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County Laois

Castle of Dunamase im Abendlicht 02.jpg
View of the Castle
Grid reference: S53029815
Location: 53°1’54"N, 7°12’37"W
Built late 12th century
Condition: Ruins

Dunamase or The Rock of Dunamase is a rocky outcrop in the townland of Park or Dunamase in County Laois. Its name in Irish is Dún Másc,[1] meaning "Fort of Másc").

The rock stands 150 feet above a flat plain, and on it are the ruins of Dunamase Castle, a defensive stronghold dating from the early Norman period. The vantage provides a view across to the Slieve Bloom Mountains.

The rock and its castle are near the N80 road between the towns of Portlaoise and Stradbally.


Dunamase Castle at night

Excavations in the 1990s demonstrated that the Rock was first settled in the 9th century when a hill fort or dún was constructed on the site. The first known settlement on the rock was Dun Masc, Masc’s Fort, an early Christian settlement that was pillaged in 842 by the Vikings. In 845 the Norsemen of Dublin attacked the site and the abbot of Terryglass, Aed son of Dub dá Chrích, was killed there.[2] There is no clear evidence of 10th–11th century occupation.

It was to Dunamase that Diarmuid MacMurrough, King of Leinster, brought the wife of O'Rourke, the King of Breifne, after kidnapping her. Enlisting the help of the O'Connor clan, the O'Rourkes and O'Connors drove MacMurrough from Dunamase and he fled Ireland. In 1170, MacMurrough gave his daughter Aoife in marriage to the Norman conqueror Strongbow in 1170, and Dunamase as a possession: this was part of an agreement to enlist Stroongbow's help for Diarmuid MacMurrough to regain his lands. The Norman invasion of Ireland then followed when Strongbow accompanied MacMurrough, along with many men, to attack and regain MacMurrogh's lands.

The castle whose ruins stand today was built in the second half of the 12th century. When the Normans arrived in Ireland in the late 12th century, Dunamase became the most important Norman fortification in Laois.

The daughter and heiress of Strongbow and Aoife, Isabel, married William Marshall, who later became Regent of England in the minority of Henry III, and on this marriage Dunamase passed to the Marshal family. William Marshall's five sons succeeded him in turn and died without issue, so in 1247 the Marshal lands were divided among William's five daughters, of whom Dunamase fell to Eva Marshall and then to her daughter, Maud de Braose, who was married to Roger Mortimer, a Marcher Lord in Wales. The castle remained in Mortimer hands until 1330 when their grandson, Roger Mortimer Earl of March was executed for treason by King Edward III. By the time the Mortimer family was rehabilitated the castle seems to have passed out of the area under Norman control. It seems to have become a ruinous shell by 1350.

But by the 16th century the rock and castle were part of the land of the O'More family, and it is so memorialised in a 19th-century poem, Transplanted, by William O'Neill:

But vain I wait and listen for Rory Og is dead,
And in the halls of Dunamase a Saxon rules instead,
And o'er his fruitful acres the stranger now is lord
Where since the days of Cuchorb a proud O'Moore kept ward.

After the transplantation of the O'Mores to Kerry, their castle played no part in the Cromwellian wars. It was slighted in 1650 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 mediæval architectural details taken from other sites in the area.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Dunamase)


  1. Dunamase - Placenames Database of Ireland
  2. Annals of Ulster 845.2; Cogad Gaedel re Gallaib 19.
  • Hodkinson, Brian (2003). "A summary of recent work at the Rock of Dunamase, Co. Laois". in Kenyon, John R.; O'Conor, Kieran. The Mediæval Castle in Ireland and Wales. Dublin: Four Courts Press. ISBN 9781851827268. 
  • Hodkinson, B.J. (2003). "The Sources for the History of Dunamase Castle". Laois Heritage Society Journal (1).