Malahide Castle in County Dublin, dating back to the 12th century. (Photo: Ceara Rosetti)
Architecture in Ireland has evolved quite a bit, like most countries. As the needs of the people changed, so did the way buildings were built, specifically castles and churches. Both structures date back thousands of years and each were built with specific intent. Many originals stand strong still and are used for various purposes, while others lay in ruins. Ireland has become known for having both ruined and intact castles that show off the various architectural styles and provide an understanding for the history of the area.
There are more than 20,000 castles today in Ireland. A large majority of these castles are known as the £10 castles, called that due to the reason behind their creation. In 1429, Henry IV offered to pay landlords £10 if they built a (specific sized: at least 16 feet in width, 20 feet in length, and 40 feet in height) castle on their land. He hoped to have places of defense spread throughout Ireland, though it could be argued that the true intention was to keep certain areas subdued by having them and the potential thought that they might be necessary. These castles became known as Tower Houses and became a point of respect for landlords; if someone did not have a Tower House on their land, then the were less respected than those who did.
Other castles in Ireland were truly for housing the wealthy and noble, as well as providing a defense against possible attacks. One castle in particular, Malahide Castle in County Dublin, stayed strong housing the family for over 800 years, until 1973. Dating back to the 12th century, but having several refurbishments since, Malahide Castle welcomes guests to go around and see the beauty that is still standing. The visitors might even get a chance to meet the mischievous ghost, Puck, who is said to be one of the 16th century caretakers whom does not want to move on from the castle.
Lastly are the Irish round towers, which have long intrigued Irish scholars and historians. These towers are called Cloigtheach in Irish, which translates to bell towers in English, though do not quite seem to have actually been bell towers. Cloigtheach were originally built between the 9th and 12th centuries in Ireland and have not been seen anywhere else in the world. At one point in time, there were probably about 120 Irish round towers, however that number has greatly declined to around 20 that are still standing in good condition. Through examination of both intact and ruined towers, it has been seen that the door of nearly every tower built faced west, towards a nearby church. With this in mind, it is likely that these towers were used by early Christan monks as observation platforms to warn the monks of approaching raiders. However, these towers were not built efficiently as defensive structures because there were no arrow slits or military details. On the other hand, the towers would have been useful for hiding away precious objects as the towers were high and dry, thus able to keep objects away from the weather elements, rodents, and the odd passing thief. The most famous round tower is the tower at Glendalough, a monastic site in the Wicklow Mountains, County Wicklow.
Like castles, churches have also become a sought after visit for many tourists and there
certainly is no lack of churches to be seen in Ireland! From the early beginnings of Chrsitianity, it was brought to Ireland by St. Patrick. The religion flourished with the growth of abbeys, churches, and cathedrals being built throughout the country and it survived waves of Viking, Norman, and Cromwellian invasions.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish church architecture was based off of classists who helped rebuild London after the great fire of 1666. As it became more and more influenced by social and cultural forces in the 19th century, the Catholic Church became a strong force in the development of Irish culture. Although the Great Famine created a lack of resources for the building of high quality churches, 80.9% of the Irish population identified as Roman Catholic and the established churches were maintained. After overcoming the famine, there became a need for urban churches that held a larger seating capacity than used to be needed. Many priests became educated abroad around this time so when they returned to Ireland, they brought with them the Classical Revival style seen in Rome: Corinthian pillars, massive porticoes, and neo-classic features.
Following this was the revival of Hiberno-Romanesque due to the rise of Irish Nationalism and the Celtic cultural revival in the late 1800s. People wanted their churches to represent their own history and cultural, not another country’s. Hiberno-Romanesque became seen as a product of national progress that also fortified faith for the people of Ireland. The Honan Chapel, located on the University College Cork campus, is a small church that became a symbol of Hiberno-Romanesque architecture. Rev. Sir John R. O’Connell wrote a book about Hiberno-Romanesque, its meaning, opinions regarding it, and emphasized what the Honan Chapel was intended to convey. The interior is notable for the Celtic revival art seen inside, especially the mosaic floor and stained glass windows. The mosaic floor specifically was inspired by two old Gaelic poems.
The architecture of churches and castles evolved along with the rest of the country. Through the many cultural, societal, and political changes that Ireland went through, so did the style of the buildings around them. Nowadays, visitors and locals alike get to explore many of these structures that are still standing today. Though some might be in ruins, they still tell a lot about what the country has gone through.