It takes its name from the Irish Dún Másc, meaning the ‘Fort of Masc’. Dunamase was the seat or fort of the ancient Irish kings of Laois. In 845 the fortress or dún on top of the rock was attacked by a Viking army from Dublin, who plundered several other sites in the region. This what does survive for today of this early fortress can be seen and is one of the most spectacular Anglo-Norman fortifications in Ireland.
This majestic rock is 46 metres (151 ft) above a flat plain of the countryside, and has the ruins of Dunamase Castle, a defensive stronghold dating from the early Hiberno-Norman period with a view across to the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
Stunning views of the surrounding countryside made the towering Rock of Dunamase a strategic place to build a fortress. Through the centuries, warriors have fought to control this limestone outcrop, known as a “hum”.
When the Normans arrived in Ireland in the late 1100s, Dunamase became the most important Anglo-Norman fortification in Laois. It was part of the dowry of Aoife, the daughter of Diarmuid Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, when she was given in marriage to the Norman conqueror Strongbow in 1170.
It is not exactly certain who built the subsequent Anglo-Norman castle, but it may have been Meilyr FitzHenry, or possibly William Marshall, Lord of Leinster. Construction began sometime in the late 12th century and an impressive fortification was soon erected that cleverly utilised the rocks natural defensive features. It contained at least four lines of defence, including an outer and inner barbican, a curtain wall and a substantial inner keep. There’s an information panel near the base of the Rock. It has a drawing of what the castle would have looked like. Seemingly abandoned in the 14th century, the castle fell into a gradual decline. It is then believed to have been destroyed by Cromwellian forces in the mid 17th century.
The Rock of Dunamase is a National Monument of Ireland and now maintained by the Office of Public Works. It is open to the public year round and the entry is free. There is a small car park and a slight hill walk up to the ruins.
I always wanted to see this amazing place and it was fabulous to walk through the ruins and have those amazing views all around, although the weather wasn`t very good.
The Rock of Dunamase was a location used in the 2010 romantic comedy film “Leap Year” starring Amy Adams, Matthew Goode and John Lithgow.
So if you’re looking for somewhere unique and off the tourist trail then make sure you visit the Rock of Dunamase.
Location of Rock of Dunamase:
Below my photos taken in July 2021.