Simmonscourt Castle Archaeological Works

ACS recently carried out an archaeological assessment in the vicinity of Simmonscourt Castle near Donnybrook in Dublin. The castle is located in the townland of Smotscourt, whose name ultimately derived from the Smothe family who in the 14th century occupied the estate known as the ‘Forty Acres’ situated in the north-western boundary of the district of Merrion. It was first mentioned in history as the legendary scene of a massacre by the invading Danes when more than 600 men, women and children are said to have been slain. A viking grave and burial mound containing many human remains was exposed in the late 19th century by workmen building a new house in Danesfield just off Ailesbury Road (now the residence of the German Ambassador to Ireland).

Archaeologist-in-Dublin

The lands of Simmonscourt, as originally constituted in the thirteenth century, divided the lands of Merrion from those of Donnybrook and Baggotrath, and were described as a carucate of land in Donnybrook near the highway from Dublin to Thorncastle, extending from the Dodder Bridge to the meadow of Merrion. The lands then belonged, like those of Merrion and Booterstown, to Walter de Rideleford, Lord of Bray and a supporter of Strongbow. He dedicated the property for the use of the Priory of All Hallowes in perpetuity at an annual rent of one pound of pepper but continued in residence and in 1238 conveyed the lands to Frambold Fitzboydekyn. His son John twenty years later assigned them at an annual rent of a pair of gloves to Richard de Saint Olof. From him the land passed through the marriage of his daughter Margery into the possession of the Morville family. In their time a charge was executed on the lands in favour of Thomas Bagod, then the owner of Merrion, and later on his successor in Merrion, Sir John Cruise, exercised some right over them. Thomas Smothe acquired them on his marriage to another Margery, who may have been the grand-daughter of Richard de Saint Olof and he was succeeded by his son Thomas Smothe II. Subsequent owners of the land included John Mynagh, a chaplain who was in possession in 1379, Robert Sergeant in 1382, Roger Kilmore in 1386 and John Drake, Lord Mayor of Dublin and ancestor of the legendary Francis Drake in 1391.

The castle itself was probably built by Thomas Smothe who held the office of Remembrancer of the Exchequer in the reign of Edward III (1312-1377). It may have been built to help guard the passage over the river Dodder on the supply route from Dalkey to the city. John Drake assigned Simmonscourt to the Priory of the Holy Trinity in consideration of prayers to be said for him and his family and it remained ecclesiastical property under the control of the Priory and later the Cathedral of Christ Church right up until the 19th century.

The Cathedral Chapter used the castle for meetings from time to time and reserved the use of the ‘coiled room’ or the ‘gate tower’ if the former was inconvenient. Places for public amusements stood upon the lands at the time; and in a sixteenth century lease to the Fitzwilliams, the keeping and profits of the courts were reserved to the landlords. On Easter Monday, or Black Monday, as it was called on account of the dreadful slaughter of the citizens which had taken place on that day at Cullenswood, the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral and his servants came to Simmonscourt for an outing and the tenant was bound to receive them in the chief house, occupied about that time by one Gerald Long, described as a gentleman, and to extend hospitality to them. A rabbit warren planted with ash trees is mentioned in the lease, and also a dovecote, which the tenant was bound to stock with pigeons, and of which the landlords, who were to share the stock with the tenant, were to have a key. With the lands of Simmonscourt were held lands called Colcot, which had been released in 1336 by Sir Elias Aslibourne to Thomas Smothe.

A bridge across the Dodder known as the bridge of Simmonscourt existed in the beginning of the seventeenth century, but was much out of repair in 1640, when the sum of £10 was voted by the Corporation of Dublin for its restoration. At the time of the rebellion of 1641 the lands of Simmonscourt, then occupied by George Hill, were spoiled and allegedly laid waste by dependants and tenants of Viscount Fitzwilliam. The widow of George Hill, who appears to have lost his life in the hardship of those times, deposed that thirty cows of English breed, seven heifers, and eight horses, besides a quantity of corn, had been carried off, and that some of the cattle were taken to Kilternan and there killed on lands owned by Viscount Fitzwilliam.

During the Commonwealth the lands of Simmonscourt, which were returned as occupied by seven English and fifteen Irish inhabitants, were held by a Mr. John Weaver. After the Restoration the Earl of Tyrconnel’s brother William Fitzwilliam (3rd Viscount Fitzwilliam) occupied the castle which had four chimneys and it is recorded that there were three other householders on the lands including Thomas Parker, a ‘poor widow’ and ‘James the carman’. By the end of the 17th century the castle lay in ruins and the lands were held by the Nossom family as tenants of Christ Church Cathedral.

The castle was evidently substantial and was drawn by Gabriel Beranger in 1765 whose views do not seem to be very representative of the present structure. Austin Coopers 1780 description appears to refer to the structure which still survives on site. Peter Harbison also suggests that Beranger’s views are of the castle proper and that what survives today maybe a gatehouse. The drawing by Lieutenant Grose in 1792 shows the structure more or less as it stands today.