Today I am taking a break from the sites within the Ecclesiastical settlement at St. Mullins to jump across the road to one of my personal favourite site in the area. The Motte and Bailey. It’s the first thing that you will notice as you drive into St. Mullins, commanding a watchful presence over its surrounds, even today. On a clear day there is some stunning scenery to be viewed from the summit of the mound. On my arrival there was a young father with his son, whom where using an old coal sack to slide down its steep sides. A practise that I am sure has occurred here many times over the years. Initially I wondered might this have been an early Irish fortification which pre-dated the arrival of Norman invaders, such as The Rock of Dunamase for example. It wold have made sense for St. Moling to have his cemetery close by. As it would have given him a certain amount of protection. But after reading about how this settlement was plundered by our friendly Northmen on a number of occasions, I quickly put this theory to rest.
Located directly across from the main enterance to the monastery, which would suggest that whatever Norman Lord built his fortification here, either wanted to protect the monastery or wanted to remove the control/power of the monastery and claim it for himself. Not only would this structure have overshadowed the monastery, but it would have controlled the main road through the village and indeed access to the monastery itself. Over the years it was believed that there were up to 150 various castles in the Carlow area. I was only able to find the name of one Castle in the locale of “Tymolyn” which was an old variation of what is now known as St. Mullins. So I wonder if this Motte and Bailey is indeed the site of Cushlanmoyle Castle?
Aside from the afore mentioned this fortification was also strategically placed overlooking the Barrow river, so whomever lived here, controlled not only the monastery, but also the transport routes of the area, both land and water. The site itself consists of a steep sided mound of about 9 meters in height, with a diameter of about 40m. It is enclosed by a deep wide fosse, with signs of an outer bank to the north and east. The rectangular bailey which runs north-west from the motte, is about 24x46m and is enclosed by a low bank and external fosse. Now considering this was built back in the 12th century as commonly believed, the chances are that this fortification was of the early Norman wooden variety. These were normally followed by a more permanent stone structure, but there is little trace to support this which leads me to believe that this was in fact a wooden fort.
As far as Norman motte’s go this is quite impressive and in good condition. However the bailey does not appear to have been as lucky and is rather difficult to make out. In all a great place to visit on a sunny day, with stunning views and plenty to do. I you are planning on visiting with children, don’t forget an old sack for sliding down the mound. Its been years since Ive done so but it looks like great fun.