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heritage ireland

The bizarre way this castle protected itself from deadly attackers

Plus: a group of aristocratic playboys who drank, caroused and got up to all manner of blasphemy and badness in Ireland.

IN THE LATEST edition of the Hidden Heritage series, archaeologist Neil Jackman has more suggestions for great historical sites to visit around the island of Ireland. 

The town of Adare is possibly best known for Adare Manor with its award winning golf course, and the pretty village with beautiful thatched buildings (two of which were sadly burned earlier in the summer).

It may also be known, unfortunately, as a notorious traffic black spot, but Adare is also home to one of Ireland’s finest and most extensive collections of medieval monuments.

Adare Castle


Surrounded by mature trees on the banks of the River Maigue, there’s no doubt that Adare Castle is one of the most beautiful medieval castles in Ireland. It was strategically positioned to defend a major fording point of the River Maigue. The tidal river is a tributary of the River Shannon, and it was an important trading route for the movement of goods during the medieval period.

Adare was the main seat of Geoffrey de Marisco [from where we get the modern name of Morrisey]. He was twice appointed Justiciar of Ireland, making him one of the most powerful Norman lords in Ireland. According to contemporary sources, de Marisco would have given some of the villains on Game of Thrones a run for their money.

He eventually fell foul of the English crown on charges of treason, larceny, embezzlement as well as being suspected of involvement in an assassination attempt on King Henry III.

Along with his son, the once most powerful lord in Ireland ended up as an excommunicated outlaw and pirate, plundering the merchant shipping in the Irish Sea, perhaps a slightly more direct form of embezzlement.


The gateway into Adare Castle stands two stories high, and it was defended by a deep moat fed by the River Maigue and an iron and timber portcullis.

There would have also been a number of murder holes which were trapdoors above the entrance where the defenders would have been able to pour down upon any unfortunate attackers; boiling water, hot coals, molten tallow and boiling fat, large stones, bad language and the contents of the toilet.

The earliest description of Adare Castle comes from an Inquisition of 1331. It records the castle as including; ‘a hall, a chapel with stone walls covered with thatch, a chamber covered with thatch, a tower covered with planks, a kitchen covered with slates, a chamber near the stone part covered with thatch…’

The Inquisition also goes on to record that the manor lands were laid waste and uncultivated ‘on account of war’.


The castle was given to the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Kildare, from around 1236. They held the castle for 300 years until 1536 when the Fitzgeralds lost their lands following an unsuccessful rebellion against the crown.

The castle saw action during the Rebellion of 1641 and the Confederacy Wars, before it was finally destroyed as a defensive site on the orders of Oliver Cromwell in 1657.

In the late 17th century the castle and its vast estates were leased and later purchased by Thady Quin, whose great-grandson became the first Earl of Dunraven. The castle was the property of the Earls of Dunraven until the 1970s when they sold it to the state. The castle is accessible by a superb guided tour from the Adare Heritage Centre

Augustinian Friary


Nearby to the castle, you can visit the Augustinian Friary that celebrates its 700th anniversary this year as it was founded by John Fitzthomas Fitzgerald in 1315.

The friary became known as ‘The Black Abbey’ as the monks wore long black habits with hoods. The Augustinian friars lived under strict rules of poverty, chastity and obedience.

They lived and worshipped in the friary until after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII. It is recorded that by the 1580s, there were no friars left at Adare and the Friary was left as a roofless ruin.


The church was restored for use by the Church of Ireland in the 19th century, and it is a really atmospheric an interesting place to visit, with beautiful stained glass windows and many original medieval features along with beautiful medieval cloisters and an impressive mausoleum of the Dunraven family.

Today, parts of the Augustinian Abbey are used as a private residence and a school, as well as a place of worship for the Church of Ireland community in Adare.

The church and cloisters are open to the public, though unfortunately the church suffered extensive damage from flooding in 2014, so if you are visiting please do consider leaving a small donation to help the restoration works.

Holy Trinity Abbey Church


The Trinitarian Abbey of Adare was the first abbey to be established in Adare and is the only Trinitarian Abbey to be founded in Ireland. It was founded sometime between 1230 and 1240.

The Trinitarians were established in France with the intention of raising money to help Christians that had been captured during the Crusades or through piracy. They wore white tunics with distinctive red and blue crosses on their shoulder.

The Trinitarians dedicated the Abbey to St James and constructed a church, hospital and dovecote (which can still be seen today behind the church).

At times, relations between the various orders of monks in Adare was not very cordial. In 1322, the Trinitarians were accused of stealing goods to the value of one hundred shillings from their neighbours; the Augustinians.

The abbey was dissolved in the 1560s at the time of the Reformation and it quickly fell into ruin. The abbey was given back to the parish in 1809 when the Catholic population petitioned the 2nd Earl of Dunraven to provide a place for them to worship.

The 3rd Earl converted to Catholicism and carried out further works such as extending the church.

Some of the other abbey buildings were restored and converted into a convent and school run by the Sisters of Mercy. The church is still used as a place of worship for the Catholic population of the area and is open to the public.

Franciscan Friary


Founded in 1464 by the powerful Fitzgeralds, the Franciscan Friary was the last monastery to be established in Adare.

It is one of the finest preserved Franciscan foundations in the country. Although in ruins, the remains of the church, cloister arcade, library, refectory, chapel, sacristy, chapter room and hospital can still be seen.


It has been recorded that there are traces of medieval paint still clinging to the plaster within the church and there is a carving of St. Francis also located within the ruins.

Around 80 years after the foundation of the friary, the Reformation was in full force in Ireland and the friars were ordered to leave. In the 1600s, the friary was recorded as being in good condition although the roof had fallen in. By 1633, the friary was re-established.

This was short lived however, as Cromwell attacked the site in 1646, killing two friars. The buildings fell into ruin and it was eventually incorporated in Adare Manor landscaping works in the 19th century. Today, the friary is located on the grounds of Adare Manor Golf Club.

The friary is free to enter, however if you wish to visit, please do ask permission at the club house and follow the path through the course that leads you to the site. You will also encounter the ruins of the medieval parish church of St. Nicholas of Myra in the old graveyard, and that is also certainly worth a visit.



If you’re looking for more medieval wonders nearby in County Limerick, I highly recommend a trip to Askeaton where you can enjoy a superb and informative tour by Anthony Sheehy from the Visitor Centre (tours can be arranged in advance by calling 061 392149). Like Adare, Askeaton also has a wealth of medieval heritage to explore.


Askeaton Castle [also known as Desmond Castle] stands on a rocky island surrounded by two branches of the River Deel. Though it is likely to originally date to the 13th century, most of the visible remains of the castle date to the fifteenth century, when the castle was a stronghold of the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Desmond.


It was famed for its Banqueting Hall, though now in ruins, from its elegant windows and architecture it is possible to imagine the raucous feasts and banquets from long ago, headed by the Earl of Desmond with his distinguished guests.

Long after the castle fell into ruin, the site was again a place of ribald revelry in the 1740s when a large red-brick structure was built for the Hellfire Club. Originating in Britain, the Hellfire Club were a group of aristocratic playboys who drank, caroused and got up to all manner of blasphemy and badness in Ireland.

Their main drinking haunts were the Eagle Tavern on Cork Street in Dublin City, and the infamous hunting lodge known as the Hellfire Club on Mount Pelier Hill just outside the city.

Today, the castle and the Hellfire Club are currently undergoing restoration work so access is limited, please contact the visitor centre to arrange a tour.

Nearby, the Franciscan Friary is another medieval gem and certainly worthy of exploration.

It was founded in by the Fitzgeralds in either 1389 or 1420, and has one of the best preserved medieval cloisters in Ireland. The extensive and atmospheric ruins are a rewarding and evocative place to spend an hour or two, a visit and fantastic tour by Anthony are highly recommended.


Fancy exploring some of Ireland’s fantastic heritage sites this weekend? Please visit my blog  where I have more suggestions for great places to visit.

You can also download audioguides from my website, where we have 25 guides that tell the story of Irish heritage and the majority are absolutely free to download.

If you’d like to keep up with daily images and information about Ireland’s fantastic heritage sites please consider following Neil’s company Abarta Audioguides on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Read: Brian Boru’s ‘Island of Churches’ is the perfect place to relax and unwind

More: The widowed Máire Rua married Cromwell’s junior officer to keep her Burren house 

Related: The doctor who wanted to turn a castle into a mental asylum but blew it up with dynamite

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