Monday, 2 August 2021

Cratloe Moyle Castle is
difficult to visit but is
a roadside landmark

Cratloe Moyle Castle is close to the N18, between Bunratty and Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

On the road from Ennis or Galway to Limerick, I have often noticed the ruins of a castle in Cratloe, on the north side of the N18 road, half-way between Bunratty and the tunnel at the Shannon.

I have wondered about the story of Cratloe Moyle Castle, but it is dangerous to stop at this point on the road and almost impossible to visit or view the ruins. Yet this one of the most noticeable late mediaeval ruins in the area, although it is overshadowed by neighbouring Bunratty Castle.

The area of Cratloe is first mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters, which record that in 376 AD, Crimthann mac Fidaig, King of Munster and High King of Ireland died in the Cratloe area from poison administered by his sister, Mongfind, who wanted her son, Brión mac Echach Muigmedóin, to be High King.

Mongfind soon died too, as she drank the poison to convince the king to take some. In the end, however, Brian had to settle for the Kingdom of Connaught, while the High Kingship went to his half-brother, who was later known as Niall of the Nine Hostages.

The territory of the MacNamara Clan was invaded in the ninth century by warriors from the Kingdom of Aileach in Ulster. The invaders chopped down oak trees in Cratloe Woods and brought them back to Ulster for the roof of the Aileach Royal Palace. Cratloe Woods have since been known for their oak trees and this wood has been used in many important buildings throughout Europe.

An army led by Gerald Mór FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, marched on Thomond in 1510 and was met and defeated near Cratloe by an army of the O’Brien, McNamara, Sil-Aedha and Clanrickard clans led by Turlough O’Brien.

Cratloe is the location of several ruined castles and tower houses. The most notable is Cratloe Moyle Castle, a striking 16th century tower house. It is sometimes known simply as Cratloe Castle, although it is only one of four castles in the Cratloe area built by the MacNamara clan.

This tower house, on a small rocky outcrop, is five storeys high with three large halls, one over another, and it rises to a height of about 65 ft. There are traces of bartizans on the north-west and south-east angles. The ground floor has a beautiful fireplace and some blocked up windows.

Cratloe Moyle Castle was probably built in the early 16th century, although some sources say it was built as late as 1610 for its construction. It is said to have been built by Sean MacNamara, son of Donnchadh MacNamara who lived in the early 17th century. However, this is unlikely as the castle is mentioned in many documents before his time.

The castle was owned in 1570 by Sean MacConmara, son of Tadhg MacConmara and later passed to the chiefs of MacConmara or MacNamara family. It is possible that Sean MacNamara, son of Donnchadh MacNamara, carried out some of the later renovations or building work in the castle in the early 17th century.

John MacNamara was the last of the main line of the MacNamaras. He died about 1780, and had no sons to succeed him. He was probably the last person to live in Cratloe Moyle Castle. The Cratloe Moyle estate was then bought by George Quin of Quinsborough, near Limerick, and the patrimonial lands passed totally out of the hands of the MacNamara hands after almost 700 years continuous possession.

Cratloe Moyle Castle was bought by Bob Traynor, an Irish American, in 1973. He later sold the surrounding land to Bearing Components Ltd but he retained the ownership of the castle.

Access to the castle is difficult today because of the configurations of the N18, but I understand it is full of litter and the walls are daubed with graffiti.

Cratloe Moyle Castle is a 16th century tower house built by the MacNamara clan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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