While only the ruins of the Ormonde Castle remain, the castle origins can be traced back to the Viking times, and this site marks the Medieval core of Arklow town. What remains of Castle, on the edge of a steep rocky outcrop in an area known as ‘The Alps’, can be best viewed up close adjacent Courthouse on Main Street Arklow directly across from St Mary & Peters Church. To get an idea of the scale of the building, it is possible to view its elevated position from the banks of the River Avoca along the Riverwalk and from walking along the Coomie Lane.
History of the Ormonde Castle
Although evidence exists that the site of the Ormonde Castle had been a Viking seasonal base from the 9th Century, documented records only began with the arrival of the Normans. In 1185, Theobald Walter, also known as Fitzwalter, was granted the ‘castle of Arklow with the vill of Arklow’. During the 1920’s his great-grandson, Theobald Fitzwalter IV, replaced the early fortification with a stone complex. This extensive complex was spread over a large area now occupied by the remains of a single castle tower, three homes, the old Ormonde cinema and Ormonde Hall. The Fitzwater’s, under the name Butler, eventually became one of the most powerful families in Ireland as earls and later dukes of Ormonde.
It’s probable that Arklow remained a Norman stronghold over subsequent years and that a thriving marketplace operated in the area in front of the castle, now called the Parade Ground.
However, the castle was to suffer many attacks during the 16th Century. In September 1649, Oliver Cromwell and his army passed through Arklow and although his arch-rival was the Earl of Ormonde who’s first seat at the time was the castle at Arklow, on this occasion the castle and its residents were unharmed, and Cromwell spent a peaceful night there.
However, the Castles royalist garrison fled rather than engage with Cromwell’s army, and when Cromwell moved on, he left behind his own garrison. However, the garrison was attacked and killed by some local clans, the O’Toole’s and the O’Byrne’s, about three months later. Arklow was under siege for around 8 weeks until Colonel Hewson arrived from Dublin with 1,000 horse and foot men to relieve the town, prompting the attackers to retreat. In January 1650 the O'Byrne’s and O'Toole’s laid siege to the Castle once more. Captain Barrington, in charge of the small garrison, met the clans and fought a bitter and bloody battle. Many of the attackers were killed and the rest fled to the surrounding hills. Two months later, Cromwell ordered the castle’s destruction, leaving just one badly damaged tower.
Today, part of the castle wall and circular corner tower remain. This tower would have defended to the north of the castle. Within the curtain wall there is a sallyport gateway, a type of secure entrance way which would have protected from enemy penetration, and a small window which is covered with vegetation.
The castle tower is reputed to be haunted by a ghostly drummer boy who came to an untimely and grisly end in the tower dungeon.