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At Threecastles, close to where the River Liffey enters Blessington Lake, stands a well preserved medieval towerhouse. There were once three towerhouses in this area, but this is the only surviving standing structure. The early 19th century Ordinance Survey maps, suggest that a second castle may have been built 300 metres to the east and, although the location of the third castle is unknown, it could be Burgage Castle which is 4.7 km to the southwest.

It was strategically placed on an east facing slope that overlooked a ford on the river Liffey. What survives today is a well built and well preserved rectangular three storey towerhouse with a projecting stair and garda-robe turret on its north-eastern edge. Its walls are faced with ashlar blocks of granite and they approximately 5 feet thick. The first floor has a large granite fireplace and windows with decorative mouldings, and the third floor roof is barrel vaulted. Originally, the structure extended on the tower’s west side. The site hasn’t been archaeologically investigated, but the compound must have included extensive out-buildings, such as stables, grain storage, livestock and living areas for some of its inhabitants. It would probably have been protected by a surrounding wooden barricade or even a stone wall.

Brief History

Very little of the towerhouse’s history is actually known and most of its recorded events relate to the conflicts between rival factions.

In the 12th century, the densely forested region was held by the Archbishop of Dublin. But later, the region was seized by the O’Toole’s. The O’Tooles were Wicklow’s most powerful clan and they held sway for more than two centuries. Throughout this period, rival Irish clans vied with each other for power and land. In the late 15th century the Fitzgeralds (the Earls of Kildare) emerged as the most powerful force in Ireland. English influence was diminishing and it was confined to a small area around Dublin known as the Pale.

Gerald Fitzgerald, Lord Deputy of Ireland, took control from the O’Tooles around 1500. It is likely that he or his son, Sir James Fitzgerald, built the castles. These mini castles were strategically located to form a line of defence against incursions by the Irish clans.

Threecastles was where the territories of the Fitzgerald’s, the O’Toole’s and the English met, and it was the scene of constant strife. During Christmas 1523, the Fitzgeralds murdered Sir Robert Talbot, the Sheriff of Dublin. Sir Piers Butler led a revenge attack into Wicklow and took over all of the Fitzgerald castles in the locality. Fitzgerald influence in Wicklow declined even further following the disastrous failed rebellion of Silken Thomas in 1534.

Turlough O’Toole took the opportunity to assert his control in the area. In 1538 he was embroiled in a dispute with John Kelway, the royal constable of Rathmore, who had hanged two of O’Toole’s servants for provocatively '... eating meat' within the English border. Turlough O’Toole lured Kelway into a prepared ambush and forced the constable to take refuge in Threecastles. The towerhouse’s thatched roof was fired forcing Kelway to surrender. Turlough (clearly in no mood for mercy) permitted his men to kill sixty prisoners before personally putting Kelway to the sword.

A decade later, Brian O’Toole, a son of Turlough O’Toole, joined forces with the English and defeated the Fitzgeralds at Threecastles, after which Henry Fitzgerald and Maurice Fitzgerald were taken to Dublin and executed by being hung, drawn and quartered.


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