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In the year 1169, when the first Norman invaders landed in Ireland, the private castle had been in existence in England for more than a hundred years, and had it been suited to the social organisation of the Irish people, there had been plenty of time for its introduction into Ireland. Nor are we in a position to deny that some chieftain with a leaning towards foreign fashions may have built for himself a castle in the Anglo-Norman style; all we can say is that there is not the slightest evidence of such a thing. We have two contemporary accounts of the Norman settlement in Ireland, the one given by Giraldus in his Expugnatio Hibernica, and the Anglo-Norman poem, edited by Mr Goddard H. Orpen, under the title of the “Song of Dermot and the Earl.” 2 Now Giraldus expressly tells us that the Irish did not use castles, but preferred to take refuge in their forests and bogs. The statement is a remarkable one, since Ireland abounds with defensive works of a very ancient character; are we to suppose that these were only used in the prehistoric period? But if castles of the Norman kind had been in general use in Ireland in the 12th century, we should certainly hear of their having been a serious hindrance to the invaders. The history of the invasion, however, completely confirms the statement of Giraldus; we never once hear of the Irish defending themselves in a castle. When they do stand a siege, it is in a walled town, and a town which has been walled, not by themselves, but by the Danes, to whom Giraldus expressly attributes these walls. Moreover, the repeated insistence of Giraldus on the necessity of systematic incastellation of the whole country” is proof enough that no such incastellation existed.
1 The Annals of the Four Masters mention the building of three castles (caisteol) in Connaught in 1125, and the Annals of Ulster say that Tirlagh O'Connor built a castle (caislen) at Athlone in 1129. What the nature of these castles was it is now impossible to say, but there are no mottes at the three places mentioned in Connaught (Dunlo, Galway, and Coloony). The caislen at Athlone was not recognised by the Normans as a castle of their sort, as John built his castle on a new site, on land obtained from the church. Sweetman's Cal., p. 80.
2 The meagre entries in the various Irish Annals may often come from contemporary sources, but as none of their MSS. are older than the 14th century, they do not stand on the same level as the two authorities above mentioned.
It is true that in some of the earliest Irish literature we hear of the dun, lis, or rath (the words are interchangeable), which encircled the chieftain's house.
1 "Hibernicus enim populus castella non curat; silvis namque pro castris, paludibus utitur pro fossatis.” Top. Hib., 182, R. S., vol. v. la the same passage he speaks of the “fossa infinita, alta nimis, rotunda quoque, et pleraque triplicia ; castella etiam murata, et adhuc integra vacua tamen et deserta,” which he ascribes to the Northmen. This passage has been gravely adduced as an argument in favour of the prehistoric existence of mottes ! as though a round ditch necessarily implied a round kr within it! Giraldus was probably alluding to the round embankments of raths, of which such immense numbers are still to be found in Ireland by the “walled castles” he probably meant the stone enclosures or cashe's which are also so numerous in Ireland. In the time of Giraldus the word castellum, though it had become the proper word for a private castle, hac not quite lost its original sense of a fortified enclosure of any kind, as we know from the phrases “the castle and tower” or “the castle and motte * not infrequent in documents of the 12th century (see Round's Geoffrey Mandeville, Appendix O, p. 328). We may add that Giraldus' attribut.ca of these prehistoric remains to Thorgils, the Norwegian, only shows tha: their origin was unknown in his day.
? See Expug, Hib., 383, 397, 398.
THE RATHS OF IRELAND
Many descriptions of royal abodes in Irish poems are evidently purely fanciful, but underneath the poetical adornments we can discern the features of the great wooden hall which appears to have been the residence of the tribal chieftain, whether Keltic, Norse, or Saxon, throughout the whole north of Europe in early times. The thousands of earthen rings, generally called raths, which are still scattered over Ireland, are believed to be the enclosures of these kings' or chieftains' homesteads. Were they intended for serious military defence? We are not in a position to answer this question categorically, but the plans of a number of them which we have examined do not suggest anything but a very slight fortification, sufficient to keep off wolves. At all events we never hear of these raths or duns standing a siege ; the conquering raider comes, sees, and burns. We are therefore justified in concluding that they did not at all correspond to what we mean by a private castle. And most certainly the motte-castle, with its very small citadel, and its limited accommodation for the flocks and herds of a tribe, was utterly unsuited to the requirements of the tribal system.
A good deal of light is thrown on the way in which Irish chieftains regarded private castles at the time of the invasion by the well-known story of one who refused a castle offered him by the invaders, saying that he preferred a castle of bones to a castle of stones. Whether legendary or not, it represents the natural feeling of a man who had been accustomed to sleep trustfully in the midst of men of his own blood, tied to him by the bonds of the clan. The clan system in
11 am informed that the “Crith Gablach,” which gives a minute description of one of these halls, is a very late document, and by no means to be trusted.
2 Vide the Irish Annals, passim.
Ireland undoubtedly led to great misery through the absence of a central authority to check the raids of one clan upon another ; but though we occasionally hear of a chieftain being murdered “by his own,” we have no reason to think that clan loyalty was not sufficient, as a rule, for the internal safety of the community. So that a popular chieftain might well refuse a fortification which had every mark of a hateful and suspicious invader.1
Unfortunately there is—or has been until quite recently—a strong prejudice in the minds of Irish antiquaries that works of the motte-and-bailey kind belong to the prehistoric age of Ireland. Irish scholars indeed admit that the word mota is not found in any Irish MS. which dates from before the Norman invasion of Ireland.” We must therefore bear in mind that when they tell us that such and such an ancient book mentions the “mote" at Naas or elsewhere, what they mean is that it mentions a dun, or rath, or longport, which they imagine to be the same as a motte. But this is begging the whole question. There is not the slightest proof that any of these words meant a motte. Dun is often taken to mean a hill (perhaps from its resemblance to Anglo-Saxon dun), but Keltic scholars are now agreed that it is cognate with the German zaun and AngloSaxon tun, meaning a fenced enclosure. It may be applied to a fort on a hill, but it may equally well be
1 There is another story, preserved in Hanmer's Chronicle, that the Irish chief Mac Mahon levelled two castles given to him by John de Courcy, saying he had promised to hold not stones but land.
2 Joyce's Irish Names of Places, p. 290.
3 See J. E. Lloyd, Cymmrodor, xi., 24; Skeat's English Dictionary, “town.” In the “ Dindsenchas of Erin," edited by O'Beirne Crowe, Journ. R. S. A. 1., 1872-1873, phrases occur, such as "the dun was open,” “she went back into the dun," which show clearly that the dun was an enclosure. In several passages dun and cathair are interchanged.
applied to a fort on the flat. Rath is translated fossa in the Book of Armagh ; Jocelin of Furness equates it with murus. The rath of Armagh was evidently a very large enclosure in 1166, containing several streets, houses, and churches, so it was certainly not a motte.? It is of course not impossible that the Normans may sometimes have occupied an ancient fortified site, but we may be sure from the considerations already urged that the fortifications which they erected were of a wholly different character to the previous ones, even if they utilised a portion for their bailey.
It is of course difficult to decide in some cases (both in Ireland and elsewhere) whether a mound which stands alone without a bailey is a sepulchral tumulus or a motte. There are
mottes in England and Scotland which have no baileys attached to them, and do not appear ever to have had any. In Ireland, the country of magnificent sepulchral tumuli, it is not wonderful that the barrow and the motte have become confused in popular language. It would appear, too, that there exist in Ireland several instances of artificial tumuli which were used for the inauguration of Irish chieftains, and these have occasionally been mistaken for mottes. 8
As Mr Orpen has shown, there are generally indications in the unsuitability of the sites, in the absence of real fortification, or in the presence of
, sepulchral signs, to show that these tumuli did not belong to the motte class. Magh Adair, for example, which has been adduced as a motte outside the Norman boundary, is shown by Mr Orpen to be of quite a different character. 1 Joyce, Irish Names of Places, p. 273.
Annals of the Four Masters, 1166. 3 See Orpen, “Motes and Norman Castles in Ireland,” in Journ. R. S. A. I., xxxvii., 143-147.