Castles stimulate my imagination with visions of knights in armor and dreams of medieval pageantry. Ireland is full of castles in various states of ruin and restoration which is one reason I adore this country. The Irish also allow tourists to clamber over their ruins although it seemed to me more restrictions were in place this time than 10 years ago.
Trim Castle, on the River Boyne in County Meath, is the largest Norman castle in Ireland. For those of you thinking, “What’s a Norman?” here’s a little historical context in a simplified version: The Normans were originally Vikings that invaded and settled in Normandy, France around 900 AD. They invaded England in 1066 and the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, ascended to the throne of England. The Normans soon assimilated into England and participated in English colonization efforts in other countries including Ireland. So in 1171, when King Henry II of England invaded Ireland with the aid of an Anglo-Norman noble, Hugh de Lacy, the king rewarded him for his service with the lordship of Meath. De Lacy built a castle there in 1173, but the wooden structure was destroyed by fire, then subsequently rebuilt in stone and added to several times resulting in the castle that remains today. The poster below for sale on site shows an artist’s rendering of how the castle and grounds would have looked after various additions and renovations.
You may or may not know Trim Castle was one of the film locations for the 1995 movie, Braveheart, the story of William Wallace and the epic Scottish struggle against English domination. Ironically, Trim Castle “played” the English town of York where the Scots took the fight to England. According to Wikipedia, the last castle owners, the Dunsanys, sold the castle to the state in 1993 (Wikipedia). Filming of Braveheart took place in 1994 so I assume it was an opportune time to make use of the castle ruins prior to excavation and restoration work that occurred before the castle opened to the public in 2000. When we visited in 2005 I didn’t realize it had only been open to the public for 5 years.
The entrance fee for adults is only €4 which included a guided tour of the keep. While we waited for our tour, we wandered around the grounds reading all the signs and taking photos. The setting is idyllic with walking trails along the river and a bridge across the Boyne where the trail continues up the hill to the site where St Mary’s Abbey once stood.
Today all that remains of St Mary’s Abbey from the 14th century is the ruin of the bell tower called the Yellow Steeple.
The tour of the keep was worth the time and money so pay the extra €2 and take it. That said, while our tour guide was engaging and interesting, he seemed to still hold a grudge against the English for their colonization of Ireland. When he told my husband his family, the Lalors, were of French (Norman) descent, Jim had to bite his tongue because the O’Lalor clan was one of the seven septs (clans) of Laois and is strictly 100% Irish. We did, nevertheless, learn interesting details about the history of the castle and, as I’ve said before, we are, after all, history nerds.
Incidentally, if you read my earlier post, Ireland Beyond the Pale, you may be interested to know that Trim Castle was at the boundary of the Pale. Any areas north or west of Trim were considered beyond the Pale, that is, outside of English control. We were headed back to the Pale, aka Dublin, just 30 miles away (48 km) with our final stops in Ireland at the Hill of Tara and Newgrange.
Based on events of April 2015.