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A Survey of Monuments of Archaeological and Historical Interest in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare by William Gerrard Ryan

Part 4: Castles and tower houses c.1500
Chapter 44: St. Patrick's Parish (Part of)


Nat. Grid Ref. R580600; ½” Sheet 17

Photo 1: Castle of the Weir
Photo 1: Castle of the Weir

R.C. Parish : Meelick - Parteen
Townland : West of St. Thomas’ Island, (River Shannon)
6” O.S. Sheet number : 63 (Co. Clare)
Reference : 16.1 cm North; 30.4 cm West
Height (G.L.) : c. 25’ O.D.
1” O.S. Sheet number : 143 (Limerick)

For information on this seventeenth century defensive feature covering one of the routes into Limerick city refer to: - a) site description b) series of photographs.


An examination of this castle site on the relevant 6” O.S. Sheet will show that it is built on outcropping rock in the centre of the river Shannon, west of St. Thomas’ Island (see Photo 1).

Field examination found an outcrop of hard rock in this immediate area, on which was constructed not only a castle but also a salmon weir the full width of the river. This weir, now unused, is shown on Photo 1. It, of course, dates to a later period than the castle ruins.

To get to the actual castle and examine it is quite difficult because of its site on a fairly wide river. One can no longer use the actual weir as the planks connecting one section to another have long since collapsed (Photo 1). This then leaves one with two options: a) boat b) to wade across the river.

Field examination found that use of a boat could be both dangerous and tricky. As stated previously outcrop occurs in the river area and this would make a boat trip unsafe. Also due to obstructions on the river, the presence of the disused salmon weir, the river Shannon current tends to be strong at this point. I did attempt, with local help, to reach the site on two occasions by boat but on both occasions the tide was unfavourable.

It thus became necessary to wade the river, at a time when it was calculated that the river Shannon would be at its lowest level in the week. This, as one would expect, proved quite difficult and it took over 90 minutes to wade the short distance.

Formerly it would have been impossible to wade this river that is before the Shannon Navigation Scheme of the late 1920’s.

Locals maintain that before the construction of the hydroelectric dam at Ardnacrusha the level of this river was some 3 feet higher. Thus any attempt to try and attack the site by wading over the river would have been impossible. This, then, would have meant that boats were the method of communication with the site.

What are the features of this interesting site as it survives to date (1979)? The actual site is some 9 metres high (Photo 2) with its main and only entrance to the south. This feature is certainly of interest. The actual doorway is 3.50 metres above the base of the castle (Photo 3). Why? I would feel that there were two reasons for this. Firstly as a measure against high tides it was essential that this doorway should be well above the flood level reached by the river. However I feel that the second reason is the more likely. Such a high doorway acted as a defensive feature. It was all the more difficult for attackers to get into the site.

Problems with tide did not allow time to draw a scaled site plan of this castle. However I did have the opportunity to note and have photographed some of the main features.

On entering the castle via the stone-cut pointed doorway (Photo 3) one entered a room 8 metres long (east-west) and 4 metres wide (north-south). One of the interesting features of this floor was the large number of windows it contained. Three windows, all in a good condition, existed in the south wall. All three were long and narrow but two had wide spaces for guns at their lower part. The west wall had only one window which is now fully blocked up. The north wall, which is shown in Photo 2, had four main windows (similar to those in the south wall) plus a projecting guardrobe near the north-east corner. This feature, which is in a good condition, is to be seen to the left of Photo 2. The actual discharge shaft was to the north with gun windows facing west and east.

Photo 4 shows some of the features of the east wall area, especially towards the south-east corner. In this photo the entrance to the guardrobe is to the left. On the actual floor is an opening which originally led down to a type of cellar area on the same level as the river. This is now blocked up by loose stone. In the right of Photo 4 are the stairs leading to the upper area or battlements (Photo 5).

Photo 5 does not do full justice to the roof area. Examination found that it consists of slightly raised but sloping limestone blocks with spaces for rain water between. In the centre of this photo, to the left of the tape, is the stairway from the previous floor. Checking locally I was told that this roof region at one stage had a 1 to 1.50 metre wall all about it. Over the years people going to the site knocked this wall down into the Shannon below.

When was this site built? From the previous description alone we can see that it was not a Tower House nor had any important features in common with such buildings.

What do the usual sources tell us about it? Absolutely nothing. It is not even mentioned in the College List of 1580 A.D. Why? I believe the site had not been built at that date.

Detailed examination of Caslaunnacorran suggests to me an early seventeenth century date, Elizabethan perhaps but more probably Jacobean. Why was it constructed? I regard this site as one of the outer defences of nearby Limerick city. It was built to defend the Shannon passage at Parteen. Fortunately we do have a reference which refers briefly to the inglorious part played by this castle in the Siege of Limerick, 1690’s. This interesting reference states: -
“… Five hundred head of cattle that had been taken in Burren, Co. Clare, were driven on and killed to refresh the army to which Ludlow and his friends now returned and which had already possessed themselves of a fort that stood in the middle of the river Shannon, on the great Lax weir, where the ruins of the castle are yet (1866) to be seen. A small battery of two guns had been erected against the castle; one of them was fired into a room and breaking the leg of a soldier so terrified the others that betaking themselves to their boats they abandoned the place – which the Parliamentarians perceiving fired so furiously on them that all in the boats surrendered, not withstanding which, some of them were put to the sword…” Source: Lenihan, 1866, pages 173 and 174.


O.S. Letters (1839), Volume 2, page 130
Lenihan, M.
“Limerick its history and antiquities”,
Limerick, 1866, pages 173 and 174.

Photo 2: North face of the Castle
Photo 2: North face of the Castle

Photo 3: The entrance to the castle is in the south face, 3 ½ metres above ground level
Photo 3: The entrance to the castle is in the south face, 3 ½ metres above ground level

Photo 4: Interior of the castle, towards the south-east corner
Photo 4: Interior of the castle, towards the south-east corner

Photo 5: Roof area of castle of the Weir, with St. Thomas’s Island in the background
Photo 5: Roof area of castle of the Weir, with St. Thomas’s Island in the background