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Castle Roche, a short 10km North West of Dundalk, is a scene that wouldn’t look astray from an episode of Game of Thrones. It also has a storyline that wouldn’t go astray from an episode of Game of Thrones either. Think ‘Red Wedding’.
A forgotten Norman castle with an imposing barbican gate (a gate which has a defensive tower), the aptly named Castle on the Rock is an impressive structure sitting a top a limestone outcrop with a steep drop on two sides of its largely triangular shape.
So who built it? It was a descendant of Prince John’s royal administrators during his 1185 colonisation of Ireland. Prince John would become King John in 1199 to 1216. One of these 1185 administrators was Bertram III de Verdun, of the Norman family Verdun from Avranchin, Normandy. Like all good Normans he sought lands and wealth; holding a number of rolls in Ireland and the UK. His demise didn’t come in Ireland against restless natives but rather in Jaffa, a port city in the Holy Land. Yes, also like all good Normans our Bertram III de Verdun went on a Crusade; the Third Crusade with Richard I of England, (the Lionheart) against the forces of Saladin. Although surviving the battles for Jerusalem and Jaffa he passed away soon after the Treaty of Jafa was signed in 1192.
Before he headed off for some adventure, Bertram established a stately home at Castletown Mount, in between Dundalk and Drogheda. Generations passed without trouble, however the influence of Castletown waned as Dundalk’s trading influence grew. Enter Bertram’s granddaughter Rohesia de Verdun into the story. After her husband Theobald Botiller died in France in 1230 she decided to settle on the familys Irish lands. Lets just say history isn’t kind to Rohesia.
By all accounts she couldn’t land a second husband for multiple reasons, the chief being her temper. She had more pressing concerns then anger management issues as a widow on a hilltop. This was 800 years ago and the Lady De Verdun realised neighbourhood watch wasn’t going to cut it and she needed proper old-skool fortifications on the site of Castle Roche. Pragmatically she decided to offer her hand in marriage to any architect who would design and build the fortifications for her. As you’d expect, out of the woodwork they came running. She may have had a temper that ensured the Devil never made an appearance like other venues around the country, but she did have land, and lots of it.
Rohesia de Verdun was nobody’s fool. She knew why there was a queue of men at the gates and picked one accordingly to promptly commence work on Castle Roche. After their wedding banquet in the great hall, she invited the lucky lad to the bridal suite to check out the views of his soon to be lands sweeping out before him. As he stood in the window on that summers evening in 1236, chuffed with himself holding a cigar and sherry, he received a swift kick from behind and a sharp drop down the cliff face put an end to his ambitions….and life. Rohesia it seemed only believed in true love.
Needless to say, she again struggled to find a third husband. She actually died a nun in 1247 however no amount of repenting could shake off her past. The window is Castle Roche has been called the Murder Window since her wedding night.
The castle stayed in the family as it was an important site as a seat of power controlling the old north-south trading roads. It was also right at the frontier of the Pale; an area radiating from Dublin of English Government control. The rebelling Irish did get in and burnt it down at one point but before could be renovated fully it was trashed again during the Cromwellian Wars in 1641 and has been empty since, similarly to the Rock of Dunamase.
Still there is plenty to see. The curtain wall enclosing the site is still intact along with the imposing barbican gate to enter in. You can wander into the yard and stand in the area of the great hall which looks to have been approximately three stories high.
Admission is free but it is on private land that can be accessed. There is no designated parking so be careful parking in the lane beside the field and keep all gates closed as there is live stock in the field.
It’s located off Exit 17 of the M50 motorway and about 10km northwest of Dundalk, see maps below.