So being a tour guide at the castle MAY have given me some helpful information on the castle to say the least. I’ll try and keep it interesting, informative and entertaining, using pictures to keep your concentration. Here I’ll focus on the building, and next time I’ll write about the history.
General: Maynooth castle came about because Maurice FitzGerald, an Anglo-Norman knight, came to Ireland in 1169 and was granted what is essentially modern day Co. Kildare as his reward from Strongbow. He probably built a wooden motte and bailey style castle here first, and his son or grandson built the stone castle in the 1180’s or the 1190’s. The castle was built of mainly limestone, with mortar holding the stones together, together with granite quoin stones. It was probably locally sourced, though Anglo-Normans were known for transporting stone across long distances if they needed to. We think it was built in 3 or 4 different stages and added to over the years. There are reports that John the 6th Earl fortified the castle at Maynooth. It is a rectangular keep measuring 72 feet by 62 feet.
Outside: At the front of the castle, we see the main entrance at a first floor level. This was no doubt for defensive reasons. There is still evidence remaining of a forebuilding (a stone building attached to the keep) which would have contained wooden steps leading up to the main door. This was a room where one disarmed themselves before entering the castle. To the left of this we see another doorway which may have been an oratory inside the forebuilding (because it is at the east of the castle). We all see many defensive features typical of medieval building at Maynooth castle, including arrow loops, turrets and a basal batter.
Basement: Entering the basement entrance, we arrive into two vaulted rooms. Here they would have stored food and supplies. There was also an indoor well inside the castle. This is very rare and only one other castle is known to have an indoor well. This meant that during a time of siege, defenders had a constant supply of water. These rooms would have been very dark, so they would have been painted white – both to reflect any extra light, but also for hygiene purposes. The ceiling and walls show construction marks and we know how they built the ceiling. They replaced a wooden ceiling with a vaulted stone ceiling (which could support more weight when the building was extended). There are holes in the sides of the chamber called putlog holes where giant wooden beams were placed across. A wooden wickerwork was build up in an arch shape as a temporary support, and a layer of mortar and finally stones shaped on top of this. The support was taken down and voila, you have your stone vaulted ceiling, lessening the dangers of fires inside the castle.
First Floor: On the first floor level, the general consensus is that the large room on this floor was divided in two by a wooden partition running halfway along north-south down the middle. On the east side you have a public area where guests were entertained, the family welcomed acquaintances, and dining and negotiation was done. On the west side, we think this part of the castle was reserved for the family. We say this because there are three rooms built into the walls of the castle, two of which have evidence for chimneys. Most likely they were used as a sleeping area, or for storage (the FitzGerald’s were reported to have a great library of English, Irish, French and Latin books). The stone in the centre of the room is the central support column which holds up the weight of the castle. At the top of the castle there would have been four turrets, only one of which survives well. There would have been a parapat walk (an internal walkway) going from tower to tower which protected the soldiers as they walked the top of the castle. To enter the top of the castle, there would have been an internal wooden staircase leading up to the doorway in the north of the castle. We see arches below these towers, again supporting the extra weight of said towers. Interesting to note is the diagonal roof scar in the tower showing us where the roof would have been. The corbels (stones that support roof beams) below and above again give us evidence that the castle was extended.
Second Floor?: There is a mystery over whether there was another floor in Maynooth castle or not. Either there was simply one floor and the ceiling went to the top, or there was a second floor. Evidence for a second floor would be in the square holes and ledge running all along the inside of the castle. These may have had beams in them to support another floor. Evidence against this is that if there were beams in these holes, they would have ran into each other as they are on all sides of the castles. There are also no windows on this level of the castle, which is strange if there was a floor. Finally, the stone work is slightly different around the square holes, indicating that the holes may have been added at a later date.
Outside…again: There are a number of ruins to the east of the castle. There is a postern gate, which was the back way into the castle. There was space inside for a soldier to hide from view. There are two arches dating from the time of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork who essentially took over the castle in the 17th century. He built many things seen here, including the two arches (there used to be four) and the solar tower which was the corner of his house. That’s the building, now wait for the history!
Irish Castles and Castellated Houses by Harold Leask
Ma Nuad by Mary Cullen
The Office of Public Works, Maynooth Castle, de Blacam and Meagher Architects, 1994 (survey)