When my grandfather was a kid, he played in a real castle. The castle was built on a high spot along the shore near the narrow entry to Lough Folye in 1303 by Richard de Burgh, the Norman Red Earl of Ulster. The Castle was called Northburg, northern castle, or in Irish ‘Caislean Nua’. It was commonly called “Greencastle” because of the greenish tint to the rock used to build it. In 1316 a fleet led by Edward the Bruce invaded from Scotland. Edward captured the castle and had himself crowned King of Ireland. That only lasted a few months, and the castle was returned to Richard, the Red Earl. In 1333 William, the Brown Earle, grandson of Richard, was murdered, ending Norman rule for the time being. The castle came under the control of the O’Dohertys. In 1555 the castle started on its road to ruin when Calvagh O’Donnell attacked it with a piece of ordinance new to the country, artillery. There were attempts to repair the castle and it was periodically used to billet troops. But by 1700 the Northberg was a ruin.
In 1961, as a 14-year-old spending part of the summer in Greencastle with my Grandfather, I explored the castle. Seven years later, as newlyweds, Suzi and I explored the castle together. In 1986 out sons “Brian the Bold” and “Captain Kevin” played in the castle and 30 years ago we stood with my mother at the bottom of the hill admiring the castle she had heard her father talk about so much when she was a girl.
A lot has changed in the last thirty years. There used to be a large expanse of green leading to the castle. Now apartments and the “Castle Inn” come close to the ruins, which are fenced in to contain a herd of goats living on the castle grounds.
I was looking up at the castle, over the fence, when the goatherd said “youse look like ye want to climb that fence.”
I told him that my grandfather had played in that castle as a kid and so had I. “So you’d be wanting in?” I said yes and he unlocked a small portal where the goats could get in and out and I bent over and crawled through. It was kind of a struggle for me with my creaky bones.
“How old are youse? 76! You carry your age well. Perhaps I better open up a bigger gate.”
So my two grandsons, Liam and Elias, along with both sons and I, got to explore the castle. Fiona stayed in the car reading.
Afterward the goatherd, his friend and I got into a discussion about the castle. It is very easy to get into conversations in Ireland. Conversation is the national pastime. We talked about the parts of the castle that were solid, and the parts near the water that may not be so solid, those cannon shots 500 year ago weakened the waterside. There was history, and there were stories. We were joined by a woman, the daughter of the owner of the Castle Inn. She said her parents started building the hotel in 1994, the year after we had been there with my mom. The apartments came after that. The builders did a good job making the flats look like they fit into the village. It’s good that folks have nice housing with a great historic view, but somehow I missed the broad green approach to the ruins of Newburg, Greencastle. But I was happy to pass on the experience of exploring a castle ruin to another generation.