Roscrea Castle dominates the skyline as you either approach the town or walk around it. It’s visible on the image of the parish page which is the one used here. The history of its beginnings date from 1208 when a local chief, Murchadh Ua Brian of the Mountain burned the Norman castles at Kinnitty, Birr and Lorrha. This caused a break in the Norman supply line. To restore control the Norman hierarchy under the leadership of King John (of Magna Carta fame) convened in Roscrea and chose it as a base to restore control. So, in 1213 they met in Roscrea and built a Motte & Bailey type castle in what we now call Castle Street. We like to claim that this “Grand Council” meeting was the first real meeting of the English Parliament outside of the UK!
This Motte & Bailey established a garrison presence in Roscrea that lasted till the late 19th century. Indeed, its establishment caused quite a political stir as Roscrea had been a diocese in its own right, but had just recently been amalgamated with Killaloe and the Motte & Bailey was built on church grounds! The compensation wrangle lasted for many long years only being settled in 1280! The Motte & Bailey arrangement lasted till 1281 when it was replaced by the stone castle you see today.
The castle is unusual in that it is a keepless one, the layout copying that of the nearby Motte & Bailey. The entrance to the polygonal compound was through a drawbridged Gate Tower, complete with portcullis and murder-holes. Two other towers reinforce the wall - one juts out at the Mall which had a boathouse to ‘sail’ and fish the lake that was on the Mall side, is sometimes referred to as King John’s Tower – erroneously as King John’s Tower was part of the Motte & Bailey; he being long gone before the stone castle was built. The second tower is known as the Duke of Ormond’s Tower and is not as well preserved and lies on the opposite side of the curtain wall.
Another unusual feature of this castle is the fact that between 1722 - 1727 a local landlord built a townhouse right in the centre of the courtyard! The house was never was used for its original purpose, but that’s another story belonging to Damer House!
In 1892 the castle became National Monument No. 211. The house and castle were barracks to as many as 350 soldiers until it was decommissioned at the beginning of the 20th century.
Reference: Roscrea and District 1976 by George Cunningham
Roscrea Castle Photo from c.1930
Roscrea Castle is open for the purposes of tourism and is managed in conjunction with the Roscrea Heritage Society