Wednesday, 9 January 2019

The Desmond Castle in
Adare was a FitzGerald
stronghold for centuries

Desmond Castle or Adare Castle, on the north bank of the River Maigue, was a FitzGerald stronghold for centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019; click on images for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

Desmond Castle, sometimes called Adare Castle, stands on the north bank of the River Maigue on the edge of Adare, Co Limerick. It is a fine example of a mediaeval fortified Irish castle and it is one of a number of outstanding castles in Co Limerick.

The castle was built on a strategic position on a substantial earlier ringwork where it could able to control traffic on the river. However, the heavy traffic on the main road between Limerick and Tralee, and the danger posed by the fact that there are no footpaths on the bridge make it difficult for passers-by to pause and admire the castle and its setting.

While I was in Adare earlier this week [7 January 2019], I managed to find a safe point on Adare Bridge to admire this castle, first built in the early 13th century on the site of an earlier ring-fort, and then walked along the bank of the river on the west side of the bridge.

A castle or fortress is said to have first been built with an ancient ring-fort by the O’Donovans, who ruled the region into the late 12th century.

Desmond Castle is believed to have been built by William de Burgo in the 12th century. The ownership of the castle passed to the FitzGeralds, Earls of Kildare, some time in the mid-13th century.

For almost 300 years, the castle was the property of the Earls of Kildare, until the rebellion in 1536, when it was forfeited and granted to another branch of the FitzGerald dynasty, the Earls of Desmond.

The Desmond FitzGeralds made the castle in Adare one of their important strongholds and one in a series of significant and strategic Desmond properties in this area, along with the banqueting hall in Newcastle West, the castle in Askeaton and Castle Matrix near Rathkeale.

James FitzMaurice FitzGerald led a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth and occupied much of Munster in the first ‘Desmond Rebellion’ from 1569 to 1573. During the rebellion, the FitzGeralds lost Desmond Castle in Adare after a siege. The castle was later destroyed in 1657 by Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces.

The castle is surrounded by a strong battlemented rampart with semi-circular bastions. It has a distinct inner ward and an outer ward. The inner ward has a three-storey square tower that forms the defensive core of the castle, surrounded by a moat. This square tower on the west side gives access to the outer ward, which two halls on the river side, including the large rectangular Great Hall.

Near the Great Hall is the remains of the kitchen, bakery and service rooms. The main entrance with drawbridge is on the south side and was flanked by two towers. There is a moat that was surrounded by a curtain wall.

A major programme of conservation and restoration works began in 1996 and has been completed in recent years. Tours of the 13th century Norman castle take place daily from June to the end of September by shuttle bus, but these can only be arranged through the Heritage Centre on the Main Street, Adare.

The Desmond Castle seen from the west side of Adare Bridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019; click on images for full-screen view)

However, the castle can also be viewed clearly from the bridge over the River Maigue. Adare Bridge is a 14-arch rubble stone bridge, rebuilt in 1837, carrying road over the River Maigue, and forms an attractive approach over the River Maigue.

The bridge, with its rubble stone parapet walls, incorporates the fabric of an earlier structure, dating from ca 1390-1410 and built by Gerald FitzGerald, 5th Earl of Kildare, who was Justiciar of Ireland in 1405 and died in 1432.

The large number of spans, totalling 14 arches, make this bridge a notable feature on the landscape. Among the pointed segmental arches, the fifth to the tenth arch, counting from the north side (from the left of the photograph) are original mediaeval arches.

The original 14th or 15th century bridge was widened in 1837 by Windham Henry Quin (1782-1850), 2nd Earl of Dunraven, who added the segmental arches with cut voussoirs and the V-cutwaters on the east side, rising vertically to form pedestrian refuges. Downstream, the ring stones, spandrel walls and parapets are the work of the Dunravens of Adare Manor.

The well-designed pedestrian refuges are notable and very practical features, and they allowed me to stand in from the roaring traffic to photograph the castle on the banks of the river.

A pretty thatched cottage on the Main Street in Adare this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019; click on images for full-screen view)

An invitation to speak
in Lichfield on stories of
the Comberford family

Comberford Hall, between Tamworth and Lichfield … I have been invited to speak to Lichfield Civic Society on 17 September on ‘The Comberfords of Comberford Hall and the Moat House’

Patrick Comerford

Lichfield Civic Society has announced its programme for 2019, and I am delighted to have been invited back to speak again this year.


I have been invited to speak on 17 September 2019 on the Comberfords of Comberford Hall and the Moat House. Comberford village is in the Parish of Wigginton and Alrewas, within Lichfield District Council, and the Moat House was the Comberford family’s Elizabethan town house on Lichfield Street, Tamworth.

Successive generations of the Comberford family were involved in the civic, political, social and ecclesiastical life of Lichfield over the centuries. The family became directly engaged in the life of Lichfield in the 15th and 16th centuries, with bequests to the Franciscan Friary and through membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John, effectively the city government of Lichfield from 1387 until 1548.

In 1530, Dame Isabella Cumberforde (Isabel Biggs), wife of Judge Richard Comberford, was admitted to the Guild, indicating her strong commercial interests in Lichfield. Her husband, Richard Comberford, is supposed to be the immediate ancestor of the Comerford family in Ireland. Later, Henry Comberford was Precentor of Lichfield at the time of the Reformation.

The involvement of the family in the life of Lichfield continued into the 17th century, when both Colonel William Comberford and his nephew, also William Comberford, were involved in the siege of Lichfield. William Comberford ‘the nephew’ appears to have lived in Lichfield, drawing on his neighbours in the city in 1641 to form trusts that secured his interest in the mortgaged Comberford estates.

Colonel William Comberford was the Royalist High Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1643, and he fought at the siege of Lichfield in the English Civil War.

After the fall of Tamworth, as the Moat House was being ransacked, William Comberford escaped to Lichfield, where once again he joined the royalist army defending the city against a new siege. The family continued to live in Lichfield until the end of the 17th century.

The Lichfield Civic Society was founded over half a century ago on 24 February 1961 at a public meeting held in the Guildhall. The meeting was described at the time as ‘probably as representative a gathering as any that had ever come together in Lichfield,’ and the turnout indicated the extent of concern in the 1960s for the future of the city.

At an early stage, the society established a number of study groups to investigate the heights of buildings, distribution of open spaces, street furniture, the preservation of buildings, development and planning, trees and planting and footpaths.

It could be said that the historic City of Lichfield would be different today had members of Lichfield Civic Society and other like-minded people failed to make their voices heard at that time.

Today, Lichfield Civic Society continues to comment on a variety of local planning and environmental issues, including housing development, new shopping facilities and excessive street furniture. The society also organises a series of monthly meetings that are addressed by speakers on a wide variety of topics.

Speaking at Lichfield Civic Society last April on the Wyatt family of Weeford

I was invited to speak to Lichfield Civic Society last year [24 April 2018] on the Wyatt family of Weeford, a family from the Lichfield area that for successive generations had immeasurable influences on architecture and building design in these islands.

The full programme for this year which was published this week is:

Thursday 17 January 2019: Ian Harvey, ‘The History and Future of the Civic Movement.’

Tuesday 19 February 2019: Annual General Meeting, followed by Dr Mike Hodder, ‘Letocetum – the Roman Fort and Settlement at Wall.’

Thursday 21 March 2019: Ned Williams, ‘Looking at Shops.’

Tuesday 23 April 2019: Louise Morris, ‘Transforming the Trent Valley.’

Thursday 23 May 2019: Phillip Modiano, ‘The Revd John Louis Petit (1801-1868), Artist and Architectural Critic.’

Tuesday 18 June 2019: David Wilkinson, ‘My twenty favourite Staffordshire Places.’

Thursday 18 July 2019: Richard Stone, ‘Offa – the Quality of Mercia.’

Tuesday 17 September 2019: Patrick Comerford, ‘The Comberfords of Comberford Hall and the Moat House.’

Thursday 17 October 2019: June Jukes, ‘The work of the Friends of Cannock Chase.’

Tuesday 19 November 2019: Alan Hill, ‘The Life and Works of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.’

Tuesday 17 December 2019: Jonathan Oates, ‘The Butcher, the Baker and the Undertaker, Lichfield’s Victorian Tradesmen.’

The meetings begin at 7.45 p.m. in Wade Street Church Community Hall, Frog Lane, Lichfield, unless otherwise indicated. Non-Members are always welcome. Admission is £3, and free to members and school students.

Wade Street Church … the Community Hall at Frog Lane is the venue for the Lichfield Civic Society meetings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)