Castle Roche, Co. Louth is always spectacular, but particularly so on a day like this, with its curtain walls and towers silhouetted against a dark sky.
I always think Castle Roche has such a romantic air about it. The ruins are so much part of the landscape and blend in with the limestone cliffs on which they were built, yet on the other hand, it makes quite an impression as you are driving along the narrow country roads and it suddenly comes into view.
It is perched on top of a limestone cliff with sheer drops on two of it’s sides but this is the view from the narrow road where you can park by the roadside and walk up the field to get to it.
It is a Norman castle, built in the 13th century when much of Ireland was under Anglo Norman rule. This area, on the border with Ulster, has always been border country, going back to the days of Cu Chulainn and beyond, and the castle guarded an ancient route into South Armagh.
In the late middle ages this area was at the northern extremity of the Pale, a large area under direct English rule, centred on Dublin but stretching from Co. Wicklow up to Co. Louth. The castle was on the boundary between the Anglo Norman Pale and the Gaelic province of Ulster.
Beyond the Pale This is where the phrase ‘Beyond the Pale` comes from.
Part of the boundary was fenced with wooden stakes called pales and going beyond the Pale meant leaving an area that was safe and secure to go into what they considered uncivilised territory. Later it came to mean something that was unacceptable or intolerable.
Paling is still a word used for fencing constructed from wooden stakes and this is also where the word impale comes from.
A tale of murder The castle was built by Lady Rohesia de Verdun after the death of her husband, an important Norman baron.
Legend has it that lady Rohesia promised her hand in marriage to the architect if he completed the castle to her satisfaction. This he did, but on the eve of their wedding she asked him to come and look out the window so that he could survey all the lands he would soon possess. But the conniving Lady Rohesia had no intention of marrying him and pushed him out of the high window, where he plunged to his death.
Another version of the story is that she had him thrown from the window to protect the secrets of the castle’s design. Ever since, this window has always been known as the murder window.
Wales is better known for all those mighty castles built by Edward 1st – Carnarfon, Conwy, Harlech etc – but there are are also some real gems from a later period, such as Raglan in Monmouthshire and Carew near Pembroke
I was always vaguely aware that there was a castle and a place called Raglan in Wales and was intrigued because the word raglan always made me think of knitted cardigans! I don’t think there’s a connection to a style of knitting but I may be wrong.
On one of our trips through Wales we needed a break and could have stopped at Monmouth Services, but instead, we did what we often do on a long journey and looked for somewhere interesting and more peaceful to visit. Nearby was Raglan castle – only a mile from the dual carriageway but in the quiet of the countryside.
Raglan is a grand Tudor castle, built at a time when castle building in Britain was coming to an end and castles such as Raglan were built as much for show and as a statement of wealth than for fortification.
It was built in the 1430’s and occupied until 1646 when it came under siege during the English Civil War. Its fortifications were still strong enough for it to be able to hold out against Cromwell’s parliamentary forces for almost 3 months, making it one of the longest sieges of the Civil War. It suffered extensive damage and was partly destroyed but there is still enough left of its grandeur and elegance to see today.
The castle was an important social centre during Tudor times. As much a palace as a castle, it was elegantly furnished and held many fine treasures, including paintings and sculptures.
There was an impressive Hall and Long Gallery and also an immense library which contained an important collection of Welsh manuscripts. After the siege the contents of the library were destroyed – a huge loss to Welsh culture and history.
Everything about the castle is very striking, particularly the Great Tower and its surrounding moat. The castle was built from two types of sandstone, old red sandstone and the pale yellowish sandstone that was used to build the tower. The Great Tower was so impressive in its day that it became known as The Yellow Tower of Gwent.
The moat is withing the castle walls and running alongside it is the Moat Walk, where it’s easy to imagine Elizabethan ladies taking a promenade. The Moat Walk
Above – looking down from the Great tower. There was a very good tearoom in the neighbouring farm buildings – much better than stopping at the motorway services!