The castle building of William Marshal in Ireland
By Pat Dargan
Irish Roots, no. 61, (2007)
Introduction: William Marshall was one of the major Anglo-Norman magnates to involve himself in Irish medieval history and in the process left a legacy of four major castles imprinted on the Irish landscape. These include the castles at Kilkenny, Carlow, Ferns, and Lea. In order to fully appreciate these castles it is necessary to bear in mind that they must be seen in the context of a comprehensive Marshall policy of land control – rather than as individual buildings. However, before looking at the Marshall’s building programme, it is worth considering the background of his acquisition of his Irish lands.
The late twelfth century Anglo-norman intervention in Ireland resulted from the issuing of an invitation to Richard de Clare, Early of Pembroke, by the native Dermot McMurrough to help him recapture his kingdom of Leinster, from which he had recently been driven. McMurrough promised de Clare the hand of his daughter Aoife in marriage and the succession to his kingdom, should the venture be successful. In the event, McMurrough and his Norman allies were eminently successful and de Clare and Aoife were married in Waterford in August 1169. Two years later Dermot died and de Clare claimed his promised inheritance. Henry II agreed to the granting of Leinster to de Clare, but with the provisio that Dublin, Waterford and the coastal edge of County Wicklow were reserved for the crown, together with Wexford town and parts of counties Carlow, Kildare and Laoise.
Notwithstanding,these restrictions, de Clare’s new Irish territories were vast and included most of the present counties of Carlow, Wexford and Kilkenny. However, like his father-in-law, de Clare had only a short time to enjoy his Irish inheritance. He died in 1176 and the ownership of Leinster passed to his infant daughter Isabelle.