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A Fragment of History: The Ardee Town Wall

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The wall located at Cappockgate, Ardee. Photo Credit: Adrian Crawley.
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This article originally appeared on ThisIsArdee.ie

One of countless Irish towns enclosed by walls during medieval times, Ardee is a prime example of a medieval ‘walled town’, up to 54 which can be found across Ireland. With it’s distinctive, central main street and long narrow properties extending away from the main street on either side, it holds many of the properties associated with the type.

That identity is enhanced further by surviving medieval buildings – such as Ardee Castle – and some of the features that survive within the town, notably the intact medieval street pattern.

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The Ardee Town Wall, more specifically what remains of it, was back in the news last week. Locals on Sean O’Carroll Street and at Cappocks Gate want a perimeter fence, erected around the last major remnant of the wall, removed as the fence and the overgrowth within it have become an eyesore.

The decision, Louth County Council say, is out of their hands and instead must go to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht for ministerial permission.

But – for those who don’t know – what is the Ardee Town Wall? What is its cultural and historical significance locally? In 2010, a report commissioned by Louth County Council on behalf of Ardee Town Council examined the wall then-and-now.

The report went on to form much of a 2012 exhibition by local architecture student Richard Taaffe, who’s exhibit The Fragmented Wall highlighted the map of what once was the wall and examined the possibilty of how a series of installations could bring the story of the wall to current generations.

Cultural Attributes of the Town Wall

From medieval times, Ardee has been incorporated and was a centre of trade and commerce. It was also one of the Frontier Towns of the Pale. Ardee is a quite good example of a medieval walled town with it’s distinctive, central main street and long narrow properties extending away from the main street on each side. 

The identity is enhanced by surviving medieval buildings and some of the features that survive within the town together, notably the intact medieval street pattern.

Ardee’s town wall, defences and medieval buildings are a composite group of structures that defined the medieval town and became an expression of the town’s economic vigour and it’s independence.

The origins of Walled Towns are linked to the earliest phases of medieval European urbanisation and Ardee belongs to a group of no fewer than 54 towns and cities in Ireland that were enclosed by walls during the medieval period. 

The cultural and commercial identity of the town is logically linked to it’s historical identity, it’s past commercial and political history and to it’s development from the time of its origins. This can be enriched by the identity of later historic events and changes that shaped the fabric of the town. 

The unique historical and architectural heritage is however not immediately legible or apparent on first impressions. The town is characterised by it’s straight and wide principle street marked by Irish Street, Market Street, Castle Street and Bridge Street. This streetscape is dominated by the presence of two urban tower houses – Hatch’s Castle and particularly Ardee Castle. 

Hatch’s Castle and Ardee Castle are fortified town houses, a once common urban house form found within many walled towns which were generally unconnected to the circuit of the town walls themselves. 

In medieval times, Ardee was besieged and captured on three occasions. By the 17th century, the town was defended by the walls which enclosed over 25 hectares.  The NorthGate of the wall was where Irish Street sits today. Ardee’s first suburb was formed on Irish Street, just outside the north wall boundary.

Early maps show there were six gates – the Head Gate at the top of Market Street, the North Gate, Cappocks Gate, Bridge Gate, the Blin Gate and the Ash Walk Gate. Regrettably, none of these have survived.

North of the Ash Walk Gate (positioned to the left of the wall below) there is a projection outwards in the town wall known as the Bastion. This would appear to be a 17th century artillery fortification providing protection against attack from the west.

Ardee Walled Town Map as seen in Richard Taaffe’s 2012 exhibition The Fragmented Wall.

Remains of the Wall and Gates

Nowadays, there is little trace of the town walls above ground. The wall at Cappock’s Gate is the one identifiably upstanding remnant of the original Medieval Town Wall. The remains of the north wall of Cappock’s Gate, located on the northern side of Lamb’s Lane, (Sean O’Carroll Street), are the only representation of the town wall on the eastern side of the town.

The Wall at the Bastion was described in a 2010 report as “the most truly monumental section of the wall. It ranges in height from two metres high at the south end up to five metres high at the centre. At the north end, the alighnment of the town wall is less obvious and it is possible that revision were made in the 17th century.

Other remains of the wall are believed to be at the walkway linking the old Railway Line to Tierney Street, amongst other areas.

The 2010 report suggested that – considering Cappocks Gate was the only confirmed surviving remnant of the Town Gates – the area should be incorporated into the public realm in some way, perhaps by way of a civic amenity.

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