Pallas Castle is a 16th-century tower house and National Monument located in the village of Pallas, near Tynagh, County Galway. Pallas Castle is one of the best-preserved examples of a tower house in Ireland, surrounded by a bawn wall with four corner towers and a gatehouse. The castle was built by the Burke family, one of the most powerful clans in Ireland, and later passed to the Nugent family, who added some features in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Pallas Castle was built around 1500 by the Burkes, who were descendants of William de Burgh, an Anglo-Norman knight who came to Ireland in the 13th century. The Burkes became one of the most influential families in Connacht, ruling over large territories and often clashing with the English crown. Pallas Castle was one of their many fortifications in the region, and served as a residence and a stronghold.
In 1574, Pallas Castle was owned by Jonyck Fitzthomas Burke, who was involved in several rebellions against Queen Elizabeth I. He was eventually captured and executed by Sir Nicholas Malby, the governor of Connacht. After his death, his lands were confiscated and granted to loyal English settlers. However, some of his relatives managed to recover Pallas Castle and held it until the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649.
During the Cromwellian period, Pallas Castle was given to Richard Nugent, the first Earl of Westmeath, who was a supporter of Oliver Cromwell. The Nugent’s made some alterations to the castle, such as adding a large gabled house next to the tower and a malt house at the west end. They also built a chapel inside the bawn wall, which still has some traces of plasterwork and paintings. The Nugent’s remained in possession of Pallas Castle until the late 18th century, when they sold it to the Trench family.
The Trench’s were another prominent Anglo-Irish family who owned several estates in Galway and Roscommon. They did not live in Pallas Castle, but used it as a farmstead and rented it to tenants. The castle gradually fell into decay and was abandoned by the 19th century. In 1934, it was declared a National Monument and taken into state care. Since then, it has been partially restored and opened to the public.
Pallas Castle is a typical example of a tower house, which was a common type of fortified residence in Ireland from the 15th to the 17th centuries. Tower houses were usually rectangular or square in shape, with four or five storeys and thick stone walls. They had narrow windows and loopholes for defence, and often had projecting bartizans or turrets at the corners. Tower houses were usually surrounded by a bawn wall, which was an enclosure that provided additional protection and contained other buildings such as stables, barns or cottages.
Pallas Castle is one of the largest and most elaborate tower houses in Ireland, measuring 16 metres by 10 metres at the base and rising to a height of 20 metres. It has five storeys, each with a single room and a fireplace. The ground floor was used as a storage area and had no windows. The first floor was probably the main hall, where the lord and his family received guests and held feasts. The second floor was likely the private chamber of the lord and his wife. The third floor was vaulted and had two large windows with stone seats. The fourth floor had two smaller windows with arched frames and mullions. The fifth floor was probably an attic or a watchtower.
The tower house is accessed through an arched doorway on the east side, which leads to a spiral staircase that runs along the north wall. The staircase connects all the floors and also leads to several mural chambers that are embedded in the thick walls. These chambers were used as closets or latrines. The staircase also gives access to the roof, which has four bartizans at each corner and offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
The tower house is enclosed by a bawn wall that measures 40 metres by 35 metres. The wall has four round towers at each corner, each with three storeys and conical roofs. The towers have internal steps and parapets that allow visitors to walk along them. The wall also has several gun loops and arrow slits for defence. The entrance to the bawn is through a two-storey gatehouse on the south side, which has a pointed arch and a machicolation above it. The gatehouse also has a fireplace and a garderobe on the upper floor.
Inside the bawn, there are several other buildings that date from different periods. On the west side, there is a rectangular flanker that was probably used as a guardhouse or a kitchen. Next to it, there is a large gabled house that was added by the Nugent’s in the 17th century. This house has two storeys and five bays, with mullioned windows and a chimney stack. On the southwest corner, there is a malt house that was built by the Nugent’s in the 18th century. This building has a vaulted ground floor and a loft above it. On the east side, there is a chapel that was also built by the Nugent’s in the 17th century. The chapel has a rectangular plan and a pitched roof, with a round-headed window on the east end and a door on the south side. The interior of the chapel has some remains of plasterwork and paintings, as well as an altar and a piscina.
Pallas Castle is a fascinating place to visit for anyone interested in Irish history and architecture. The castle offers a glimpse into the life and culture of the medieval and early modern periods, as well as the changes and conflicts that shaped them. Visitors can explore the tower house and its rooms, admire the views from the roof and the towers, and learn about the history of the castle and its owners from the information panels. Visitors can also enjoy the scenic surroundings of Pallas Castle, which include fields, woods and hills.
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