Dardistown Castle

A Brief History

 

In the mid 1400’s the English were fully occupied in the Hundred Year’s War.  To compensate for their military absence from Ireland a limited number of government grants of £10 each were made available to landowners in the “The Pale” for the building of fortified houses.  John Cornwalsh obtained a £10 grant in 1465 for the building of Dardistown Castle.  Fifty years later Castle and lands were rented for £4 a year by John and Thomas Talbot, who supplied three armed horsemen for the royal army.


The first extension to the Castle, forming part of the present house, was built before 1582, when Dame Genet Sarsfield (widow of Sir John Plunkett of Dunsoghly) came to reside here, made a new entrance doorway and built a further addition (commemorated by two stone tablets on the house).  Genet Sarsfield was the daughter of John Sarsfield of Sarsfieldstown, just south of Gormanstown.  She had two brothers, Patrick  who was Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1553 and William, Lord Mayor in 1556 (later Sir William of Lucan, who married Margaret Tynnell of Athboy and became ancestor of the famous Jacobite General Sarsfield).


Genet married first Robert Shillingford, alderman of Dublin. Second James, second son of Sir Thomas Luttrell, who died in 1557. Third Robert Plunkett, fifth Baron Dunsany.  She was his second wife and had two sons by him.  He died in 1559. Fourth Sir Thomas Cusack of Cushinstown, as his third wife, and has issue by him. He died 1 April 1571 and had been Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Fifth, Sir John Plunkett of Dunsoghly, who died in 1582.


Dame Genet died 22 or 23 February 1597 and her memorial tablet may be seen in the chancel arch in the old church at Moorchurch.


The historic battle of Julianstown of 1641 is said to have taken place on the front lawn of Dardistown, though at that time separated from the House by the road. Richard Talbot was then in occupation of the Castle. Three new rooms were added to the Castle about this time.


Francis Osborne of Dardistown was M. P. for Navan Borough in 1692 and 1695, and the Osborne family continued to occupy Dardistown until the death of the last member of the family in recent times.

The present front hall, drawing room and dining room date from around 1750. The upper floors were added in two stages, the back about 1800 and the front in 1860.


Around 1800 the road (main Drogheda – Dublin road at that time) was moved so that, instead of passing the front door, it now curved several hundred yards from the Castle, enclosing the area which is now picturesque parkland.


In 1827, Mr Henry Osborne of Dardistown bred the horse, Abe-el Kader, which ran in the Grand National five times, winning on two consecutive occasions in 1850/1851.


Dardistown is a huge fortress like structure. The plan of the Castle basically consists of an oblong with a quadrangular turret at each corner. These turrets differ slightly in size. Including the turrets, each side of the building is about 44 feet long above the base batter. The main entrance an arched doorway on the north side is now blocked up, and there is a ruined machicoulis above it at roof level. The present entrance is on the southside.


On the ground floor, the main room and the smaller rooms in three of the turrets all have pointed barrel vaults. Following a native Irish technique, woven wicker mats resting on timber beams were used to support the vaults during their construction and at Dardistown bits of the wickerwork may still be seen embedded in the undersides of the vaults.

The southwest turret contains the spiral staircase, which is very unusual in Meath as it winds upwards in an anti clockwise direction. Otherwise it is built in the same crude fashion as the others with uneven stone steps and newel at the centre. Dardistown is 50 feet high to the top of its parapet and has four stories below its roof level. The upper floors have wooden ceilings. The main room on each level has a large fireplace in its west wall with a chimney rising up in the wall thickness. Over the second floor the windows in the other three walls are over three-foot wide, and once had seats built into their splayed sides. The windows on the third floor are smaller and had no seats. At all levels above the ground floor the southeast turret contains a small chamber with an even smaller garderobe chamber opening off it. The northeast and northwest turrets also contain small chambers, probably bedrooms. The garderobes are ceiled with stone corbelled “bee-hive” vaults, while the other chambers had wooden ceilings. The third floor has a lower ceiling and smaller windows than the second floor.

At roof level, the four corner turrets rise up above the rest of the building. The stair turret opens out onto the wall-walk, and the southeast turret has a gardarobe as on the floors below. Each turret has a small external stairway to its stone roof for look out purposes. The original roof has been replaced, but the parapet is still in position.

An extension dating from 1583 adjoins the west wall of the tower and so there are no windows left  on this side. The corner turrets were lit by unmoulded narrow slits in their three-foot thick walls.


Dardistown is an excellent example of a large fifteenth Century Manor House and was surely built by a wealthy and ambitious landowner. A church dedicated to the Virgin Mary used to stand on its grounds and the Civil Survey recorded the Castle, a stone house and two mills on the estate.