THE MEDIEVAL TOILET was an experience many today would struggle with.
The most common medieval privy was the cesspit; just a hole in the ground which was sometimes lined with stone or wooden staves. In castles, things weren’t much better. While the powerful and wealthy could afford a somewhat more sophisticated toilet – the garderobe – this was still a far cry from the most basic modern toilet. The garderobe was a small chamber with a platform over a hole in the floor.
This is what remains of the garderobe at Ballyloughan castle in Co Carlow:
The garderobe would not have been this grim five hundred years ago. There was almost certainly a platform above the hole and the walls would most likely have been white-washed.
This restored garderobe at Barryscourt Castle, Co Cork, was designed to facilitate two people at the same time, privacy was clearly not a concern:
Below the platform, the hole lead to a chute which dumped waste outside the castle walls.
This is the view looking up a garderobe chute at Ballymoon Castle, Co Carlow:
There are two gardrobe chutes at the base of the tower in the centre of this picture taken at Ballymoon castle. With defence being the primary concern, the garderobe chutes were often covered right down to ground level with access barred by a metal grid. This was designed to stop an attacker climbing up the garderobe chute. However some simply dumped their contents high on the castle wall.
This was the system employed at Liscarroll Castle, Co Cork. The platform to sit on was supported by a stone frame, the remains of which can be seen on the right of the picture below.
There was no chute – instead the waste was dumped directly onto the castle wall through the slit in the bottom right. Aside from displaying faeces right beside the entrance to the castle, this toilet must have been freezing in winter. Situated at least 10 metres above ground level, wind still gusts through the slit:
The garderobe slit is the horizontal window-like opening on the right of the gatehouse, below the two arrow loops.
The wall below must have been covered with decaying faeces while the aroma in summer can only have been awful.
All images from historian and archaologist Fin Dwyer.