Last Saturday I took a visit to the historic Dublin Castle. As I walked around the outside of the castle I couldn’t help but notice what a mismatch the castle was. Though majestic, the castle was a mixture of old and new. There was construction from all different time periods fused into one building. When I visited the castle with my family I didn’t really know that much about its history. As we toured some of the rooms inside, I learned more about the history of the building.
The castle is situated in the heart of historic Dublin. In fact the castle grounds and garden sit right over the black pool, or “Dubh Linn” in Irish, the namesake of the city. When the Vikings arrived they called the settlement around this “black pool” Dublin. The grounds of the castle sit at the natural junction of the River Liffey and the River Poddle. It is believed that the original fortification was first used as a Gaelic ring fort. The location of the fort was easily defendable and it allowed the Gaelic settlers in Dubhlinn to defend the harbor.
The late eight-century saw the first Viking raids in Ireland. By the early tenth-century the site of the Dublin Castle had become a Viking fortress. The settlement of Dyflinn (the Viking name for Dubhlinn) became the main military base and trading center of slaves and silver, in Ireland. From this location on the Liffey, Vikings were able to travel deep into Ireland to find precious ornaments and vessels. Eventually Viking power was broken. The Vikings settled in Ireland were defeated by an Irish army under the leadership of Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.
The island of Ireland was free for a period of years until the invasion of the Normans in 1169. The Normans renamed the city Dublin, and built the first fortification on the site of current day Dublin Castle. This fortification of earth and wood stood until 1204, when King John of England commanded the erection of a larger castle, with strong walls and a moat for the defense of the city. This new castle was built for the administration of justice and the safe custody of treasure. Although not of the same construction, the current castle courtyard corresponds closely with the medieval fortification.
The castle served as the center of English colonial administration. After the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland and the Anglican Reformation by King Henry VIII, the Castle became the seat of English Government and administration for all of Ireland. Protestant English officials, lawyers and adventurers came to live in the castle and benefited from the spoils of the conquest, reformation and religious persecution of the Catholic majority in Ireland.
In 1684 much of medieval Dublin Castle, including the old Parliament House, burnt down. After the fire, King James ordered a rebuild of the Castle. Although there are still medieval parts of the castle, this rebuild makes up most of the castle that we see today. The reconstruction made Dublin Castle more of a stately accommodation instead of the old medieval fortification.
The mismatched architecture and design of Dublin Castle emphasize the long and interesting history of the location. Visiting the castle and learning about the history of the site, I learned a lot about the history of Ireland in general. In a way the mismatched pieces of the Dublin Castle tell the story of Ireland’s complicated history. I would definitely recommend a tour of the Dublin Castle to anyone spending time in Dublin.