Threecastles Castle, Wicklow, Ireland

Threecastles Castle gets its unusual name from being the only remaining tower house of a set of three, another two were situated nearby. The site of one of the other castles was documented in 19th century ordnance survey maps however today there is no visible ruins. It is thought that Deputy Gerald Fitzgerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, built the castles during the 15th century to keep the area of Talbotstown Lower under his control. The O’ Tooles had been expanding outwards from their heartland of Imaal and Fitzgerald wished to contain them, he then entrusted the castles to his son Sir James Fitzgerald.

Threecastles was situated in a prime location at the edge of the ‘Pale’ and conflict continually raged in this area over the next hundred years. In 1523 the Fitzgerald’s murdered the sheriff of Dublin, Sir Robert Talbot. In revenge Sir Piers Butler launched an attack and gained control over much of western Wicklow, and placed a garrison at the tower house. Over the subsequent years the Fitzgerald’s attempted to reclaim most of their land however the failed rebellion and subsequent execution of Silken Thomas (Thomas Fitzgerald, 10th Earl of Kildare) in 1537 led to the decline of the Fitzgerald’s authority and an ensuing land grab happened in west Wicklow. Turlough O’ Toole – Lord of the O’Tooles – sought to gain control over the area, looking for confirmation of his gains from either the royal authority or the Fitzgeralds who were now considered rebels by the English crown.

In 1538 Turlough became involved in an argument with John Kelway, the royal constable of Rathmore. Kelway had hanged two of Turlough’s servants for ‘eating meat’ within the English border and understandably O’ Toole wanted compensation. A meeting took place between Kelway and O’Toole, and when the meeting turned violent O’ Toole ‘fled’ into the mountains. However O’ Toole had only fled to lead Kelway into an ambush on a mountain pass, the ambush forced Kelway’s men to take refuge in the nearby thatched castle at Three Castles. Kelway and his men were unable to sustain the siege for very long as the castle roof was set on fire. After his victory Turlough permitted his men to kill sixty prisoners and personally executed John Kelway.

During the summer of 1546 the O’Tooles of Imaal and Fitzgerald rebels went on a rampage, burning the villages of Rathvilly, Rathangan and Ballymore Eustace. In May 1547 Sir Anthony St Leger led the forces of the ‘Pale’ alongside Brian O’Toole of Powerscourt to destroy the rebel factions of the O’Byrnes, Fitzgeralds and the O’Tooles of Imaal. The forces of the Pale were victorious and sixteen of the rebels were send to Dublin for trial, they were convicted of treason, and were hanged, drawn and quartered. It appears in the aftermath of this conflict that Threecastles fell into ruin.

EDIT(March 2017): The following addition was kindly sent to me by Max Chevers who came across the following information while conducting research into his own ancestry,

“There appears to be no mention of Three Castles, after Sir Anthony St. Leger’s defeat of the rebels in May 1547.  In fact John Travers, Groom of the Chamber, was granted Three Castles, by the mountain, and further extensive lands, including Monkstown Castle, Co. Dublin….. (Fiants, Henry VIII, 460 (495). As per the Iquisitionum in Officio Rotulorum Cancellariae Hiberniae Asservatarum Repertorium, vol I…1826, the lands had passed into the hands of Cheevers, together with John Sutton of Tippper. As to the Cromwellian Period of 1649-1660, Walter Cheevers, of Monkstown, was transplanted to Connaught, until his recovery of his estates in November 1660, on the Restoration of Charles II. A year before the death of Cheevers, he sold the Lordship of Three Castles to Michael Boyle, Archbishop of Armagh, and Lord Chancellor, in 1677.Trinity College, Dublin, The Down Survey, shows a map of the Lordship of Three Castles…..downsurvey.tcd.ie

What remains at Threecastles is a beautiful tower house with walls a metre and a half in depth. Threecastles is situated in a very strategic position on an east facing slope overlooking a ford of the River Liffey. If visiting Threecastles I thoroughly recommend talking a walk down beyond the castle to the ford as it is incredibly picturesque.

GPS: 53.18173, -6.48738

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