The Rock of Dunamase dominates the County Laois countryside. The ruined remains of an ancient castle stand atop a rocky outcrop in the middle of the fertile plains of this midland Irish county.
Today’s post is a tour of this old Irish fort.
I created a short video to help you feel as if you are right there, climbing amongst the castle walls and rocks of Dunamase.
Many readers of my blog long to travel to Ireland, but since none of us are getting any younger, this dream may never become a reality for some.
I hope my videos help you experience a little piece of Ireland, as an armchair traveler.
And for those who are planning a trip to my homeland, perhaps my videos will whet your appetite to go see some of these ancient sites and experience them for yourself.
Photos and videos are nice to watch but you can’t beat the feel of the Irish wind whipping across your face as you climb to new heights and explore Ireland’s hidden treasures.
The Rock of Dunamase in County Laois is located right on top of a rocky outcrop.
Standing at over 150 feet in height, the views of the surrounding coutryside are spectacular.
Lush green countryside spreads out before you.
This is farming country and home to some of the best land in Ireland, so you may see plowed fields turned over in preparation for seeding.
The Slieve Bloom mountains can be seen from the hilltop adding drama to the beautiful surrounding scenery.
This hilly peak with its ancient ruins gets its name from an ancient Celt named Masc or Masg. In Irish the place is called Dún Masc meaning the Fort of Masc.
I have to hand it to Masc. He picked a magnificent spot to build his fort.
Before the arrival of St. Patrick in 432 AD this rocky settlement and the surrounding lands were owned by the O’Moore clan.
Their chieftain was Laois Ceannmor (pronounced Leesh K-ow-n-more). His name literally means Laois of the Big Head.
The county now bears his name. Well the Laois bit, not the big head bit. Laois people are very nice and do not have big heads.
The rock was famous in the 2nd century and was even known by the Greeks.
Ptolemy, a Greek cartographer, is said to have marked Dunamase in a map he created in 142 AD. He referred to the place as “Dunum.”
Did Dunamase become Dunum in these early years of map making?
I like this little nugget of information so I’m willing to believe Dunum referred to Dunamase even if archaeologist might not agree.
Hey, it’s all Greek to me anyways, so I’m going to accept the ancient Greeks knew of this magnificent Irish settlement.
This rock probably featured in many battles in years gone by, and thick stone walls were a primary protection against unwanted invaders.
In an ancient Irish history book, called the Annals of the Four Masters, a Viking raid on Dunamase was described in 843 AD.
Those marauding Vikings plundered and pillaged their way through Ireland in years gone by.
And many of them settled in Ireland too. DNA testing is revealing that many Irish people have Viking ancestry.
Nothing remains of the original Celtic fort. The ruins we see today are those of a Norman castle built in the second half of the 12th century.
The castle’s history is also linked to the Norman Invasion of Ireland.
Dermot MacMurrough, the treacherous king of Leinster who invited the Normans to Ireland, brought the wife of his rival as a hostage to Dunamase. Whether the castle was there at the time is unknown.
Dermot’s daughter Aoife married Strongbow, the Norman knight Dermot invited from Wales to Ireland to help conquer Leinster. And conquer they did.
Aoife deClare (that’s Strongbow’s last name) and her husband ruled much of Leinster after Dermot’s death.
Aoife and Strongbow’s daughter, Isabel married another Norman knight named William Marshal, and they in turn took over the MacMurrough holdings in Ireland.
Dunamase was one of their castle homes in Ireland, and was one of the wealthiest castles in all of Ireland at that time.
The O’Moore’s reclaimed the castle sometime between the 14th and 15th century and rebuilt it.
However, the castle was finally destroyed by Cromwellian guns in the 17th century. That Cromwell did a job and half when he stormed through Ireland, wreaking havoc wherever he roamed.
The Irish people love stories of the faeries and the spirit world. And so, as you can only imagine, there are spirits associated with Dunamase.
The most famous spirit is that of a mystical guard dog.
There’s treasure reputed to have been buried beneath the Rock of Dunamase. But don’t bother trying to find it. A huge faerie mastiff, called Bandog, guards the hidden loot.
And Bandog is no ordinary guard dog. Fiery flames fly out of his gaping mouth, so steer clear of this half-dog, half-dragon, Irish mythological creature.
And for some, Dunamase truly is a spiritual place.
It has been identified as a thin place by one or two readers of Irish American Mom.
The church near the castle and beside the parking lot is called Holy Trinity church and is still in use today. Built in the 1860’s you’ll find interesting headstones beside it, if like me, you are interested in wandering through graveyards.
Dunamase may be off the beaten track for many tourists, but it’s easy to get there from the M7 motorway.
This national monument is in state care, but there are no facilities or stores at the site. However, there’s a nice parking area beside the church, so you don’t have to abandon your car on the side of a narrow country lane.
There’s a little climbing involved, and for those with impaired mobility, accessibility is poor.
And there you have it! My little tour of the Rock of Dunamase, an ancient castle ruin in the middle of Ireland.
You can check out more of the things to do in this area in my post on County Laois – The Land of the Cow.
Thanks for stopping by to check out my ramblings, and thanks as always, for sharing my work with your friends and family who love of all things Irish.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
If you enjoyed this installment, then here are some other ramblings you might enjoy ….