John de Courcy in East Ulster

John de Courcy (c. 1150 – 1219) came to Ireland with Henry II. Having captured Downpatrick and repulsed repeated attempts by the Irish, he used it as a base for the next 27 years.

Under him, the Norman’s established significant bases at Newry, Carlingford, Carrickfergus and Coleraine, all of which soon developed into towns and an infrastructure of estates and monasteries grew up around them. He was married to Affreca, daughter of the king of Man, and she was instrumental in the founding of the Cistercian Grey Abbey in County Down and other monasteries. De Courcy came into conflict with King John, son of Henry II, but defeated his forces in 1204. Finally captured and sent to the Tower of London, he was released after some time and died in France.

One of Ulster’s most evocative medieval ruins, Dundrum Castle, was founded by the legendary de Courcy following his invasion of Ulster in 1177. The site occupies the summit of a rocky hill, commanding fine views over Dundrum Bay and the plains of Lecale, controlling access into east Down from the south. De Courcy’s original castle may have had defences of earth and timber, but it is probable that the stone curtain wall of the upper ward was built as early as the 1180s.

As with other early enceinte (enclosure) walls, there were no towers, but defence was evidently aided by covered walks with machicolations along the outside wall-head. An early timber hall may have been sited near the keep, where there is a double-latrine in the curtain wall.

Photo: Dundrum Castle – Photography by Ray’s Fine Art



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