Greencastle, Co.Down.

On a beautiful Summers day, I decided to venture out and explore another local historical site. My curiosity brought me to Greencastle, a place that I have been to many times, but I have never been lucky enough to see from inside the walls. This was very exciting for me to learn more about a place I thought I already knew. I was very happy to see information boards around the property for the public to use.

Greencastle is a Mid-13th Century Keep with a courtyard, an enclosed wall containing four D-shaped towers in the corners and a ditch surrounding this wall. The castle was key for overlooking the entrance to Carlingford Lough and was essential to Hugh de Lacy. Hugh de Lacy was the first Earl of Ulster and built castles/keeps in Warrenpoint and Carlingford, hence, Greencastle acted as the first defence for his other lordships. Over the centuries, the castles at Greencastle and Carlingford become strategic royal possessions as they guarded the entrance to Ulster via Carlingford Lough. As an Ulster stronghold, Greencastle was targeted and came under attack many times over the years. There is a lot of evidence of additional building to the castle throughout the 15th and 16th Centuries and this may be due to attacks on the building and the need for repairs.

As I entered the ground floor, I got an eerie feeling throughout my body, I wasn’t scared or worried, I just felt very aware of everything. Maybe this feeling was my subconscious telling me to look out for the “Murder Hole” – a hole in a wall or floor that could be used to throw boiling oil at or use weapons against attackers. Maybe this eerie feeling was because I was standing on a spot where many met their demise.

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Walls of ground floor with Swallow nests

The ground floor was originally one large room, with small arrow slots and thick stone walls. Divisions had been added to the ground floor over the years, and it now stands as three chambers, all very dark and cold. As I stood appreciating the large stone walls around me, there was a sudden flutter, and a Swallow flew past me. I quickly located the nest in the wall that it had just came from, the walls had lots of little nooks and crannies and I soon spotted more nests throughout the castle grounds. The information board on the ground floor informed me that this area was the safest part of the keep, with the thickest stone walls and smallest windows, it was even deemed fire-proof. So, this could area could have been used for storage of food, weapons or ammunition and of course, men. 

I followed the staircase up to the 1st floor which houses the impressive great hall. A large room with a fireplace, some large windows and a private latrine (Toilet) which would have been used for communal dining and the demonstration of power and status. It is hard to stand here without imagining this room during a large communal dinner; what would everyone be wearing? What would they be eating? Would there be music and performances carried out here? Another thing to ponder would be whether this room was used for administering justice; was a man ever put to his death in this very room? Did the people in this room have a vote on what happened with justice or did the Earl have the last say?

 

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Overlooking the Great Hall

As my mind wandered into so many questions that cannot be answered I finally followed the spiral staircase up to the 2nd floor. Up here is the wall walk and the entrance to the corner towers of the keep. I was very impressed that along the wall walk there were holes in the stones along the ground which acted as drainage for run-off water from the roof. The wall walk offers beautiful views of the surrounding farmland, the Mourne Mountains, the Cooley Peninsula, Greencastle Beach, Greenore, Carlingford and of course, Carlingford Lough. Each corner tower had private quarters and a latrine, and I must say these must be some of the most scenic views from a toilet I will ever experience in my life.

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Wall Walk overlooking the Mourne Mountains

I stayed at the highest point for a while, taking photos at first and then just appreciating it all. I watched the new Greencastle Ferry full of passengers as it crossed the lough. I listened to the children running about the castle walls, laughing as they found new places to hide. Altogether, it gave me great peace, even as the wind blowing up from the shore whipped around my face.

 

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View of Carlingford Lough, Carlingford and the Cooley Peninsula 

Finally, I left the Keep and had a better look all around the grounds. Part of the castle grounds is privately owned so the public are unable to see all  of the outer wall and tower ruins. One of the towers can be explored but it is well weathered and damaged. It is easy to see the D-shape of the tower and some of the building is still standing where you can see small living quarters with a latrine. It was interesting to see where the real brave men slept as they would have been the first of the soldiers to put their life on the line for protecting the castle.

 

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View of Castle from D-shaped tower in outer wall

When I was ready to leave Greencastle, I was again startled by the fluttering of Swallows in and out of the walls. The number of nests that I seen was quite remarkable, never mind all of those that I couldn’t see. There were plenty of spiders crawling between the cracks and I caught a glimpse of a few Large White Butterflies and one Red Admiral Butterfly. I thought that it was incredible that nature had reclaimed this old ruin and that this once thriving fort was still full of life.

 

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Corridor in N wall 
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One of four latrines found on the top of the Keep

Narrow Water Keep, Warrenpoint, Co.Down.

I took a walk back through time this afternoon whilst visiting the Keep at Narrow Water Castle, situated outside the town of Warrenpoint, County Down. This 16th Century Keep lies along the shores of Carlingford Lough where it meets the Newry River.

There has been a Keep here since 1212, built by Hugh de Lacy who was he first Earl of Ulster. Later during the 1560’s the tower-house and walled bawn was built and in 1641 the original Keep was destroyed during a rebellion. The style of the Keep was very typical for the period and would be found throughout Ireland.

The Keep is a building that I have grew up with, seeing it throughout every season, year after year. I have photographed it from many positions outside the grounds and from mountain tops overlooking it, but being inside was something special. Today was the first time that I have been able to explore within the walls and it was worth the wait.

It may be selfish, but I was so happy that the place was completely empty so I could explore everything alone. I ventured through the impressive doorway and found a large room with a wooden beam ceiling and some very small windows. For such a beautiful sunny day outside, it was pretty dark with such little light peaking through the windows so I imagine when the keep was in use that a vast amount of candles and fires would have been required for lighting. I began to make my way upstairs and this included a steep narrow staircase. This brought me to such an impressive room. The ceiling of the entire 1st floor of the keep is a semi-circular arch built in stone. This room also had larger windows and a latrine. The largest window boasted a beautiful view of the water and was facing North towards Newry. It is what I assumed to be an early bay-style window, but I was wrong, very wrong. I discovered that this is what was called the “Murder Hole”. And there it was, a hole through the ground at the window which was right above the entrance to the building, which would have been used by defenders to fire or throw objects or weapons towards any attackers. I’m sure they could have even used boiling oil if needed here. I’m aware that during any Medieval themed film that I have seen that there has definitely been a scene using a Murder Hole but it still surprised me to see this beautiful and quaint section of the keep to be titled with such a grim name.  So, I finally continued on to the 2nd floor which had more little rooms running off it with tiny windows peering out into the Lough. These rooms could have been sleeping quarters, or kitchens or for storage, I would love to know. Sadly, the roof of the keep is closed off to the public, but I would love for them to change this as the view from the top would be amazing.

Whilst looking around I can’t help but picture the soldiers that would have been manning the keep. I stood where they would have stood, manning the fort through those little windows. I felt very thankful to them, because they protected what is now my home; the busy community driven town of Warrenpoint.

 

 

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