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Read The Plaque #2: Ardee Castle

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A sign on the door of Ardee Castle, detailing some of its rich history. Photo Credit: Adrian Crawley.
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This article originally appeared on ThisIsArdee.ie
In the second of our brand new ‘Read The Plaque’ series, we take a wander around various sites of historical and heritage interest in Ardee and explore their histories. We want locals to read the plaques, to explore, take in and understand. This week, we pay a visit to Ardee Castle.
Ardee Castle is the largest surviving fortified medieval tower house in Ireland. Built in the 1400s, it has a commanding position, jutting out into the main street and opposite the road to Kells. In medieval times, it fronted out towards two of the gates of the walled town including the Ash Walk Gate. By 1805, the building had been handed over to the Louth Grand Jury before being modified to become a prison and courthouse, the latter of which it remained until 2006.

In medieval times, Ardee was at the northern edge of the Pale, the area of Ireland controlled by the English government. Border battles between the Anglo-Normans and the Irish were fierce and frequent along the frontier, leaving a legacy of two castles on what would later become Market Street in Ardee.

Located on the east side of Castle Street, the building ranks as the largest fortified townhouse to survive in Ireland. The mass of it’s masonry means it the most remained the most upstanding and noticeable of the remains of the medieval town of Ardee. Dating from the 15th century, this structure was previously known as St Leger’s Castle or even Pipard’s Castle.

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The original structure was founded by a Anglo-Norman lord called Roger de Peppard in 1207 althought litle remains of that. The current building was built in the 15th century by John St Leger. He had troops garrisoned there around that time. The castle’s location on the main street of Ardee shows it was not simply as a residence but also as a defence of the town, looking out beyond it’s walls and acting as a building purposefully structured for repelling against attack.

Ardee, being a strategic location, made it the sight of many significant battles throughout history and in medieval times, it served as an outpost on the border between the Anglo Norman south and the Gaelic north. James II used it as a headquarters for a month prior to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, as did his successor William the Orange.

Before that, in 1641, Sir Phelim O’Neill took possession of the town and castle but both were retaken by the English forces under the command of Sir Henry Tichborne that same year – although there are no indications the actual battle between the two forces took place in the vicinity of the castle itself.

The plaque that adorns the Castle Street door of Ardee Castle in 2017.

In 1805, the castle was handed over to Louth Grand Jury who made significant alterations to the building before using it as a prison and courthouse. The court was first used in 1805 as the Petty Sessions court, the forerunner to the District Court as we know it today. The final sitting in the courtroom was held as recently as 2006.

Rectangular in plan, with projecting turrets at the north west and south west angles, the building stands four storeys high. The original entrance to the tower was through a pointed arched doorway in the north west angle. The door was protected by a machicolation on the outside, with a ‘murder hole’ on the interior.

The ground floor has a rounded barrel vault, and access to the upper storeys is by means of a stairway in the north-west turret. The structure has been in continuous use, with most of the windows being replaced and modernised over time. A twin-light ogee-headed window survives at ground level, however, with three original windows – single loops with an internal splay survive on the fourth floor.

The building is listed as a national monument and is currently closed to the public, pending funding for redevelopment.

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