the battlements, allowing rain to enter and rot the timbers. [12] It is said that Carlow Castle was sketched by Thomas Dineley when he visited the town in 1680 but I would side with those who doubt that this sketch was ever supposed to be Carlow Castle. It is said that Garret Quigley, town clerk for Carlow under James II, removed the surviving oak timbers from the castle and used them to roof the houses at Carlow’s Market Cross. [13]

During the wars between James II and William of Orange, which lasted from 1688 to 1691, both armies appear to have been quartered in Carlow although the castle itself had ceased to function as a military stronghold. Tradition claims that King Billy passed through the town on his march southwards after the Battle of the Boyne and stayed the night at an Inn on Dublin Street which is now home to Lambert’s Newsagents.

While the 7th Earl of Thomond remained loyal to James II and the House of Stuart, his erratic eldest son Henry, Lord O’Brien, sided with William of Orange. As it happened, the 7th Earl outlived his son and so, upon his death in 1691, the earldom passed to his three-year-old grandson, Henry O’Brien (1688-1741), 8th Earl of Thomond.

Above: Henry O’Brien, 8th Earl of Thomond, a former owner of Carlow Castle.


The O’Brien’s Irish estates were considerably mismanaged during the 8th Earl’s minority by his mother and stepfather. It did not help that the boy, an absentee landlord, grew up to be a feckless, spendthrift. In 1719, the 8th Earl recruited a Dublin attorney called James Hamilton to serve as chief steward of his Irish estates, including Carlow. James was recommended to the post by his uncle Brigadier Hans Hamilton, scion of a Scots-Irish family who settled in Ulster in the early 17th century. James’s father Henry Hamilton, MP for Cavan, was amongst those killed during the Siege of Limerick in 1690. The Hamiltons were closely aligned with the Dublin port of Skerries. See here for more on Hamiltons. 

In February 1721, James Hamilton made a clandestine purchase of the 4,000-acre manor of Carlow, including the roofless and abandoned castle, from the childless 8th Earl. Hamilton was supposed to pay £20,900 but only ever coughed up £6,000. In 1726, he was summoned before the Court of Chancery and charged with having fraudulently obtained the manor by seriously undervaluing Thomond’s estate. He somehow bounced back to become MP for the Borough of Carlow at the 1727 election, seemingly retaining the seat until 1761.

When in Carlow, he appears to have lived at the castle. However, by 1736, he had run up such debts that he fled to the Isle of Man where he lived until he was pardoned by the newly crowned George III in 1761. [14] James Hamilton died in 1771 and was succeeded by his eldest son Hans Hamilton, who was MP for County Dublin for thirty years. The Hamilton family’s title to the land and Carlow Castle was later confirmed to Hans who leased the property to the roguish Dr Myddelton in about 1812.  At some point during the Hamilton era, a 7-acre plot opposite the castle was planted with tobacco and became known as ‘Tobacco Meadows’. The plot lay at the confluence of the Burren and the Barrow. If anyone knows when this was actually planted, please let me know.

The 8th Earl of Thomond died in Dublin on 20th April 1741 and was buried in Limerick Cathedral. His Irish estates passed to Percy Wyndham, his nephew by marriage, who adopted the name O’Brien.


The great Anglo-Norman fortress weathered six hundred winters and survived the ravages of war throughout the medieval period, including Cromwell’s canons. In the end, it was the work of a single individual that brought it crashing down. I have written about its destruction separately, in an article that you can find here.


After the death of Hans Hamilton in 1822, the custodianship of Carlow Castle presumably passed onto his heirs and from them to his grandson, who was created Baron Holm Patrick in 1897. If anyone has further details of this era in the castle’s history, I would be much obliged if they would make contact.

After the collapse of the eastern towers on De Myddelton’s watch, the people of Carlow effectively turned their back on the castle, surrounding it with houses designed so that it was their back yards rather than their front-doors that beheld the old Norman ruin. By the mid-20th century, access to the castle was through Corcoran’s Mineral Water Factory. When he expanded this factory, providing much needed employment, Michael Governey took in much of the ground on the west and south sides of the castle. Corcoran’s employees simultaneously turned the area adjacent to the ruins into a market gardening enterprise, planting cabbages, potatoes and such like. When Dr Kieran O’Conor embarked upon his archaeological excavations in 1996, he proposed that the ensuing decades of soil clearance was the reason why he could not find any remnants of the crockery, utensils, weapons or cannon balls that generally emerge from such digs.

For much of the 20th century, visitors to the castle had to make their way via Corcoran’s, where they collected a key. More nimble-footed youngsters preferred to climb the outer walls. The castle yard made for an ideal playground and occasionally yielded a gem such as a cannonball. It is assumed that, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, custodianship of Carlow Castle passed from the Crown to the Irish Free State who then assigned it to the Office of Public Works. I contacted the Crown Estate in October 2013. No response as of yet.

Carlow Castle took a hiding in Storm Ciara on 9 February 2020, during which part of the foundations of one of the two remaining towers collapsed. The part that fell had been restored in the 1950s, evidently not very well.


A huge thanks to all those who took the time to help advise on this supplement including: Cllr. Eileen Brophy Cathaoirleach of Carlow Town Council and the Members of Carlow Town Council who commissioned this history; Michael Purcell, Michael Brennan, Town Clerk; Michael Brennan Carlow County IGP website; Ally Bunbury; Elaine Callinan, Carlow College; Dan Carberry; Gary Cavanaugh; Joe Connolly, the late Philomena Connolly; Dr Linda Doran; Kevin Down; the late Victor Hadden; Ann Jarvis; Hugo Jellett, Eigse Carlow Arts Festival; Thomas King; Dermot Mulligan, Carlow County Museum; Dr Margaret Murphy, Carlow College; Dr Tom McGrath, Carlow College; Martin Nevin, Carlow Historical & Archaeological Society; Dr Kieran O’Conor, NUIG; Pat O’Neill, President of the Carlow Historical & Archaeological Society Eileen O’Rourke, Carlow Tourism, Peter Walker, Tom LaPorte & Paul Horan.


  • Canny, Nicholas, Making Ireland British 1580-1650 (Oxford, 2001).
  • Clarke, Aidan, ‘The Old English in Ireland’ (Worcester & London, 1966).
  • Gilbert, John T., ‘Proceedings of the forces in Ireland under Sir Hardress Waller and Lord-Deputy Ireton by Parliamentary army officers 1650-1651’ in ‘A Contemporary History of Affairs in Ireland’, Volume 3, part 2, (Dublin: Irish Archaeological Society, 1880), pp 218–263 (see
  • Jarvis, Ann M., ‘Carlow Material – Petworth House Archives
  • King, Thomas, ‘Carlow: the manor and town, 1674-1721’, Issue 12 of Maynooth studies in local history” (Irish Academic Press)
  • Lenihan, Pádraig, Confederate Catholics at War (Cork, 2001).
  • Malcomson, Anthony P, ‘The Pursuit of the Heiress: Aristocratic Marriage in Ireland 1740-1840’, Ulster Historical Foundation, 2006)


[i] In a lecture to the Old Carlow Society in March 1971 (which was recorded by Michael Purcell), the reputable historian Victor Hadden named Marshal as both the founder of the town of Carlow and the man who issued Carlow’s first Charter in 1208. Matching the research of Victor Hadden and Dr Kieran O’Conor, Michael Purcell believes it is safe to assume that the Castle at Carlow and its keep was finally completed in 1213. Victor Hadden also credited William Marshal with the building of the stone castles at Enniscorthy, Ferns and Kilkenny and Carlow. He stated they were all built from much the same plan, the castle in Carlow being the largest, he was of the opinion that what remains of Carlow castle is the original masonry erected in the years 1208 – 1212. The castle was of immense strategic value to the Norman conquest of Ireland being located in the heart of the kingdom previously ruled by Strongbow’s father-in-law Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster. It also afforded a strategic crossing point across the River Barrow. From here the Normans were able to control the agriculture and economic welfare of most of Leinster.

At least 93 other castles in Co. Carlow have been accurately located by archaeologists, such as Ballyloughan, Ballymoon, Clonegal, Clonmore, Tullow and Tinnehinch. In fact, it is reckoned that Carlow was once home to over 150 castles. “The origins of Carlow Castle” in Archaeology Ireland (Autumn 1997) includes a picture of the excavation works and a plan comparing the existing ruin to the overall excavation area.

The detailed information and images of Carlow Castle are from “Extracts from the Journal of Thomas Dineley, Esquire, Giving Some Account of His Visit to Ireland in the Reign of Charles II (Continued)” by Evelyn Philip Shirley, Thomas Dinely and James Graves The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society New Series, Vol. 4, No. 1 (1862), pp. 38-52, 103-109. With many thanks to Paul Horan.

[2] John de Clahull, one of Strongbow’s barons, witnessed the Dunbrody charter of 1177. He was still alive in 1247 and when he died without issue, his estates passed to the descendants of his brother Hugh who deceased him. John de Clahull appears to have been in North Kerry by 1216 when he gave 300 marks for confirmation of his various lands including some that were inland, near Slieve Luachra on the mountainous borders of Cork/Kerry. It is to be noted that Meilyr FitzHenry owned two cantreds in Kerry There are also references to a Sir John de Clahull, Marshal of Leinster, who owned Dundrum Castle and who granted Taney Church to the Priory of the Holy Trinity (now Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin).

[3] On Thomas Plantagenet de Brotherton’s instruction, all the records, consisting of several hundred rolls of accounts were removed to the Tower of London. Michael Purcell has visited London and viewed these rolls on many occasions. Aided by a scholar in mediaeval Latin, he has also transcribed many of these documents. He hopes to publish a history of Carlow Castle in due course.

[4] ‘The extents drawn up after Roger Bigod’s death in 1306 include the information that there were 160 burgages in Carlow. It is possible to work out from the accounts of the treasurer of Carlow in the 1280s that the town contained between 160-170 burgages.’ – Margaret Murphy, Carlow IT.

[5] Hartpole was knighted in St. Mary’s Abbey on 2nd October 1608 by the Lord Deputy, Sir George Carey.

[6] Lord Thomond’s other claims against Hartpole were quoted in the Journal of the Co. Kildare Archeological Society And Surrounding Districts. Vol. IV. (Edward Ponsonby, Dublin 1905), p. 309-310:

1) That he had surrendered the important Castle of Blackford, in the Queen’s County, to Owny mac Bor O’More, thereby causing the loss of lives to many of the king’s soldiers.

2) That he had promised to marry Owny mac Bory O’More’s sister, who is now the wife of Captain Tyrrell, and had also promised to deliver up Carlow Castle to the rebels.

[7] His son Robert Hartpole, sometime MP for the Borough of Carlow, was amongst those killed by Cromwell’s men at the siege of Drogheda in 1649. Journal of the Co. Kildare Archeological Society And Surrounding Districts. Vol. IV. (Edward Ponsonby, Dublin 1905), p. 309-310.

There is a suggestion – unsure where – that the castle and bawn were granted to Sir Charles Wilmot, a croney of Thomond, in 1614. Wilmot, a former Governor of Kerry who served alongside Thomond in the Nine Years War, apparently secured it for an annual rent of 6 shillings, 8 pence. Wilmot became President of Connaught in 1616 which could explain the appointment of a new constable.

[8] The actual wording of the grant was that he “granted, enfeoffed, and confirmed to the said Sir Barnaby Brian and Lady Mary his wife, the manor and castle of Carlow, the bawn, precinct, and circuit thereof, the custom of a salmon out of every net taking salmon in the Barrow running by the limits of the castle, and the demesne lands of the castle, and all the lands and tenements thereunto belonging; the services and works due out of Kelleiston, the customary services and works issuing out of Dowgaston, Painston, Johnston, and Pollardston, the customs and services due out of Johnston and other lands, buying of leather of the manor of Carlow; and also certain lands and tenements in Fothred, lying amongst the Irish, called the Cavanaghs, parcel of the said manor of Carlow, now or late being waste; the castle of Graige in the Queen’s county, with courts leet, view of frank pledge, lawdays, assize of bread and beer, waifs and strays, the site of the late priory of Holmepatrick in the county of Dublin etc.” June 11, 14 James I (1616). Thomond-Farmer Indenture Quadripartite (7&8 Charles I), p. 656. Calendar of patent and close rolls of chancery in Ireland, of the reign of Charles I, years 1 to 8 inclusive. Ed. J. Morrin (Dublin, 1863).

With thanks to Tom LaPorte. There are also some references to the Barnaby Brien in Clare Library – thanks to Paul Horan.

[9] The charter was ‘Granted to the inhabitants of Carlow by James the First, by the grace of God, of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, and soforth “under our royal signet and sign manual, at our palace at Hampton Court in the tenth year of our reign of England, France, and Ireland, and of Scotland the forty-sixth year of our reign’. (With thanks to Michael Purcell).

Kerton is assumed to the same ‘John Korton’ who was recorded as owner of Lisnavagh on the 1659 survey. Was Korton an ally of the O’Brien family, Earls of Thomond? He was to be assisted by “the first and modern 12 free burgesses” (Councillors) named as John Bare, Esquire (Sergeant-at-Law), Sir Robert Jacob, Knight. Sir Adam Loftus, Anthony St Ledger, Peter Wright, William Greatrake, Nicholas Harman (perhaps the man involved with the 1647 siege?), John Bloomfield, John Ely, Robert Whiteacre, Robert Sutton and Richard Keating.

[10] The Deposition of Ruth Crispe who fled, while pregnant, with her husband for the ‘saffetie of their lives with their family to the Castle of Catherlagh’. In a very graphic accout of her experiences, she estimated that there were ‘fowre hundred people in the said Castle of Catherlagh … most of them like to starve for want of food’. They would not leave the Castle in search of food for fear they might end up like some women who went in search of supplies, only to be captured. The rebels ‘forceibly brought those 4 women back within view of the said Castle, where those Rebels called with a lowd voice to the rest … that they should see their Cuntry women hanged … there hanged them to death accordingly and then stripping them they cast their dead bodies all together in a hold.’

Source: Depositions of Thomas Poole, Ruth Crispe, Edward Briscoe and Edward Harman. With special thanks to Elaine Callinan.

[11] The following lines, described by one historian as “doggerel verse of the time”, are sometimes said to have recorded the effect that Cromwell’s forces had on the castle, but they actually appear to be about the castle at Blarney not Carlow:

‘Such walls surround her
That no nine-pounder
Could ever plunder
That place of strength
But Oliver Cromwell
He did pummel
And made a breach in
The battlement.’

[12] This may be connected to an order dated 16 February 1669 by the Earl of Ossory for the removal of the “foot company belonging to… Lord Howth”… out of the Castle of Carlow [In MS.: “Catherlogh”], and liberties thereof, into the town of Carlow there to remain until further order: written from Dublin Castle MS. Carte 163, fol(s). 88.

[13] ‘Mr. Quigley may have rendered to his gracious Sovereign as chief magistrate of his adopted town ; but tradition has it that, “finding the castle of Carlow in ruins since Oliver’s time, he took away the oak timber, and with it roofed the houses at the Market Cross of Carlow.” Our informant upon this point, Mr. Frederick Haughton, confirms the rumour by the assurance that in his own day he remembers certain of the houses in that locality to have been re-roofed, and in every instance the timber of the old roofs was of fine oak.’ (Robert Malcomson, ‘On Merchants’ Tokens Struck In The Towns Of Carlow, Bagenalstown and Tullow’, p. 252.

[14] The Statutes at Large, Passed in the Parliaments Held in Ireland: From the twenty-third year of George the Second, A.D. 1749, to the first year of George the Third, A.D. 1761 inclusive, p. 883.