Athenry Castle, Co. Galway
For about five centuries Athenry Castle has been abandoned, rootless and
fallen into a ruinous state. Athenry Castle consists of a
keep and surrounding curtain-wall or bawn. It was built shortly after 1235
when Richard de Burgo, Lord of Connaught, granted a charter to Meiler de
Bermingham. Most accounts give about 1238 as the date, but some suggest as
late as 1250 - though by about 1240 seems logical because in
1241 Meiler was sufficiently well ensconced there to invite the Dominicans
to come and build a priory in the town.
The remains reveal at least three main phases of buildings. The original
keep was low and squat, the root being at the level of the present second
floor. This can be seen by the two large holes (for draining away
roof-water) halfway up in each gable. Shortly afterwards the castle
was raised in height by another storey (also 13th cent.
c.1250), while in the 15th century the gable-ends were raised
to accommodate a new and higher root rising above the battlements.
The present basement vault is an insertion.
Entrance to the castle was by
an external wooden stairs leading to a decorated doorway in the east wall
at first floor level. Two line windows remain at this level, both
carved like the doorway - such carved work is unique to Athenry Castle
though quite common in ecclesiastical buildings. Also unique
to Athenry Castle is that over its doorway was a small canopy-like affair,
traces of which remain; this consisted of slabs projecting from the wall
above the doorway.
Access from the first floor to the second floor was by
a wooden stairs (assumed as no trace of any other stairs remain), and from the second to the third floor by an intramural stairway, within the east wall, beginning roughly above the doorway. The main room
(first floor) also had a garde-robe or latrine at its north-western
corner, consisting of a projecting 'room', only part of which still
The keep was built close enough to the north-western part of the
surrounding curtain-wall to allow it to overlook the wall, thus making a
wall-tower at this point unnecessary. Wall-towers, however, were built at
the north-east and south-east corners of the curtain-wall, while the
south-western corner was fortified by the gate, now a modern replacement,
but undoubtedly originally strong and adequately fortified.
seems to have generally been cold and dark; there are no windows at second
floor level, and no fireplaces anywhere. The fire was probably centrally
placed In the upper room, the smoke escaping through a louvre or opening
in the centre of the roof. In the 15th century the
Berminghams moved from it to their town house near the market cross In the
In 1990 the National Monuments
Branch of the Office of Public Works started work on its restoration,
following on some minor excavations within the curtain wall. While
it is not yet quite certain for what purpose exactly it will be used when
restored, the State, insofar as it has expressed any plans at all towards
its ultimate use, apparently intends to use It as a sort of state
storehouse, in the nature of a museum or display centre for loose
sculpture at present lying around the National Monuments in the region.
The restored castle
will also be used as a heritage centre to explain the town and immediate
vicinity to interested visitors and scholars.