Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Desmond Castle

We didn't know there was a castle near Adare until we passed it on the public bus as we were on our way to meet Gretchen. At the visitor information center, we got tickets at the bargain rate of two of us for 6 euros--a two-for-one special because this week happened to Irish Heritage Week. Inside the center was a nice museum-quality display of the history of the area and the castle, which was a good introduction to what we were about to see. I should mention that the visitors' center staff were so welcoming and helpful and made us feel right at home. Sometimes you feel like one of a heard of cattle at such places, but not so at Adare.

We boarded a small tour bus for the drive to the castle. Built in the 13th century, the castle played an important role in the early history of the region with its strategic location on the River Maigue.

I was tickled to see that there had been a moat, even though it is currently dry. I mean, the only moats I've ever been in contact with were in the pages of fairy tales and history books!

Our guide explained that the entryway to the castle (once invaders had passed over the bridge) was called the "murder room." Because, you see, once inside the space, and with the portcullis down, the hapless were trapped and basically targets for anyone wanting to take a potshot at them.

The portcullis itself was a weapon--if dropped on invaders who entered a little too quickly, the sharpened spikes would do some serious damage to their health.

The narrow "windows" in the castle walls are called arrow slits

--some slightly wider, shorter slits were for crossbows. I found myself often hanging back from the tour to try to envision how it must have been, with the arrows flying, marauders clambering through the moat and perhaps trying to scale the castle walls...

The guide showed us the areas that had once been the kitchen,

great hall,

and other living areas in the castle. Hogs and other livestock were also kept inside the walls, and near the kitchen storeroom was the prison hold where prisoners who were to be executed were kept--a dank, damp room with little light, and where those hungry prisoners would see the food and drink being taken from the stores up to the dining hall. A double sentence for their crimes, I'm sure.

The Keep, a square, moated tower within the castle walls, was a place of safety that could be well-defended for the Earls of Kildare families.

The Great Hall, where feasting, meetings and so on must have taken place, was located along the wall by the river, and had some nice windows.

I wonder, what would have been the window material? Probably wood boards, but I didn't think to ask that question when we were there. Perhaps they would have been leaded or stained glass?

Two yew trees, prized for making longbows, stood inside the castle walls. One of these trees is at least 500 years old. The yew is surrounded by legend and mysticism in Irish lore and was considered a sacred tree. To stand by this ancient tree was to feel the power of the past truly surrounding us.

Even with the passing of traffic on the road to Adare, the peace and quiet of the castle and its grounds made it easy to imagine how it must have been in those olden days, when knights on horseback rode across the moat to visit the Earl, when attackers with longbows clamored at the gates, when the ladies and children would seek the protection of the keep, and when the River Maigue flowed by the castle walls, just as it does today.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

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