Dublin Castle – Great Britain And Ireland

The building of Dublin “Castle”—for the residence of the Viceroys retains the term—was commenced by Meiler FitzHenry, Lord Justice of Ireland, in 1205; and finished, fifteen years afterward, by Henry de Loundres, Archbishop of Dublin. The purpose of the structure is declared by the patent by which King John commanded its erection: “You have given us to understand that you have not a convenient place wherein our treasure may he safely deposited; and forasmuch, as well for that use as for many others, a fortress would be necessary for us at Dublin, we command you to erect a castle there, in such competent place as you shall judge most expedient, as well to curb the city as to defend it if occasion shall so require, and that you make it as strong as you can with good and durable walls.” Accordingly it was occupied as a strong fortress only, until the reign of Elizabeth, when it became the seat of the Irish government—the court being held previously at various palaces in the city or its suburbs; and in the seventeenth century, Terms and Parliaments were both held within its walls.

The Castle, however, has undergone so many and such various changes from time to time, as circumstances justified the withdrawal of its defenses, that the only portion of it which nows bears a character of antiquity is the Birmingham Tower; and even that has been almost entirely rebuilt, altho it retains its ancient form. The records of this tower—in modern times the “State Paper Office”-would afford materials for one of the most singular and romantic histories ever published. It received its name, according to Dr. Walsh, not from the De Birminghams, who were lords justices in 1321 and 1348; but from Sir William Birmingham, who was imprisioned there in 1331, with his sou Walter; “the former was taken out from thence and executed, the latter was pardoned as to life because he was in holy orders.” It was the ancient keep, or ballium, of the fortress; and was for a very long period the great state prison, in which were confined the resolute or obstinate Milesian chiefs, and the rebellious Anglo-Norman lords. Strong and well guarded as it was, however, its inmates contrived occasionally to escape from its durance. Some of the escapes which the historians have recorded are remark-able and interesting.

The Castle is situated on very high ground, nearly in the center of the city; the principal entrance is by a handsome gateway. The several buildings, surrounding two squares, consist of the lord-lieutenant’s state apartments, guard-rooms, the offices of the chief secretary, the apartments of aides-du-camp and officers of the household, the offices of the treasury, hanaper, register, auditor-general, constabulary, etc., etc. The buildings have a dull and heavy character—no effort has been made at elegance or display ‘ —and however well calculated they may seem for business, the whole have more the aspect of a prison than a court. There is, indeed, one structure that contributes somewhat to redeem the somber appearance of “the Castle”—the chapel is a fine Gothic edifice, richly decorated both within and without. The following description of the ancient character of “the Castle” is gathered from Dr. Walsh:

“The entrance from the city on the north side was by a drawbridge, placed between two strong round towers from Castle Street, the westward of which subsisted till the year 1766. A portcullis, armed with iron, between these towers, served as a second defense, in case the bridge should be surprised by an enemy. A high curtain extended from the western tower to Cork Tower, so called after the great Earl of Cork, who, in 1624, expended a considerable sum in rebuilding it. The wall was then continued of equal height until it joined Birmingham Tower, which was afterward used as a prison for state criminals; it was taken down in 1775, and the present building erected on the site, for preserving part of the ancient records of the kingdom. From this another high curtain extended to the Wardrobe Tower, which served as repository for the royal robe, the cap of maintenance, and the other furniture of state. From this tower the wall was carried to the North or Storehouse Tower (now demolished) near Dame’s Gate, and from thence it was continued to the eastern gateway tower, at the en-trance of the castle. This fortress was originally encompassed with a broad and deep moat, which has long since been filled up. There were two sally ports in the wall, one toward Sheep (now Ship) Street, which was closed up in 1663 by the Duke of Ormond, after the discovery of Jephson and Blood’s conspiracy.”

The walls by which it was formerly surrounded, and the fortifications for its defense, have nearly all vanished. Neither is Dublin rich in remains of antiquity; one of the few that appertain to its ancient history is a picturesque gateway, but not of a very remote date, called Marsh’s Gate. It stands in Kevin Street, near the cathedral of St. Patrick, and is the entrance to a large court, now occupied by the horse police; at one end of which is the Barrack, formerly, we believe, the Deanery, and Marsh’s library.