The History of Dunsandle Castle | The Ice House | The Killing Room | The Spiral Staircase | The Windows
The Groin Vault | The Store Chamber | The Great Hall | The Oubliette | The Minstrel's Gallery
The Pillory and Stocks | Carvings

The History of Dunsandle Castle

De Burgo Crest

  • Dunsandle Castle is a De Burgo Castle built in the 15th Century.
  • The castle was extended in the form of a manor house circa 1650.
  • By 1791 habitation on the site appeared to have ceased.
  • Dunsandle Castle is one of 18 castles in the immediate vicinity.

Dunsandle Castle has the following fascinating features

The Ice House

The Ice House The ice house is well preserved. It was built in the 17th Century converted from a corner tower. It is assumed it was used to cool meat and other aliments. In winter, people known as ice merchants brought ice from Loughrea Lake to the ice house. To insulate the ice, alternate layers of straw and ice were placed in the egg-shaped cavity. There is a drain on the bottom to the let the melting ice flow out. Due the good insulation, the walls (made of lime- and brickstone) which are 1 meter thick, and the second door it is believed ice could be kept for a period of 10 months.

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The Killing Room

The recess behind the main door of the castle provided specific protection. If attackers managed to get through the front door they found themselves in a small room enclosed by heavy oak doors with metal grills. Above their heads was what is known as the murder hole, through which a defender could attack an enemy once he managed to enter through the castle door.

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The Spiral Staircase

The Spiral Staircase Historians are almost sure that the spiral staircase in medieval castles was built clockwise for the reason that a right-handed defender had a better position to move his arm freely in a fight on the stairs. It is possible there is more to this theory. The spiral staircase in Dunsandle Castle was built in an anti-clockwise direction. The reason for the direction of the staircase could be simply structural as when the staircase is on the right hand side of the entrance it has to wind to the left. Furthermore, there may have been strategic reasons to have the staircase on the north elevation (village).

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The Windows

For defensive reasons the window openings on the ground floor are very narrow. Due to the wide angle inside the window, light disperses and still brings enough light into the staircase. This wide angle was also designed to allow archers to provide maximum protection for the castle and it's inhabitants.

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The Groin Vault

The Groin Vault One of the most interesting features in Dunsandle Castle is it's vault. The Groin Vault is a unique feature of Dunsandle Castle. It is a Roman design. The mostly used type of vault is the so called barrell vault (e.g. arch of a bridge). The technique with which this Groin Vault was built is called wicker centering. Wooden scaffolding in the form of the arch was built first and then covered with woven wickerwork mats. A layer of lime and sand mortar was laid on top of the wicker mats and the stones set down onto it. When the frame was removed the wicker was left attached to the mortar and often plastered over. The rough ceiling that can be seen today is the remains of this wicker work. The function of the Groin Vault is mainly structural as it ties the building together at it's upper level while providing an effective fire barrier (stone floor) in the event attackers attempted to burn out the castle occupants. It could also have been used to stabilise the walls as the castle was built on a sand esker.

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The Store Chamber

This hazel wicker centering was used in construction to form an arched roof or ceiling. Today we would use plywood to shape the ceiling and construct an arch with stone work from above.

On the ceiling of this room the remains of the original wickerwork can still be seen today. The white paint on the wall is lime wash, which was originally used to paint and clean castle walls.

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The Great Hall

The Great Hall The Great Hall is the main room where life basically took place. It was the only room that was heated by a fire in the middle of the room, the smoke rising up and filtering through a hole in the roof known as a louvre or a fumerol. The fire place in this room was originally a window facing to the south and it was replaced by a chimney and a fireplace in later years. It is a little unusual that they took away their south facing window which had provided the most light. It is assumed that there must have been a village in roughly a northern direction. Underneath the fire place there is an Oubliette.

Arch beam roof
This roof is 9 tons in weight and it is made of Irish green oak. It has been benchmarked and copied from an original, preserved roof in Dunsoghley Castle near Dublin Airport. No nails were used in the construction of this roof. It is constructed with oak pegs / dowels driven into the timber.

Like the arch beam roof, this table made from a beech tree growing beside the castle is benchmarked against an original table designed for Thorbally Lee castle but never actually made. The technique to tie the timber together without the use of nails is called fish tail

Corner Loop
The gunloops in a typical castle were designed so that one person could stand in the loop embrasure and shoot with a bow or a gun, while being very hard by attackers or invaders. The wide angle of the loop gave as much protection as possible to the defender.

Twin light ogee headed window
This good example of double headed ogee windows has been almost completely restored as the original had been removed.

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The Oubliette

The Oubliette

Like most castles Dunsandle has a secret chamber called the Oubliette. It is 7 feet deep, 10 feet long, and 3 feet wide.

The circular window on the west side doesn't have a chamber like the one in the garderobe passage. Presumably this window was designed to be hidden from outside view. It can be seen outside looking up at the west elevation.

The Oubiette has a multitude of uses. It is widely assumed that it was used to store valuables, but for storage it doesn't need a window whereas for human use the window is an absolute requirement to allow air into the room. Also the French word oublier (to forget) suggests that people were left behind in the Oubliette.

The Oubliette

It is very likely that someone intending to take over the castle would look for the Oubliette as many castles present this feature. This suggests that there was imprisonment and hostage taking between rival families / clans, which would have been a form of insurance. The De Burgos were fighting against the O'Flahertys.

Dunsandle's Oubliette is located below a window. The former window and the embrasure were converted into a fire place at a later date. Originally the upper level of the castle was lit more effectively by the southern aspect of a window. Today the somewhat gloomy feel of the upper level is due to the fireplace and chimney being constructed in the top room.

Oubliettes were a favourite topic of nineteenth century gothic novels or historical novels.

On the keystone of the fireplace is a reproduction of the De Burgo crest.

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The Minstrel's Gallery

This is mostly conjecture and it was constructed during the restoration. The arched windows are benchmarked against the abbey cloister in Adare. Typically musicians played from such galleries.

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The Pillory and Stocks

The Dunsandle Castle Team are delighted to unveil the newest addition to this beautiful Medieval site, a replica of 15th Century Pillory and Stocks. Guests are welcome to have their photograph taken in these stocks as a souvenir of their visit to Dunsandle Castle & Woods.

Most people have seen at least a picture of a set of stocks, but there are many different sorts. A stock is simply a wooden board with one or more semicircles cut into one edge. When adjoined to another stock, the semicircles form holes and become stocks (plural).

In their simplest form, these are a pair of stocks hinged together at one end and, at the other end, a hasp and staple for a padlock. The lower stock is fixed to the ground. The stocks confine the victim’s ankles, who is obliged to sit in that position, either on the ground or on a wooden bench. Some stocks have posts at each end, with runners in which the upper stock can slide up and down. More elaborate variations include additional holes to confine the victim’s hands. These can be in separate stocks above the foot stocks, or in the same stocks, either between or outside the feet. Stocks can usually accommodate two or more people.

A set of stocks with three holes, one in the centre for the neck, and smaller holes each side for the wrists. These stocks are fixed to the top of a central post (known as a pillory) or posts at each end, obliging the occupant to stand with his or her head and hands thus confined. Like the stocks, the upper stock can be either hinged or in side runners.

Stocks and pillories have been used in parts of Europe more than 1000 years, probably much longer in Asia, and certainly before reliable records began. The earliest recorded reference to stocks in Europe appears in the Utrecht Psalter, which dates from around 820 AD. Stocks had become common in England by the mid-14th century. In 1351 a law (the Statute of Labourers) was introduced requiring every town to provide and maintain a set of stocks. This had been implemented as a reaction to the Black Death, which had halved the population. The consequent scarcity of labour had enabled agricultural labourers to demand increased pay. The Statute attempted to discourage this trend by providing that anyone demanding (or offering) higher wages should be set in the stocks for up to 3 days. Stocks were later used to control the unemployed. A statute passed in 1495 required that vagabonds should be set in the stocks for 3 days on bread and water and then sent away (where presumably they would have faced a similar fate). If a vagabond returned to the same parish, he or she would receive another 6 days in the stocks. These punishments were however seen as excessive and the lengths of time in the stocks were later reduced to 1 and 3 days respectively. A Statute of 1605 required that anyone convicted of drunkenness should receive six hours in the stocks, and those convicted of being a drunkard (as opposed to be caught drunk) should suffer 4 hours in the stocks or pay a substantial fine (of 3 shillings and 6 pence). A slightly later Statute made it legal to set those caught swearing in the stocks for 1 hour, if they could or would not pay a 12 pence fine. In practice the authorities preferred offenders to pay fines as the monies were used to fund poor relief.

Cora of the Dunsandle Castle Team
Dunsandle Castle Stocks
Dunsandle Castle Stocks
Dunsandle Castle Stocks
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Dunsandle Castle Carvings

Dunsandle Castle has a number of beautiful and very interesting carvings throughout the castle. The following image is carving of a rose which is an example of one of the carvings that you will come across during your visit to Dunsandle Castle.

Dunsandle Castle Rose Carving
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