While visiting Ireland’s Ancient East recently I had the pleasure of visiting The Rock of Dunamase and it was one of the highlights of the trip. The place has a special vibe to it and the views from the top are worth the hike alone. Naturally, it’s in ruins compared to once was but it still gives you a good idea of what it was like.
Table of Contents
Introduction to The Rock of Dunamase
Standing 46 meters, or 151 feet above the surrounding countryside, the Rock of Dunamase is home to the ruins of Dunamase Castle.
Recognized early in the 9th century as the perfect location for a defensive fortification, it has been home to settlements ever since that time.
The rock’s military history in the pre-Dunamase Castle era
Before Dunamase Castle existed, it was home to a more humble fort that was uncovered by an archeological dig conducted in the 1990’s.
They managed to unearth walls and banks that constituted its defenses before the remainder of the facility got razed by the Vikings in 843 AD. This theorized event matches up with local historical records of an attack from that period.
Life cycle of Dunamase Castle
Dunamase Castle was built in the latter half of the 12th century, and its builders made full use of the defensive advantages that this massive rock afforded them.
With no less than four lines of defense, which included an outer and inner barbican (which had a murder hole, where large stones and boiling oil could be thrown on invaders), a curtain wall and a heavily fortified inner keep, mounting a successful attack would prove difficult for armies over its history, as it only fell into ruin due to its eventual abandonment.
Shortly after it was built, it was given to Aoife, the daughter of the King of Leinster as a dowry for her marriage to the Norman conqueror Strongbow. Passed down to her daughter Isabel as a wedding gift in the early 13th century, the castle had additions added by her husband William Marshal.
Passing through the hands of this family until it ended up in the possession of Roger Mortimer in the early 14th century, Dunamase Castle was then forfeited to the Crown in 1330 due to allegations of treason. The castle was then given to the O’Moore clan, who ended up abandoning it shortly thereafter.
Its decaying remains were further damaged in the 17th century by English parliamentary forces to prevent their use by locals during their war of conquest.
The Rock of Dunamase today
Apart from an attempt by Sir John Parnell to use its remains as a banquet hall in the 18th century, the ruins of Dunamase have remained in a broken state since then. Despite this fact, its condition gives a sense of the passage of time since the Medieval Period, and its elevated position allows for panoramic views across the surrounding plain out towards the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
If you’re visiting Ireland’s Ancient East, a stop at The Rock of Dunamase is highly recommended. We stopped in on our way to Durrow from Tullamore. We were headed to Durrow Castle Hotel where we spent the night, why not enjoy some old ruins before sleeping in an actual castle? If you’re stopping in Tullamore, don’t forget to consider doing an Irish whiskey tasting and distillery tour; the Tullamore DEW experience was most certainly fun, informative and delicious.