How did the Walled Towns Evolve?

1. Early Settlement

Medieval Irish people lived all over Ireland in big circular settlements called ringforts. Mums, Dads, brothers, sisters, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles and cousins all lived in the ringfort’s round houses, built with thatched roofs and mud walls. The houses were protected by a palisade (big wooden fence) and their animals were brought inside this fence at night.

Later, when monasteries were built, people wanted to be closer to the churches and monks who provided mass, food, hospitals, trade and wealth. So they lived in wooden houses on the outskirts of monasteries.

Reconstruction drawing of early medieval Clones, Co. Monaghan by Philip Armstrong.

2. Viking Towns

The Vikings were from Norway, Sweden and Denmark. They sailed all over the world looking for places to trade with or attack. When the Vikings were raiding Irish monasteries for their wealth, they realised they liked Ireland and decided to stay.

The Vikings built longphorts, or defended bases close to rivers. Some of these later became the first towns in Ireland. Inside the Viking towns were rectangular houses built along straight streets. The Vikings protected their towns with ditches, earthen banks, palisades and of course their swords!

Reconstruction drawing of a Viking settlement by Sara Nylund.

3. Anglo-Norman Towns

The Anglo-Normans came from Normandy in France, they invaded England and Wales before coming to Ireland in 1169. They took over some of the Viking towns and some of the Irish monastic settlements and turned them into Anglo-Norman towns.

At first they built wooden castles and small towns known as motte and baileys. However, the local Irish kept attacking the wooden towns and burning them to the ground. In Athy, County Kildare the town was burned four times by the O’Moores of Laois before the town walls were built of stone to protect the residents. All Anglo-Norman castles and walls were rebuilt in stone to protect the people from attack. As well as keeping out enemies, walls allowed the towns to charge taxes on food and craft items brought into the marketplace for sale.

Reconstruction drawing of New Ross, Co. Wexford – an Anglo-Norman town by Uto Hogerzeil.

Did you know?

Sir Ernest Shackleton the famous Antarctic explorer was from the walled town of Athy, Co. Kildare.

In 1221, Dublin became the first town in Ireland to receive a ‘murage grant’ (money from the King to build town walls)

Sir Walter Raleigh was a famous resident of the walled town of Youghal He was beheaded in England & It Is said that afterwards his wife carried around his severed head in a velvet bag!

When the walls of Kells, Co. Meath were repaired in the 1400s, the townspeople were forced to pay for the work, causing many residents to leave the town!

Derry/ Londonderry’s walls have never been breached (broken into by an invading army!) It is the only walled town to have survived all attacks & is nicknamed the ‘Maiden City’ because of it!

The walled town of Carrickfergus Co.Antrim was the landing place of William of Orange who fought at the Battle of the
Boyne against his father-in-law & became King of England in 1689.

At one stage, Cork City was a monastic settlement, a Viking longphort & an Anglo-Norman town!

Drogheda was originally two walled towns on either side of the River Boyne that became one walled town.