Rockfleet Castle, Newport in Co. Mayo

This Tower House was built sometime in the mid 16th century. It is most famously associated with Grace O'Malley, the notorious pirate and chieftain of the O'Malley clan in the latter part of the 16th century.

The castle is over 18 metres high and has 4 floors, including the ground floor. There are lots of interesting features in the castle. The middle two floors are of wood and the top floor is stone flagged, the barrel vaulted ceiling is a fine example of this construction technique. The stone floor may have been included here as a fire safety device. A wooden ladder is used to access the second floor and from there to the top there is a spiral stone stairway. It is worth observing that this stairs is designed in such a way that an advancing adversary would need to be a left handed sword wielder to have any success in gaining the upper floors.

Set into the very thick walls are a number of small chambers which might have been used by guards and retainers for sleeping quarters. The top floor is most interesting, it has a fireplace, is very spacious and was probably a most comfortable room when the walls were covered with tapestries and the floor with rugs and sheep skins. There is an exit to the battlements and an exit directly out of the building, this way probably used for hauling up furniture and spoils of war.

Grace O'Malley is an interesting character in that she bridges a gap between the old Gaelic way of life and the new order represented by the conquest of Ireland by the Elizabethans. Her son was to become the first Viscount Mayo and make the transition to the new Ireland that was to emerge from the wars of the late 16th century and 17th century.

This essay was written by JP McDermott of the Newport Historical Society. It was sourced from documents in The National Archives as well as The National Library. Other source documents can be found in The County Library, Castlebar, County Mayo.

The author may be contacted at the email address below.

Email: mcd@anu.ie