Historic Monuments 4

Historic monuments from the late Middle Ages to the Plantation of Ulster

Later Medieval Tower Houses, Audley’s castle.


In the later medieval period, defensive structures were erected by both Anglo-Norman and Gaelic landowning families. There are about 3000 tower houses in Ireland, small castles whose function was both defensive and domestic.

Audley’s castle, near Strangford in Co Down, dates from the fifteenth century. On a rocky hill, overlooking the Narrows linking Strangford Lough with the Irish Sea, the tower house is defensively secure as well as aggressively imposing.

Originally protected by a rectangular enclosure, or ‘bawn’, the three storey castle is of the ‘gatehouse’ type, with two projecting
towers defending the entrance.

Plantation period fortified houses, Bellaghy bawn

The English and Scottish, who settled in Ulster following the defeat of the Gaelic aristocracy in the early seventeenth century, undertook to build fortified dwellings to defend their holdings. Many adopted the ‘bawn’ or fortified courtyard house, such as the one built by Sir Baptist Jones of the London Vintners’ Company in Bellaghy, near Magherafelt in Co Londonderry.

Erected rapidly in 1619, Bellaghy bawn is square in plan, with strong round towers built as ‘flankers’ on the south east and north west corners. These towers allowed the defenders to fire on anyone attacking the walls on either side.

The defensive capabilities of the bawn were reinforced with an earth and stone gun platform, discovered by an excavation between 1989 and 1990. However, Bellaghy bawn was surrendered to the native Irish rebels of 1641.

Plantation bawns such as Bellaghy, or Dalway’s bawn in Co Antrim, were also dwelling places. At Bellaghy, two two storey stone houses were built against the south and west wall, with the southern being replaced in the eighteenth century.

Indeed, Bellaghy bawn continued to be occupied until 1987, when it was taken into state care. The bawn is now a museum and heritage centre, focusing primarily on the work of Seamus Heaney.


The Archaeology of Ulster from Colonization to Plantation (1991) by JP Mallory and TE McNeill; Living Places: Archaeology, Continuity and Change at Historic Monuments in Northern Ireland (1997) by J Colm Donnelly; Historic Monuments of Northern Ireland: An Introduction and Guide (1998) by HMSO; Pieces of the Past: Archaeological Excavations by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland 1970-1986 (1998) by C Hamlin and J Lyn.