in foreground (hedges)
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes this Tower House appeared out of the ruins of Ashtown Lodge in the Phoenix Park. While technically not a ruin as is the normal brief of this blog, it did need restoration and is a fine example of what might be one of the £10 Castles which I have covered numerous times including such examples as Lanestown and Newcastle Lyons Castles in Co Dublin and Fraine and Donore Castles in Co Meath and so I think Ashtown certainly deserves a look.
This Castle emerged from the dismantling of Ashtown Lodge. The Lodge was constructed in the 1770’s and incorporated the existing Tower House into the new building. In 1782 it became the residence of the Under Secretary for Ireland. Then in the 20th century the lodge finally became the residence of the Papal Nuncio and remained so until 1978. The discovery of substantial dry rot rendered the building from being further habitable and so it was decided to demolish it and in doing so the Tower House was discovered underneath one section of the building when the exterior plaster was being removed. It is not clear why its existence had been forgotten but now having been found it became the focal point for a restoration that began in earnest in 1989.
The date of construction of the castle is a little unclear but it is thought to fit the specifications of the aforementioned £10 Castles sanctioned by Henry VI in 1429 to aid in defending the Pale. It was certainly in use in the 1600’s recorded as belonging then to one John Connell and it was apparently surrounded by a great deal of working farmland.
When we visited I was most impressed by the Tower and the area around it. There are hedgerows at the base of the Castle which look to all intents and purposes like a maze but are much too low for this and are in fact a layout reflecting the original foundations of Ashtown Lodge which gives you an idea of how the Castle had been incorporated. On reaching the Castle door I was disappointed to find that it was locked up. This was remedied very quickly when I enquired at the visitor centre and was offered a free tour. A very pleasant and knowledgeable lady called Bernie took us through the four floors of the building relating the history as we went along. It was interesting after visiting so many wonderful ruins of these type of Castles to get an insight just how they might have looked in their time.
Some alterations had been made to the original castle in the restoration. Some Georgian style windows were installed and new wooden floors and roof. The spiral stone staircase which has trip steps to confuse any unwanted invaders dates to late medieval period and may have replaced an earlier wooden one. It’s a narrow staircase but easy enough to navigate.
Both the first floor and second floor contain fireplaces, the second floor being the actual living apartment while the top floor was a garret or attic which has now been turned into a gallery of sorts. I must say the rooms were well lit by the windows and the whitewashed inner walls also contributed to this. I always thought that the whitewashing was a modern touch but It was explained that in those times lime was used to cover the inner walls as an extra sealant and kill any unwanted bacteria so the modern whitewashing is used simply to reflect this. A lot of Castles were also painted on the exterior. The actor Jeremy irons who bought a Castle in Co Cork controversially painted it pink which led to some local objection but in fact this was one of the colours that would have been originally used. Pink in those days was seen as a strong masculine colour while the softer blue was attributed to femininity. There are wall walks on top of the Castle which were originally crenellated but the crenellations were removed in the restoration. Access to the wall walks is by way of the garret level. This is a terrific tour and I would highly recommend a visit especially if you have visited the great ruins of other towers and want further insight. Opening hours for the site are May-October Daily 10am-17.45pm and November to April Weds-Sun 9.30am-17.30pm. Tour is free of charge. There is also a nice Café and a Victorian walled garden on site.
To find Ashtown Castle enter the Phoenix Park onto Chesterfield Avenue and when you have reached the Phoenix monument roundabout at the centre of the park turn onto North Road adjacent to Aras an Uachtarain. There is almost immediately a turn left signposted for the visitor centre. Follow this road up and there is a car park at the top.