The Rock of Dunamase (Dún Masc, “the fort of Masc” in Irish Gaelic) is one of the most historic sites in Ireland. Located in County Laois, this scenic site is a short distance from the N80 road and lies between the towns of Portlaoise and Stradbally. These ruins date back many centuries.
Excavations carried out in the 1990s have led archeologists to believe that the Rock was first settled in the 9th century when a fort or dun was constructed on the site. The earliest historical reference to Dunamase is in the annals of the four masters where it tells us that Dun Masc was plundered by the Vikings in 843AD and the abbot of Terryglass was killed there.The Rock stands 150 feet (46 m) tall in the heart of what is otherwise a flat plain, and was ideal as a defensive position with its view right up to the Slieve Bloom Mountains. The rock is said to have been drawn on a map by the Greek cartographer Ptolemy under the name “Dunum” in the 2nd century, there is no archaeological evidence to support the that Dunum is indeed Dunamase.
When the Normans arrived in Ireland during the 12th century the rock was refortified with the great hall and the earlier gate tower surviving from this period. The Castle is believed to have been in the hands of Dermot McMurroughWhen the Normans arrived in Ireland in the late 1100s, Dunamase became the most important Anglo-Norman fortification in Laois. It was part of the dowry of Aoife, the daughter of Diarmuid Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, when she was given in marriage to the Norman conqueror Strongbow in 1170.
When Isabel, the daughter of Strongbow and Aoife, wed William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, Dunamase was part of her marriage portion. It is likely that Marshall carried out some building on the rock when he lived there between 1208 and 1213, though most of the castle is earlier.The castle was successively held by Marshal’s five sons before passing to the Mortimer family through Marshal’s daughter, Eva de Braoise, who passed the castle to her daughter Maud on her marriage to Roger Mortimer. All the Mortimer’s lands, including Dunamase, were forfeited to the Crown in 1330. Shortly afterwards, the castle appears to have passed into the hands of the O’Moores and been abandoned. There is no evidence that the castle was used by the local Irish lords and it seems to have become a ruinous shell by 1350.
Legend says that it was blown up by Cromwell to prevent it being used. In the later 18th century Sir John Parnell started to build a banqueting hall within the ruins and this work incorporated medieval architectural details taken from other sites in the area.. Although the state of the castle is badly ruined the Rock of Dunamase is a site well worth visiting.
From Dublin take the M 7 South towards Portlaoise, Just before Portlaoise leave the motorway for The Heath take the second left at the small roundabout and then follow this road until you come right under the outcrop take the next right and follow this up to the car park.
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