The story of Swords Castle near Dublin, which spans some 810 years, can be divided in a building and shaping chapter of 400 years and another chapter of four centuries with tales of neglect and decay. The story ends happily with a ten year long chapter of glorious restoration.
Construction work on Swords Castle began in the 12th Century with the appointment of the first Norman bishop of Dublin, John Comyn.
In addition to being an archbishop, John Comyn was a landowner. Many Irish people were resentful of the Normans, so it was necessary for him to build a fortified stronghold that would ensure security for himself and his retainers.
The castle was founded on the well associated with St. Colmcille. Swords Castle is unusual in that, with the perimetre of 305 meters, it is far larger than normal for an Irish Castle and was constructed in piecemeal fashion over a period of 400 years.
The present day visitor to Swords Castle must bear in mind that our medieval ancestors were actually much smaller than we are. This is reflected in the relatively low walls and small doors, windows and gates in the very sturdy building.
It was not only the home of the Archbishops of Dublin, it is said that parliaments were held in the great hall of the castle. Swords Castle was never strong in the military sense, but covers a large pentagonal walled area of nearly 1.5 acres with a tower on the north, probably the Constable’s residence, and an impressive gateway complex on the south. The warder may have occupied the quarters to the left of the gate, while to the right was the janitor’s room with the priest’s room overhead.
The adjoining chapel, built in the late thirteenth century, was probably used as the Archbishop’s private oratory. Other buildings, recorded for an inquisition in 1326, have now vanished, including the great hall on the east side of the enclosure. The Archbishop abandoned Swords once a new palace was built at Tallagh in 1324.
The stepped battlements suggest some form of occupancy during the fifteenth century, but by 1583, when briefly occupied by Dutch Protestants, it was described as “the quite spoiled old castle”. The viceroy, Sir Henry Sydney, had some of the buildings repaired for the settlement of a colony of Dutch weavers who he hoped might ‘show some example of industry to the lazy natives’.
When the Church of Ireland was dis-established in 1869, the castle was sold to the Cobbe Family of Newbridge House. They leased it to Robert Savage who turned the grounds into an orchard and sold the produce in his shop. In 1985, Dublin County Council purchased Swords Castle, and in subsequent years, it commissioned a number of historical and archaeological studies of the castle and its environs
In March 1995, a plan for the phased restoration of the castle was approved by Fingal County Council. In 1996, work commenced on the restoration of the Constable’s Tower, and this was completed in 1998. At present the castle is the main feature of the Ward River Valley Linear Park. In the castle you’ll find a small visitor centre which is open on Mondays to Fridays.
Swords Castle is situated in the centre of the ancient town of Swords, about 15 kilometres north of Dublin City, making it an ideal destination for a (half) day trip. And as Swords is only a short bus or taxi ride away from the airport, Swords Castle could be your first or last port of call in Ireland.
Swords Castle is served by Dublin Bus, lines 33, 33A, 41, 41B, 41C and 230