Ireland Encastellated, AD 950–1550

Insular castle-building in its European context

Tadhg O'Keeffe

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ISBN: 978-1-84682-863-8
February 2021. 240pp; ills

“The key achievement of Tadhg O’Keeffe’s ideas-led volume is to offer something entirely new by shifting the prism of castellology to consider the interrelationship between insular traditions of defence and the wider European context of castle-building ... the text stresses how sites in Ireland deserve greater recognition on the wider European stage … The volume’s style and tone are as distinctive as its scope … With almost 100 illustrations, the volume is enlivened by a superb array of (mainly bespoke) line drawings, crisp photographs and other attractive visuals ... O’Keeffe is to be congratulated on an inspired and thought-provoking volume.” Oliver Creighton, Medieval Settlement Research journal volume (37). 2022

“In recent years, several books have set Irish castles in their wider landscape, whether their immediate settlement, the surrounding physical landscape or the Irish and British context. Tadhg O’Keeffe’s book strives to go beyond these considerations and set Irish castles in their European context, taking the approach of a non-Irish scholar to do so. It systematically explores the fluctuating European influences upon Irish castle building and, to a lesser extent, the impacts of Irish castle building beyond its shores. The author sets out a clear argument that one cannot fully know Irish castles without some knowledge of the non-Irish evidence; as such, this contribution no doubt will be used by the next generation of castellologists to inform their study of the Irish material. O’Keeffe sets out avenues for further research in Irish castle studies towards the end of the book, identifying various angles, such as interrogating late-medieval tower houses for any European influences in their design, and questioning long-standing, even conservative, ideas on early Irish castles. Indeed, one argument sure to ignite debate is O’Keeffe’s case for a more encastellated pre-Norman Ireland than previously considered. Therein lies the particular value of this volume: at times thinking logically and at others more imaginatively, O’Keeffe introduces new questions while countering old answers. This systemic pursuit of the relationship between Irish and non-Irish castles draws upon both archaeological and documentary evidence to create a well-illustrated and nicely produced contribution. It will be of interest to scholars from the disciplines of either history or archaeology, as well as to general readers”. Sarah Kerr, Medieval Archaeology journal vol 66.1

“Ireland has been very well served in recent years by modern scholarship on her medieval castellated landscape. This book by O’Keeffe takes this research much further, especially in the way he rightly sets the castles within their greater European context. Not only does he support this hypothesis generally with both archaeological and documentary evidence, but he does this in such a logical manner that it is hard to counter his views. In many ways the most revolutionary ideas by O’Keeffe are to be found in Chapter 5, where he logically analyses this wider European context for Irish castles in the later Middle Ages. Then, at the end of his book, he very usefully suggests where castle studies in Ireland might go in the future. This well-illustrated, expertly argued book should be essential reading for any scholars, as well as any interested reader, who are interested in the landscape of medieval Ireland, and by medieval historians who are interested in the material culture of our island”. Terry Barry, Current Archaeology, November, 2021.

“Tadhg O’Keeffe is a publishing phenomenon in Irish archaeology … This is a book which should be read, partly as a source, for its bibliography is excellent, but more for the questions it presents. It should be engaged with and debated, checked rather than believed, but then appreciated as the challenge it is: to our systems of classification and how the evidence from castles tells us whether lordship in later medieval Ireland reflected or differed from that in the rest of western Europe.” Tom McNeill, Journal of Irish Archaeology, Vol. XXX (2021)

“This book looks at Irish castles from a European perspective, drawing many parallels and placing them in the context of current knowledge regarding English and continental castles. One key aspect of this is considering whether the earliest castles should be pushed back to the 10th century, rather than after the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, this would bring Ireland into line with the rest of Europe rather than being an outlier. This book questions many assumptions we may have had about Irish castles and helps open up considerable debate about these buildings, all backed up by extensive research and numerous examples.” Newsletter for the Ulster Archaeological Society

"This book should be required reading not only for archaeologists and historians of Ireland, but for anyone interested in castles and/or seigneurial power in the Middle Ages, no matter what their discipline or region of interest. O’Keeffe’s insistence that encastellation in Ireland be defined broadly and understood as part of a Europe-wide phenomenon allows him to argue convincingly that the ideas, worldviews, and seigneurial residences of Ireland’s lords and the masons they patronized were far from insular, and to show the ways in which these structures were participants – from as early as the tenth century and as late as the end of the Middle Ages – in a much wider European conversation about seigneurial power and its manifestations in the landscape. The book’s crystal clear explanations of how to read and interpret castle architecture, its excellent plans and black-and-white illustrations, and its site by site descriptions also make it an ideal companion for anyone touring Irish castles." Professor Robin Fleming, Boston College

"Tadhg O’Keeffe writes with intellectual verve and immense knowledge, as well as very accessibly. This book is much bigger than its title: not just a comprehensive reassessment of Irish castle-building in a European context – though it is that – but a reassessment of many aspects of castle-building in England and France. It opens up a complex subject for newcomers, and transforms it for specialists. It will be a landmark for the next generation." Professor John Blair, University of Oxford

"Ireland Encastellated provides a reassessment of the functions, meanings and chronology of castle-building in medieval Ireland. [The author’s ...] range is perhaps surprising to those who know the evidence, beginning convincingly in the late tenth century, and extending into the sixteenth. He places the Irish evidence within its broader European context, arguing that Ireland was not only the beneficiary of external “influences”, but also arguing for a pan-European conversation that included the “invention” of the castle and the varied developments of the donjon and the semi-circular tower." Professor Sheila Bonde, Brown University