Duneight Motte and Bailey


Believe it or not, this is a castle. Well, a proto-castle. When the Normans conquered England in 1066, they threw up earth and wood forts that could be used to garrison soldiers or a place of refuge if things went wrong. They were largely the same design: a high mound -a motte-with a circular palisade on top. There was also a connected, rectangular area - the bailey- near the foot of the mound, also palisaded but for everyday living. Its reckoned that fifty men could put up a motte in a month and The bayeux tapestry shows that the Normans brought pre-fabricated components for these forts on the ships that crossed the English channel to invade in 1066. As time went by the wooden defences were replaced by stone, and the motte and bailey forts evolved into the medieval castle.

One hundred years after 1066, when they invaded Ireland, the now Anglo-Normans took the same warfare architecture with them. These pictures are of Duneight Motte and Bailey, near Lisburn in Co. Down. The mound is still steep (I slipped and fell on my mouth and nose going up it yesterday, much to the delight of my kids) and the fall on the river side is precipitous and would have presented a formidable obstacle to any attacker. The entranceway seems to be through a curving ditch that would have been guarded on both sides by wooden battlements above, channeling any potential aggressor approaching the gate into a narrow killing channel. Its pretty much exactly like the entrance to Krak des Chavaliers, except made of mud and wood, and on considerably smaller scale :-). 
Now this is a castle

Built on the site of a former fort of the Ulaidh (the tribe who gave Ulster its name), the fort guarded what was then the main road to Dublin, but is now just a sleepy little bend in a river in the countryside. Unusually for an Irish motte, Duneight has a bailey, which you can see in the pictures as the lower, long flat mound. For some reason, most Irish mottes do not have baileys so Duneight is unusual. The reason for this in unknown. In England by the late 12th century, motte and baileys had become increasingly rare, but some of the Irish mottes were still in use into the early 14th century. They never transformed into stone castles, possibly because the English Earldom of Ulster was extinguished around then.


So this was once the home of a baron of Ulster. You have to wonder what his cousins and peers in England with their baronial halls and stone castles would have made of his rather more humble dwelling.
Artist's impression of the original castle

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