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The Sources for the History of Dunamase Castle in the Medieval period
By: B.J. Hodkinson

The Rock of Dunamase is probably the best-known archaeological monument in Co. Laois and excavations from 1993-1997 have revealed a wealth of new information about the site. Summaries of the results have appeared or are about to appear in several places (Hodkinson, 1994-1998, 1995a and forthcoming) while the detailed report is still in preparation. O’Conor (1996) has presented his survey of the outer barbican of the castle together with a discussion of its history. In deciding upon a topic for the inaugural volume of this journal there was a choice between an article which would reiterate much of what has been said before, or bringing together the historical sources in the one paper. In choosing the latter, which many readers will think is the drier option I offer no apologies. I do, however, hope that the accompanying commentary adds interest to a straightforward listing of sources.

 1. The Pre-Norman Period.

 In earlier histories of Dunamase it has been stated that Dunamase is the Dunum mentioned by the 2nd Century geographer Ptolemy (O’Leary, 1909 p. 161; O’Leary and Lalor,1914, p. 755). The author of this identification is Sir James Ware who qualified his statement by noting that Camden places Dunum in Co. Down (Ware 1705, p.25). The complete absence of excavated material from earlier than the 9th century A.D. makes the identification of Dunum as Dunamase highly unlikely.

Dunamase’s only appearance in the annals is under the years 843-44 A.D. (AI gives 844, AFM 843, AU 844; see also WGG p.19). The most detailed entry is in the Annals of the Four Masters (AFM);

Dun Masg was plundered by the foreigners, where Aedh, son of Dubdharchrich, Abbot of Tir-da-glas and Cluain-eidhnach, was taken prisoner; and they carried him into Munster, where he suffered martyrdom for the sake of God; and Ceithearnach, son of Cudinaisg, Prior of Cill-dara, with many others besides, was killed by them during the same plundering expedition

Recent archaeological survey work in Laois has identified a Viking base on the Barrow at Dunrally, which is believed to the starting point for the raid (Kelly and Maas, 1995). The earliest datable finds from Dunamase, two bits of 9th century metalwork and a coin of Ecgberht of Wessex (802-39) tie in with this period. The remains of the dry-stone walls of the early dun are visible to the right of the main gatehouse on the outside of the curtain wall.

 According to the Metrical Dindseanchas, Dunamase is named after Masc son of Ugen (Gwynn 1924, pp.8-12);

Four sons had slender Setna: of them was Nuadu Necht, noble and strong, Mess Delmond, Oengus Ochach, and Ugen aurgnaid of manifold beauty.

Six sons had blameless Ugen, who was eager willed for every exploit; they bathed [their blades] abundantly, they built raths and great fortresses.

Ladru, Noe, Finteng of the feats, Luad Cuar, and Alb skilled in devices: and Masc the sixth and eldest won fame from every family.

Noe in the west of Rechet unbetrayed found covering of good soil. Masc mightiest with spear, in his impregnable stronghold dwelled undespoiled.

 2. Foundation and the Marshal period

It is an unfortunate fact that we know neither the exact date of Dunamase’s foundation nor who was responsible for building it. It is possible to speculate on the matter, as both O’Conor and this writer have done (opera cit.), but the one certain fact is that it was a fully developed castle which had already undergone a number of changes by the time it first appears in Anglo Norman documentation.

 Dunamase was the major manor of the Lordship of Leinster created by the Normans out of the kingdom of Dermot MacMurrough. The story of the marriage of Strongbow and Aoife is well known and it was through the marriage of their daughter Isabel that it came into the hands of William Marshal. Their marriage, in 1189 transformed William from a landless knight into one of the major magnates of his era, holding not just the Lordship of Leinster, but large estates in Wales and England as well (for a biography of Marshal see Crouch, 1990). It has recently been convincingly argued that Marshal did not gain full control of his Irish possessions, including Dunamase, until as late as 1208 when Meyler Fitzhenry was forced to surrender the castle to Marshal. (Crouch, 1990, p.106; Meyer 1894). In 1210 King John took Dunamase into his own hands as punishment for Marshal’s supposed half hearted support for John’s expedition against the de Lacys. For a time it was in the hands of Geoffrey Luttrell but it was restored to Marshal in 1215. Despite their disagreements Marshal proved loyal to the king, standing by him at Magna Carta and ending his days as Regent during the minority of John’s son Henry III. William himself had 5 sons and 5 daughters by Isabel. The sons each died without issue and so the Lordship passed successively from William the Younger (1219-31) to Richard (1231-34) to Gilbert (1234-41) to Walter (1241-45) and finally Anselm (1245). On the death of Anselm, the Marshal inheritance was divided between the daughters, a process that took some 2 years to accomplish

 As the chief manor of the Lordship of Leinster a number of lesser landowners held land from Dunamase and were obliged to render service there. There was also a small town situated a short distance towards the west.


A lui tel guise fina
Que son boen chatel streia,
Donmas, al conte en heritage

E Donmas vostre boen chastel
De mei volt staiges avir,
Li reis, ce saciez vos de veir,
Primes Dommas, mon boen chastel,
E puis vos e Wat. Porcel
(Meyer, lines 14127-29, 14330 and 14375-78)


He also renders account of 53-6s-8d for the farm of the Irish of Dunamase, the whole of whose customary services have been set to farm.
And of 13-6s-8d for the farm of the English and for the mill.
and 6 for the land on which the castle of DUNMALC is situated
(Davies and Quinn, pp. 13 & 17)

The King commands Godfrey (sic) Luterel to deliver to Wm . Marshal Earl of Pembroke, or his emissary, the castle of Damas.

The King commands the justiciary of Ireland to order Godfrey Luterel to deliver to William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, the castle of Dunmath, which the K has restored to him as his right, the K. has already so commanded Godfrey. 

(CDI, Vol. 1, Nos. 644 & 647, dated Aug. 20th and 31st, respectively. See also 664, 684 and 685, which show the handover was not done quickly or willingly)


Letter to unnamed constable of Dunamase stating that his lord William is dead.
(CPR 1231, p. 429)


Release to Gilbert Marshal of the king's anger and indignation and grant that he come into the king's peace and service. But for the greater security of his faithful service, he shall hand over his castle of Striguil to E. Archbishop of Canterbury and his castle of Dumas in Ireland to L. Archbishop of Dublin, to hold during the king's pleasure.

Grant also that the king will not demand the said castles from the said archbishops or take them to the disherison of the said Gilbert or his heirs.

(CPR 1234-47, p. 48. 25th May 1234)

Mandate to M. son of Gerold, Justiciary of Ireland, to cause Gilbert Marshal to have full seisin of the castle, lands, tenements and wards falling to him by inheritance in Ireland, whereof he was seised on the day war began between the king and him, the king having receive him and his brothers into his grace and restored the said castles and lands to him and taken his homage for the same, and the said Geoffrey having made fine with him for his relief.

(CPR 1234-47, p. 52. 31st May 1234)

Restitution to Gilbert Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, in pursuance of the king’s remission to him of the anger and indignations conceived against him on account of the late war between the King and Richard Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, his brother and of the Kings restitution to him of his inheritance in England, Wales and Ireland of his castle of Striguil, which he handed over for security of his fidelity to E. Archbishop of Canterbury and his castle of Dumas in Ireland, which he handed over to L. Archbishop of Dublin, for them to hold during the king’s pleasure. And it is the king’s will that this grace which he has made to him on account of the death of Earl Richard, shall not be an occasion of hatred between Earl Gilbert and the magnates of Ireland and England and the King releases to the said Gilbert and his brothers the indignation he had against them on the said ground.

(CPR 1234-37, p. 65. August 22nd 1234)


Gilbert, Marshal of England, Earl of Pembroke, grants to Sir Stephen de Hereford and his heirs 25 librates of land in the Bailiwick of Dunamase between the land of Philip de Barri and Cloneinach {Clonenagh} where Roger de Hyda constituted his burgages; by the service of two knights.

(COD, Vol. 1, p.39)


From an inspeximus by Edward III in 1347-48 of a roll of Henry III, re the partition of the Marshal inheritance. Roger Mortimer gets as part of his portion

Dummas burgus. 104-19s-1d.

Under the section of the Earl of Gloucester’s portion.

Et excedit quintam partem 61s 10d et assignantur parti de Dummas in villa Callan.

(Gilbert, pp. 403 & 404)

3.The Mortimer Period.

At the partition of the Marshal lands in 1247, the town and castle of Dunamase fell to William’s youngest daughter Eve. She was married to William de Braose (Bruce), but by the time of the partition both were dead, so the inheritance was split between their three daughters. It was the eldest, Maud, who received Dunamase and because she was by then married to Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, the lands passed to the Mortimer family.

Roger Mortimer died in 1282 and was succeeded by Edmund who died in 1304. In 1302 Edmund married his daughter to Theobald de Verdun. Dunamase was to have been part of the marriage settlement but for some unknown reason it was not handed over and was to remain a cause of friction between the two families for some years (Hagger 2001, p. 115). During the minority of Edmund’s son Roger Dunamase was in Royal hands. In the early 1320’s Roger was dispossessed of his lands for opposition to Edward II and the king granted Dunamase to the Earl of Kildare. For a time Roger was imprisoned in the Tower but he escaped and fled to France. After a period in exile he returned to England with his lover Queen Isabella and overthrew Edward II who was subsequently murdered. Mortimer and the Queen ruled England from 1327 to 1330 as regents for the young King Edward III. In 1330 Edward was secretly declared of age whereupon he ordered the arrest of Roger. After Roger’s execution the Mortimer lands reverted to the king and Dunamase was granted out. By the time the Mortimers were rehabilitated and Roger’s son allowed to take back his father’s lands, Dunamase seems to have passed out of Anglo-Norman control.

In some of the earlier histories the de Braose family are given a more prominent role in Dunamase’s history. Ledwich, for instance, dates the foundation and manor of Dunamase to the Bruces after 1245 (Ledwich 1790, p. 202), while this misunderstanding of the situation is repeated, for instance, by O’Leary (1909) and also in the recent edition of the Shell Guide (Killanin and Duignan, 1989, p. 285).


Eodem anno guerra inter Geraldonos, et Walterum de Burgo, comitem Ultonie: et Mauricius filius Mauricii cepit apud Tristeldemot Ricardum de la Rokele justiciarium Hybernie et Theobaldum le Botiller, et Johannem de Cogan, et carceibus de Leye et Donmaske mancipavit.

(Butler, Clyn sub anno 1264)


In an extent of the lands of Gilbert de Clare.
The castle and town of Kallan Co. Kilkenny, except 61s 10d of land or rent, which are to remain as the portion of that heir who has the castle of Dunmas.
(CPR 1272-81, p. 352. November 26th 1279)


David de Offynton, for his costs and expenses in going to the justiciar in Connacht to expedite important business and in returning to Dublin, [and] for his expenses in bringing Moryadach McMurtheh to the parts of Dunamase and in bringing him back to Dublin to be imprisoned again, by writ 10

(Connolly Vol. 1, p.68)


From an Extent of the lands of the late Roger de Mortimer in Ireland, made at the new town of Leys, Co. Kildare. 10 March 11 Ed.1.

In the manor and honor of Dumaseke in the holding of Leys in Co. Kildare, two carucates, 73 acres and one "estangium" of arable land valued at 10-8s-10d. The heirs of the Lord Walter Oyw (sic) hold half a fee in Ballekenan; the lord Walter de Riddlesford four fees in Thristeldermot and Kilka; the heir of Maurice FitzGerald holds 4 Knights' services when royal service is summoned; Walter L'Enfant, one fee in Allewyn. Nich. Gernon half a service in Dunfynyd; Robert de St. Michael, two fees in "in leiado de Rheban"; Henry Penchoit fourth part of a fee in Penchoit. The first of these does suit of court; the rest hold without.

(Brewer and Bullen, p. 369)

Dunamase references extracted from longer document.

Roger de Mortimer was seised at his death in the manor and honor of Dumasek in the tenement of Leys, in the county of Kildare of 2 carucates and 73 acres in demesne, with a stang of arable land, which they extend at 10-8s-10d, namely, at 8d and acre a year.

Near the grange of Dumasek there are 6 acres of meadow, which they extend at 2s a year, namely 4d an acre

There are at Dumasek 40 cottiers who render for their cottages 11s 6d, one moiety at Easter and the other moiety at Michaelmas

They say that there are at Dunmasek 36 farmers, who hold 5 carucates 23 acres and 1.5 stang of land for a term that has not expired, by a letter of the said Sir Roger, rendering 21.15s.3d, as above.

Sir Walter l’Enfant held 3 carucates at [Bali Collenion] for 6s. 8d. as above rendering suit of court at Dun[amase].

Prisage of beer at Dunmasek at 2s a year; the garden there at 2s a year; the warren at 2s a year, the sergeantcy at 10s a year, perquisites of the court 40s a year.

They say that les Esterbirunsur of Kells in Ossory hold 65.5 acres in … rendering at the manor of Dumasek aforesaid 46s 5d at the two terms aforesaid according to the purparty of Leinster assigned to that manor.

(CDI Vol. 2 pp. 466-469)


Maud de Mortimer granting her son Edmund all her lands in Ireland for the service of one sparrow hawk.

Sciant presentes et futuri quod quod ego Matillda de Mortuo Mari in ligea viduitatemea dedi, concessi, et hac presenti carta mea confirmavi Edmundo filio meo et heredibus omnes terras meas et tenementa que habui in Hibernia videlicet castrum meum do Dommask et Novum Burgum meum in Leys cum omnis terris et tenementis meis……unum sparuarium pro omni servicis et demanda
(Wood 1932)


Certain of the Irish of Slefmargy felons, when the Justiciar went against them with the king's standard, were received with Geoffrey McGilchethy and his wife, at his house in Dunmask, who David de Offington took and delivered to Maurice de Tylagh [Tullow] constable of Dunmask. There were taken with them chattels of said felons; 4 afers value one mark, and five cows and one bullock value 30s. David will answer for the afers and Maurice for the cows.

(CJR, p. 170. July 21st 1297)

Maurice Tylagh made fine for the community of the poor men of Dunmask charged with receiving Aulan Omorth and other felons of the death of Geoffrey Tauel, by 40s.

(CJR, p. 193. July 21st 1297)


Licence for Edmund de Mortuo Mari to grant in free marriage with Matilda his daughter to Theobald de Verdun the younger, the castle and manor of Donmask, in Ireland, held by him in chief and for Theobald de Verdun the elder to grant in fee simple to the said Theobald and Matilda land to the value of 20 marks a year in his manor of Loghfinedy.

(CPR 1301-07, p. 33)


The like to Arnold le Poer and John, in consideration of their services in Flanders and Scotland of 300 marks out of the custody of the lands late of Edmund de Mortuo Mari, tenant in chief in Donmask, Ireland which are in the kings hands by reason of the minority of the heir.

(CPR 1301-07, p. 257. August 15th)


   .......from which should be subtracted 3s. 1d of rent in Domask.

(CJR 1305-07)


From Accounts on the Great Roll of the Pipe of the Irish Exchequer, 34 Ed I to 1 Ed II.Dunmask.

He (Walter de la Haye, escheator) accounts for 4 rent of 12 score acres of demesne land there, in the kings hand by the minority of the heir of Edmund de Mortuo Mari, who held them of the king in capite. Other issues therefrom; receipts from the villates of Coillaugh and Moon and from the mill of Jerpoint, all amounting to 69 13s 5 d.

(RDKPRI Vol. 39, p. 22)


He (escheator Walter de la Pulle) answers nothing for the rent of the lands there which belong to Roger de Mortuo Mari of Wyggemore, in the king's hands by his forfeiture because they were delivered to Thomas son of John Earl of Kyldare to answer according to the extent; by writ delivered into the Exchequer on 1st July a.r. xvii and Dunmask. Thomas son of John Earl of Kyldare Owes an account of the extent of the lands which belonged to Roger de Mortua Mari of Wyggemore there from 1 July a.r. xvii while he has held them.

(RDKPRI Vol. 42 p.57)

An extent of lands in Dunamase Queens Co. forfeited by Roger de Mortimer de Wigmore in 1322 is to be found in the Chancery Miscellanea at the Public Record Office in London. It has not been consulted at the time of writing.

(PRO C47/10/18/17) 


 Although not specifically naming Dunamase in the following, it is doubtless part of the grant.

Licence for Roger de MM of Wyggemore and Joan his wife, to grant to John, their son, in fee tail, the castles, manors, honors, rents, lands and tenements in Ireland, with the liberties, royalties, Knights' fees and advowsons held by them in chief of the said Joan's inheritance, together with the reversions of dowries and other lands and tenements of her inheritance held for life or for a term of years….

(CPR 1327-30 p. 317)

4.The Later Medieval period

On the attainder of Roger Mortimer Dunamase passed into Crown hands and it was not until 1334 that it was granted out to Fulke de la Freigne, who seems to have had some difficulties getting access. It is not clear why this was so but it is possible that the Earl of Kildare had declared an interest, having held Dunamase before when Mortimer was out of favour, and was refusing to hand it over. An alternative possibility is that it had already passed out of Norman hands. Clynn’s annals record a war between Fulke and Lysaght O’More in 1336 and the death of O’More in 1342. Among the list of O’More’s achievements is the destruction of Roger Mortimer’s castle of Dunamase. The archaeological excavations found a phase of burning within the passage of the gatehouse, where it is still possible to see reddening on some of the stones. After the 1330’s Dunamase passes into obscurity. The archaeological record also stops in the mid 14th century and does not pick up again until the 17th century. 

It is an accepted fact in all the previous histories that Dunamase was besieged by Cromwellian forces and slighted thereafter. At present I have been unable to find any contemporary 17th century record of a reoccupation and siege at Dunamase. Cromwell is blamed for most of the ruins in Ireland, even in areas he never visited, so it is possible that the story was made up to fit the state of the monument. While not entirely discounting the Cromwellian date, the possibility that the destruction took place at another time is worthy of consideration. The castle, though empty, would still have been a formidable fortress just 4 miles from the 16th century plantation town of Fort Protector/Maryborough. It may therefore have been slighted to deny its use to those wishing to harm the plantation. 

At the end of the 18th century, Sir John Parnell began to restore Dunamase to create a banqueting hall. It was his importation and inclusion of later medieval cut stone windows, doors etc., taken from local ruins, which has given rise to the impression of a later phase of occupation. There is a nearby parallel for such reuse of architectural detail at Heywood near Ballinakill, where stones from Aghaboe Abbey were used to create a romantic ruin. The Parnell family papers are at Southampton University and I have not yet had an opportunity to examine these for references to the restoration works.


Grant to Fulk de la Freyne of the manor of Donmask, Co. Kildare Ireland, an escheat by the forfeiture of Roger de Mortuo Mari, earl of March, to hold with knights' fees and advowsons of churches for 10 years rent free. Mandate in pursuance to the justiciary and chancellor of Ireland.

Writ de intendendo directed to the tenants of the manor in respect of their rent and other services due to the said Fulk.

(CPR 1330-34, p.561, July 16th)


To the justiciary of Ireland, or to him who supplies his place. Order to deliver the manor of Donmask Co. Kildare in Ireland to Fulk de la Freine to hold until the end of a term of 10 years, saving the right of the earl of Kildare, when he comes of age, if he has any right in that manor, which belonged to Roger de Mortuo Mari, late earl of March, the king's enemy and a rebel, which escheated to the king by Roger's

forfeiture, to hold with the knights' fees and advowsons from 16th July last for ten years next following without rendering anything therefrom to the king; and the king several times ordered the justiciary to deliver that manor to Fulk to hold as aforesaid and to inform the king if there was reasonable cause why he should not do so; and the justiciary returned that he had not delivered that manor to Fulk because the nearest friends of Maurice, earl of Kildare, a minor in the king's wardship, came before the justiciary and said that the manor is the earl's escheat by reason of Roger's forfeiture, because the late king gave the castle of Kildare with the homages and all forfeitures, to John son of Thomas late earl of Kildare, ancestor of Maurice, of which castle the said manor is held in chief, and the king wishes his orders to have effect, notwithstanding the said return, because the lands which are of the earl's inheritance ought at present to pertain to the king as a custody by reason of the earl's minority.

(CCR 1333-37, p. 401, June 8th)


Parum ante Natale Domini obiit Leysart O Morthe, a proprio servo in ebrietate occisus, vir potens, dives et locuples, et in gente sua honoratus. Hic fere omnes Anglicos de terris suis et hereditate violenter ejecit, nam uno sero, viii castra Anglicorum combussit, et castrum nobile de Dunmaske domini Rogeri de Mortuo Mari destruxit, et dominum sibi patrie usurpavit; de servo dominus de subjecto princeps effectus.

(Butler, Clyn sub anno)


It appears that on the 20th of Edward 3 Connell O'More of Leix when he'd after rebellion submitted himself at Athy to Walter Bermingham, Justice of Ireland and acknowledged that he held his manor of Bellet and his other lands in Leix of Mortimer as of his said manor of Donmaske and by the record it appeareth that these lands were then in the Co. Kildare.

(Harris, p.74)


By an inquisition taken at Salmon Leap (Leixlip) in the county of Kildare, Anno 20 Richard II it appears that Sir Robert Preston among other things, tenuit per legem Angliae de haereditate Margaritae, nuper uxoris suae menerium de Siou in Leix de Rogero de Mortuomari ut de maneria suo de Donmaske. (held by the law of England the inheritance of Margaret his wife, the manor of Siou in Leix of Roger Mortimer as of his manor of Donmaske

(Harris, p.74)


The O’More,

Reiterates his submission of 14 Jan 29 Henry 8 & in addition will pay 20marks a year to the king and renounce claim to Dunamase Castle and all Kildare's lands in Leix, Ormond, Butler, O’Chonour, O’Karell. McGyllpatrick and McMorgho to be his securities.

(Gairdner p. 73 No. 182. August 24th.)


AFM-         Annals of the Four Masters. (O’Donovan 1856)
AI-          Annals of Innisfallen. (McAirt 1988)
AU-          Annals of Ulster (Hennessy 1887)
CCM-         Calendar of Carew Manuscripts. (Brewer & Bullen 1871)
CCR-         Calendar of Close Rolls. (Lyte 1898)
CDI-                Calendar of Documents Relating to Ireland. (Sweetman 1875-86).
CJR -         Calendar of Justiciary Rolls. (Mills 1905-14)
COD-         Calendar of Ormond Deeds. (Curtis 1932)
CPR-         Calendar of Patent Rolls. (Lyte 1901-08)
RDKPRI-        Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records of
WGG-         War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill. (Todd 1867).
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Mills, J, 1905 & 1914. Calendar of Justiciary Rolls. London
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O’Donovan, J. 1856. Annals of the Four Masters. Dublin.
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