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.