Desmond Castle resides on the banks of the River Maigue near the town of Adare in County Limerick, Ireland. No records document when the original castle was built or by whom, but it is said the O'Donovans, rulers in the region, may have made the first ring fort here in the early part of the 13th century.
The earliest description of the castle is found in an Inquisition of Adare taken in 1329 – 1331, which describes the castle as having a hall, a chapel with stone walls covered with slates, and a chamber with parts covered in thatch, all of which were laid to waste on account of war. There was no mention of the war responsible for the castle's demise.
In 1334, the castle was granted to Sir John Darcy, guardian to the young Earl of Kildare, by Edward III, suggesting the castle must have been rebuilt after the time of the Inquisition.
Desmond Castle was the property of Earls of Kildare for centuries, but they appear to have resided elsewhere for much of the 14th and 15th centuries. One historical document does mention that the 9th Earl of Kildare set out from the castle to meet the charges brought against him by the influence of Cardinal Wolsey in 1519. There was a rebellion in 1536, resulting in the castle being granted to the Fitzgerald dynasty, Earls of Desmond, who gave the castle its present name.
In 1578, the English took the castle after an eleven-day siege. The castle changed hands several times until the mid-17th century. Then, in 1657, it was dismantled by orders of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England.
In 1683, Desmond Castle came into the possession of Thady Quinn, who, with his descendants, the Earls of Dunraven, helped preserve what was left of the ruins. At that time, the ruins consisted of an inner and outer ward and a massive square keep.
In 1825, the castle was extensively repaired by the Second Earl of Dunraven, leading to portions of the walls being restored due to the overgrowth of ivy. It is now in the care of the State as a national monument, and conservation works continue.
Desmond Castle is beautiful, with the best views from the bridge crossing the River Maigue as you enter Adare. It is bordered on the other side by a golf course. It is a fine example of a Norman ring castle with a large central keep inside two concentric baileys or wards. The massive stone keep is the most impressive feature of the castle, located inside the inner ward. As a ruin, there is little in the way of rooms to visit apart from a dark cellar at ground level. There is a giant yew tree in the inner ward. Yew trees were popular in castles as their wood was used to make crossbows.
The outer ward contains the Gate Tower, which was being worked on during my visit in 2007 to make the portcullis fully functional again. At that time, the only castle with a functioning portcullis in Ireland was at Cahir Castle. The outer ward also contains the ruins and foundations of the stables, hall, ovens, and the Water Tower.
Tours of Desmond Castle are available daily from June through the end of September by shuttle bus from the Heritage Centre in Adare. I highly recommend you book in advance as they are popular. I chose to walk back to town at the end of the tour to see the castle from the bridge. If you want to visit another nearby castle, Bunratty Castle and King John's Castle are less than an hour's drive north.