Medieval Frontiers and Fortification: The Pale and its Evolution

Medieval Frontiers and Fortification: The Pale and its Evolution

By Tadhg O’Keeffe

Dublin City and County: From Prehistory to Present – Studies in Honour of J.H. Andrews, eds. F.H.A. Aalen and Kevin Whelan (Dublin, 1992)

Introduction: The frontier model formulated by Frederick Jackson Turner a century ago is an outstanding contribution to our understanding of pattern-process relationships behind the cultural landscape. Turner’s vision of an American frontier, and its translation into a challenging model of a whole spectrum of spatial configurations, has engendered schools of empirical and theoretical research. The frontier concept is well known to historical geographers and it is a theme from which medievalists in particular cannot escape. Lydon and Duffy have expertly shown the value of addressing the issue of the frontier specifically  rather than allow it speak for itself as many recent writers have done, but the potential of the concept has by no means been fully realised. This chapter explores the frontier concept in a manner which is designed to augment the observations of Lydon and Duffy. Its principal aim is to use the concept as a lens through which we can focus on the form, function and significance of medieval fortifications in the landscape of the region around Dublin.

For the purpose of this chapter, counties Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare, Meath and Louth constitute the `Dublin region’. The rationale is that four of these counties were largely contained within the pale boundary at the end of the fifteenth century and shared an architectural tradition. Wicklow demands inclusion through its proximity to the nerve-centre, Dublin city, and because its mountain core so influenced the historical geography of Dublin and Kildare. In earlier centuries this region does not cohere with the same historical sanction as in the fifteenth century, but the mottes within it can quite legitimately be compared with each other, and nowhere in Ireland can a more important group of contrasting Norman stone castles be seen than that within a radius of 50km of Dublin.

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