Dublin Castle – at the heart of Irish history, is the nearest thing Dublin has to a palace. It was the seat of English power in Ireland for over seven centuries, beginning with the Norman conquest in 1170. By order of King John in 1204, a castle was built here. It remained the centre of the colonial administration, until January 1922. Lord deputys and later Viceroys were the rulers. Most of the present buildings were constructed in the 18th century, following several fires.
The tallest building in the Upper Yard is the Bedford Tower, where in 1801 after the Act Of Union with England, the modern union flag, incorporating the cross of St Patrick (a red ‘x’, called a saltire), was flown for the first time. Inside The State Rooms, there’s another reminder of that time, brass chandeliers that incorporate the shamrock, the rose of England and the thistle of Scotland. (Wales was only a principality, so the Welsh dragon does not appear). After the Treaty and the creation of the Free state in 1921, the flag was left unchanged and the St.Patrick’s cross was ‘adopted’ by Unionists in the North of Ireland.
A group of students from Germany on a See Dublin by Bike tour in the Upper Yard of Dublin Castle.
You’ll notice that the justice statue above us has no blindfold. She also has her back to the city, which Dubliners have noted. The scales used to once fill with water and tilt, till holes were bored to let the water out. So justice was neither balanced or impartial.
‘The Lady Justice, consider her station, her face to the castle, her arse to the nation,’ goes the rhyme.
The Irish crown jewels were stolen from here in 1907 and never recovered. A suspect at the time was the brother of the explorer, Ernest Shackleton.
But this was also a dark, brutal place. An Elizabethan historian (17th century, Richard Stanyhurst) described the practice of placing the heads of Irish rebels on spikes over the Castle gate:
Those trunkless heads do plainly show each rebel’s fatal end,
And what a heinous crime it is, the Queen for to offend
This Castle Yard is also where the transfer of power took place following the Anglo Irish Treaty, in January 1922. That day, Michael Collins, the military leader of the newly formed Irish Free State, was told he was seven minutes late by his British counterpart. ‘We’ve been waiting for over seven hundred years, you can have the extra seven minutes!’, he is said to have replied, according to legend.
Outside the old city wall, behind the castle to the south west, is the site of Dubh Linn, the ‘black pool’, that gave the city one of its names…The Poddle river flows underneath this area and the park at the back of the castle was the site of the Dubh Linn. A Celtic design is made from paving laid through the grass. There’s also the bust of the journalist, Veronica Guerin, murdered on the 26th of June, 1996.
The Irish name for Dublin, Baile Átha Cliath means ‘the town of the ford of the hurdles’, after a particular crossing was built over the river in Viking times, a little up-river from here. The river was wide and shallow then, as there were no quay walls.
The oldest building here is the round Record Tower, built in 1258. It’s all that remains of the Norman original buildings, begun in 1204. The tower was a high security prison in Tudor times. Red Hugh O’Donnell, an Irish chieftain, was imprisoned here in 1587, at the age of fifteen. It was an attempt by England to prevent an alliance of the O’Donnell and O’Neill clans. He escaped twice, one of the very few to do so at all. The famous first escape in 1591 is still commemorated every year, where after reaching the Wicklow Mountains to the south, he was actually handed back by the O’Toole clan, fearing the cruel wrath of the Castle. His second escape in 1592 was more successful, when he reached the O’Byrnes. He died in Spain in 1603, after going there to seek help.
Learn more about Dublin Castle at www.dublincastle.ie