The Castles of Naas
In the later Middle Ages Naas was an important town on the frontier of the English pale. Although it was a walled town (De Burgh 1895, 218-220), it is clear that the Merchant families of late medieval Naas preferred to entrust the protection of themselves and their goods within a series of fortified houses which they built in the Town (Murtagh 1982, 26). Commonly called castles, these fortified houses were built in most Irish towns, throughout the later middle ages (Craig 1982, 111; Delaney 1977, 53; Leask 1948, 305; 1964, 147/8; ÓDanachair 1979, 161). They were the defensible residences of the townsmen of substance such as the Merchant class (Jope 1975, 48; Leask 1964, 148).
They were tall rectangular stone houses that were ideally suited to the narrow confines of the burgage plots along the streets. They were three to four stories in height and were crowned with battlements. They had few windows, save for narrow window loops, or narrow twin-light windows that were confined to the upper floors. Entry was made through a narrow doorway, which was often protected against attack by a machicolation on the outside and a murder-hole on the inside. The ground floor was usually vaulted as we know in the cases of St. David’s Castle (Naas A) and Eustace Castle (Naas B). This was ideal for the storage of goods – particularly in the case of the Merchants. The upper floors were reserved for the living quarters (Dixon 1977, 5; Leask 1964, 79).
At least eight of these castles stood within the town of Naas (see list of sites below). They are frequently referred to in documents relating to the town dating from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Unfortunately all of these sites have been demolished, save for St. David’s Castle (Murtagh 1982, 110/116). Eustace Castle (Naas B) in Friary Road, being the last site to be demolished as recently as 1973 (Costello 1974, 278).
In looking at the accompanying map of the town we can see that most sites were located along streets with the notable exception of St. David’s Castle. Five sites were located along Main Street and probably two in Friary Road. This pattern is consistent with the location of most fortified houses within towns, elsewhere in Ireland.
However some sites deviate from this rule to occupy commanding locations within the town. The location of St. David’s Castle is an example of this, whereby it is not located along the street as in the case of the other fortified houses which stood in Naas. Instead, it occupied a commanding position on the eastern fringes of the medieval town that must have been one of the latters strongest defences. The ground slopes steeply to the east and north, down to the Friary River, which at its southern point has been artificially excavated as far as Church Lane. This river and the boggy ground beyond it might have been converted into a strong defence by the damming of the stream at the Watergate Mill (De Burgh 1895, 320).
The commanding location of St. David’s Castle is not unique within the towns of the area of the Pale. A similar example can be seen in Trim, Co. Meath, where two fortified houses, Nangle’s and Talbot’s Castles occupy the same commanding height over the town north of the River Boyne (Murtagh 1982, 28/29).
In addition to the strong defence around St. David’s Castle, the latter was linked to yet another defence system, to the North Barrier which was a steplike rise which ran westward from St. David’s Castle across North Main Street by the Black Castle (Naas E) to the North Moat (See map and De Burgh 1895, 319). This barrier would have split the town in two — thus forming an inner line of defence that would have defended the southern half of Naas if attacked from the North.
The fact that St.David’s Castle is not located along one of the streets of the town, which have been subjected to a great deal of redevelopment since the 18th century may have greatly contributed to its survival. Moreover, the site’s present owner, Surgeon Gibson is determined to ensure its preservation.
As already mentioned Eustace Castle (Naas B) which stood in Friary Road (see Map) was demolished as late as 1973 (Costello 1974, 278). De Burgh (1895, 321) says that it had a barrel vault on the ground floor similar to that of St. David’s Castle and a room above. A photograph published in this journal (1974, pl. V) shows the site to be of two stories with a gabled roof. Although it is now demolished, it’s site has so far not been developed and is now used as a car park for Lawlor’s Hotel. It is to be hoped that if it is to be built upon, that an archaeological excavation will be conducted upon the site in the hope of throwing more light upon the castle’s morphology and history.
In 1979 an archaeological excavation was conducted upon the supposed location of one site within the town — namely the Black Castle to the West of North Main Street at the foot of the North Moat. The location of this site was based upon the ordnance survey map of the town (o.s. 6″, Kildare, sheet 19). However, no trace of the site was found in the excavation. The failure to find evidence of this castle in the excavation may be due to the ordnance survey locating its site too far from Main Street at the foot of the North Moat. It is more likely that it stood facing onto the street like the other castles along Main Street.
Moreover this view is confirmed by Austin Cooper, who in 1782 refers to three castles on the west side of North Main Street. “Near the Gaol … just at the entrance from Dublin, stands a small square Castle of very ancient appearance – a small distance further on in line with the street and with this Castle is another; much larger and of very modern appearance — between both these is another much the same as the first mentioned” (Cooper 1942, 28/29).
The Gaol referred to by Cooper stood on the site of the present Fitzgerald, O’Reilly & Co. Ltd. premises at the entrance to Poplar Square, and he describes it as being ‘an inconsiderable House’. Near this site to the south on the other side of the laneway leading from Main Street stood the first of the three castles mentioned by Cooper probably on the site of Conway’s shop. The name of this site (Naas D) is unknown but it may have been Eaton’s Castle mentioned in 1656 and 1673. Further south rising up the hill stood the third castle mentioned (Naas F) which stood on the site of Prout’s drapery shop.
The fact that Cooper says that the second castle (Black Castle) stood between Naas D and Naas F indicates that it stood along the street near the edge of the North Barrier (see map).
In dealing with the documentary evidence concerning the castles of Naas, there are problems in identifying and locating some of the sites. For example, the Civil Survey dating to 1654/6, refers to eight castles within the town of Naas, (Simington 1952, 66/68) but only the names of their owners are given – no indication is given of their various locations (see list of owners below).
Austin Cooper mentions that on the 20th May 1784 an old castle fell down in Naas, killing one man and wounding two or three (Cooper 1942, 29). However, he fails to tell us the location of this site. By the end of the 17th century the need for defensive housing had passed. As a result they suffered in the redevelopment of the town thereafter. In addition to the castle that fell in 1784, the White Castle (Naas G), which stood on the site of the present Town Hall was demolished around 1786 (De Burgh 1895, 321). Henceforth, the demolition of other sites in the town followed.
List of Castles in Naas
NAAS A – St. David’s Castle occupies a commanding location to the east of St. David’s church off Church Lane. It is a tower house which was incorporated into a modern house. Although it has been modernised, most of its original masonry survives intact. It consists of three floors. It is crowned with a modern roof and wall-walk. At the S/E there is a projecting stairway turret which gives access from the ground floor to the upper floors. On the ground floor there is a pointed barrel vault. The site is similar to an early series of tower houses of the Pale dating to the middle of the 15th century. Some of these have been referred to as £10 castles (see Leask 1964, 76/78; Murtagh 1982, 110-116, Figs. 43/44, pls. xxiii-xxiv; Murtagh 1984).
NAAS B – Eustace Castle – stood on the north side of Friary Road two doors eastward from Lawlor’s Hotel. Demolished in 1973 (Costello 1974, 278). A car-park now occupies the site. De Burgh (1895, 321) says that like Naas A (St. David’s Castle) it had a vaulted ground floor with a room above. A photograph published in this journal (1974, pl. v) shows the site as a two storey structure, greatly modernized, with a gabled roof.
NAAS C – Watergate Castle – In 1700 it was held by Richard Eustace along with Watergate Mills and a malt house (De Burgh 1895, 320). The latter maintains that it was located on or near the Kennans draper shop, at the west end of John’s Lane. However it is more likely that it was located further east to the south of John’s Lane, probably near the junction with Friary Road near the site of the Water gate. Nevertheless it is possible that this site is the same as Naas B.
NAAS D – mentioned by Austin’ooper in 1782 as being located on the West side of North Main Street near the old Gaol (Cooper 1942, 28) the latter stood on the present site of Fitzgerald, O’Reilly & Co. Ltd. Naas D was located on the south on the other
side of the Laneway running west from Main Street, probably on the site of Conway’s shop. It is possible that this site is Lattins Castle which is mentioned in the Civil Survey of 1654/56 as belonging to John Latten of Morristown. It is also mentioned in 1673 when it was held in by William Lattin who was ordered “not to build his portell in the street, to pull down the wall adjoining Lattins Castle, and the stone to be used for the church” (De Burgh 1895, 321).
NAAS E – Black Castle or Duke of Leinster’s Castle. There is a great deal of confusion concerning the exact location of this site. What is clear is that it stood on the west side of North Main Street (see discussion above on site). In 1788 it was referred to as Duke’s Castle. This site appears to have stood near the Barrier or North Barrier which was a steep rise that ran from Naas A (St. David’s Castle) westward across North Main Street towards the North Moat (see Cooper 1942, 28/29; De Burgh 1895, 319, 321; Fitzgerald 1904. 66).
NAAS F – Lyard’s, Magee’s, Motley’s Castle – In 1735 was being called Lyard’s Castle when it was leased by a man called Motley. As a result it was also called Motley’s Castle. By 1803 it was being called Magee’s Castle, when it was held by Laurence Healy. It was previously held by Owen Whelan. In 1816 it was held by Michael Meade, a baker. This site was one of the three castles mentioned by Austin Cooper in 1782. He says that it was “much larger and of very modern appearance” (Cooper 1942, 28/29). Lewis writing in 1837 says of Naas F that it stood ‘near the Old Gaol (Town Hall — Naas G), is now a modernized house near a bakers and a butchers shop which was formerly one of the numerous castles of this place, of which all the others have long since disappeared in the progressive improvements of the town’ (Lewis 1837, 419). This site was called ‘The great castle opposite church gate’ (De Burgh 1895, 321). It was located on the west side of North Main Street on the site of Prout’s drapery shop.
NAAS G – White Castle; White Chamber; or Old Castle – stood on the site of the Town Hall in Main Street. Its frontage extended from a spot about 4.26m from the corner of Kennedy’s public house for about 19m along Main Street and was 9m from east to west. It was larger than Naas A (St. David’s Castle) which measures approx I lm. by 9.5m. Naas G had back premises and a walled garden. Magee held it from 1756 to 1775. In 1771 rooms were let to different persons at 30 guineas per annum. It was demolished about 1786.
NAAS H — Wheatley’s Castle, Watley’s, Wakely, or Lord Mavo’s Castle. It stood on the east side of South Main Street to the east of the Tholsel on the site of Murphy Brothers, Undertakers. It may have been the same site as Walker’s Castle … which was held by James Hawkins in 1664 (De Burgh 1895, 321).
List of Owners of Castles in Naas mentioned in the Civil Survey 1654/6
ASH FITZROBERT, THOMAS – of Naas – Irish Catholic – ‘had in Naas one castle, one stone house called The Rose & Crowne and four tenements now wast’.
ASH, WILLIAM – of Naas – Irish Catholic – had ‘in the towne of Naas two castles and eight tenements’.
LATTEN, JOHN – Morristown – Irish Catholic – ‘had in Naas one castle, foure wast tenements and one thact house’.
LUTTRELL, SYMON – of Luttrels towne – Irish Catholic – `hath in the towne of Naas two castle, one Mill, one Abby called St. Dominicks Abby, foure houses with garden plotts’,
STRAFFORD, WILLIAM EARL OF – English Protestant – `hath . . . in Naas two castles, one Abby, or Monastery called St. John Abby, three Mills and ten and fifty tenements with their gardens’. (Simington 1952, 66/68).
List of Castles around Naas
In addition to thecastles that were located within Naas, a series of castles ringed the outskirts of the town.
CASTLE RAG – This small tower house stands in a field to the west of Jigginstown House. Consists of a vaulted ground floor chamber and a first floor chamber with a fireplace. Above the latter are the battlements. At the N/E there is a projecting turret which gives access to the first floor (Fitzgerald 1920, 389/91). Mentioned in the Civil Survey as a castle (Simington 1952, 58). The site dates from around the mid 15th century.
`HALL HOUSE’ – JIGGINSTOWN – Mentioned in the Civil Survey as a castle (Simington 1952, 58) near Castle Rag. Nothing is known about its history. Although it is of similar date to Castle Rag, to the south, it is architecturally different. The site is an oblong structure consisting of at least two stories. The south gable of the site has disappeared. At the N/E there is a projecting stairway turret. It is unclear if the ground floor was ever vaulted. The site was not a tower house, but rather a hall house type structure consisting of two to three stories and crowned with battlements which have now disappeared.
MAUDLIN’S CASTLE – Also known as Magdalens or le Maudelins appears to have been a house of refuge. It was located to the N/E of Naas to the east of the Dublin Road near the old Protestant graveyard (De Burgh 1895, 322).
NORTH MOAT – This conical earthwork dominates the western fringes of the town. The site is a Norman Motte dating to the late 12th century, the summit of which would have been crowned by a wooden fort or Breteche (Leask 1964, 10, 157). The latter has been replaced by an old barrack. It was used as an outpost in the 1798 rebellion and as a cholera hospital in the early 19th century (De Burgh 1895, 323).
RATHASKER CASTLE – Austin Cooper writing in 1782 says that S/W of Naas stood the Castle of Rathasker or Rath Esker. This he says stood on a hill surrounded by trees (Cooper 1942, 26). It appears to have been a tower house enclosed hv an earlier rath.
SOUTH MOAT – Stood to the S/E of Naas at the S/W corner of the old Fair Green. In 1827 Hamilton Leigh referred to it-as an artificial mound. In 1681 a square fort is mentioned as standing on high ground, probably the South Moat (De Burgh, 1895, 323). The site is shown as a Tumulus in the 1837 ed. of the Ordnance Survey 6″ map. O’Donovan writing in the O.S. letters for Co. Kildare dated 9th Nov. 1837, describes it as a very large hillock of earth broken down and encroached upon (O’Donovan 1924, 160). Remains were still visible in 1895 (De Burgh 1895, 323).
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The Author would like to thank the following for their help in the compilation of this work.
Lt. Col. Con Costello, Naas, Co. Kildare.
Mr. Patrick Healy, Sandymount, Dublin 4.
Ms. Patricia Igoe, B.A., Naas, Co. Kildare.