A late 18th century engraving of Malahide Castle
The Castle today
When the first lord Richard Talbot came to Malahide in 1170, his family were also lords of Shrewsbury in England. Richard was the common ancestor of all the twenty nine Talbot lords of Malahide who followed in his footsteps. This was in the reign of Henry II. Talbot’s lordship of Malahide was confirmed by the King's son, Prince John, who subsequently became King of England. Also confirmed on Richard was the Advowson for the Church of Malahide and when he died in 1193, he presented his brother, Walter Talbot with that benefice. Where did the Talbots live when they first came to Malahide? It seems highly probable that they lived at Wheatfield, opposite the Community School. Here stands today the remains of a Motte and Bailey. In those very early days the Talbot estate extended to over 600 acres. The Motte and Bailey is a distinctive Norman trademark and, of course, the Talbots were originally Normans from France. This home would have been quite extensive containing stables, barns, workshops as well as a wooded home all protected by a stockaded ditch.
There is no exact date as to when the Talbots moved to the site of the present day castle. We can assume that the first edifice to appear on the present site would have been around 1250. By 1330, the family had established themselves in about half the counties of Leinster, were Members of Parliament, County Sheriffs and were entrusted with the defense of many English garrison towns. So it is fair to assume that by 1350, Malahide Castle was a structure of some importance. The earliest reference available is at the top of a Patent granted by Edward IV to Sir Thomas Talbot in 1486 where a sketch of a castle exists. The earliest portion of the present day castle is a keep-like rectangular tower of three storeys and including the Great Hall which dates to around 1400. Within this tower a circular staircase remains. Around 1475 an extension was added that incorporated the room that later became the Oak Room.
A manuscript of the early sixteenth century lists the Castles and Garrisons of County Dublin and it includes Malahide and Belgard Castles.
There is also written evidence in existence today of repairs carried out between 1605 and 1609. The Down Survey of 1657 gives an important reference to the Castle and its 605 acres when it was owned by "John Talbot of Malahide, Irish Papist". Accompanied by a sketch, it is described as "a good stone house and orchards and gardens and many ash trees with other houses in good repair".
It is difficult to visualize today that the castle was once surrounded by a fortified wall with front and back gates. There are recorded references to the gate of the wall being forced by Wicklow raiders in 1534 but they failed to breach the door of the castle itself. This outer protective wall had a ditch, the very evident depression in the field south of the front door marks the site of this old wall and ditch. Over the years the wall was allowed to run into disrepair and was used as a quarry whenever stones were required. The stones were used for the walls of the garden, stables and farm buildings. A story goes that some of the Dublin Garrison assisted Myles Corbet's relations in an attempt to recapture Malahide Castle and besieged the wall with cannon. A cannonball was found imbedded in the wall in 1798 which leads credence to this story. The old tower in the garden may have formed part of the wall fortifications and has been used as a detached post to cover some farm buildings. However, some suggest it was built as a folly in more recent times.It was used as an apple loft in the latter part of the last century. The remains of the original ditch can still be seen running parallel to the railway. The Castle was at one time called the "Court" .
By 1640, Malahide Castle was gaining in prominence. John Talbot did not participate in the 1641/42 rebellion but was, nevertheless, indicted for treason, outlawed and his castle and lands declared forfeited.The Duke of Ormond, on behalf of the Lords Chief Justices garrisoned the castle. Shortly afterwards it was leased by Myles Corbet, then Chief Baron of Ireland, for his family when the plague was rampant in Dublin city. He referred to it as "the strongest Castle in the neighbourhood of Dublin". He lived in the Castle at a yearly rent of £50, until Charles II was restored to the Throne.
Besides the outer wall, the Castle was also protected by a moat. This is clearly evident today if one looks to the left as the front door of the Castle is approached. The dried-up moat is perfectly obvious if one visits Malahide Gardens and views the Castle from the southwest extremity. Prior to the moat being filled in and planted with flowers and evergreens, the Castle must have presented a magnificent appearance with its drawbridge, portcullis and barbican. The present portcullis at the rear of the castle is only an imitation.
When Sir John and Lady Catherine Talbot returned to their castle and part of their lands at the Restoration in 1660, the first act of this spirited lady was to order the demolition of the outworks and defences of the castle, declaring to her son and heir, Richard, "that she was resolved Malahide should never again serve as a stronghold to invite the residence of an usurper". The usurpers, of course, were Cromwell and Corbet who took over the Castle when John Talbot was banished to Connaught during the Cromwellian Plantation. In the 1650's the Castle must have been in poor condition, as the original application for a grant of £50, made by Myles Corbet states: "It is an Irish Castle. I find it ruinous and must spend £500 on its repairs". Sometime after 1700, Malahide Castle received a new lease of life and many structural changes took place. Two towers in the gothic Revival style were added and many of the windows enlarged. The Great Hall was the first room to be renovated, and, needless to say, it required renovation as it dates back to 1475. It has been re-roofed and re-windowed, but its walls and supporting stone-vaulted undercroft are in their original form. The Hall measures 42' by 22' and is overlooked by a Minstrel's Gallery. In the years between 1765 and 1782, the west wing of the Castle was completely reconstructed after a fire, and the present Drawing Rooms were added. Prior to the fire, the two drawing rooms were divided into four rooms by tapestry hangings, a most unusual feature to have four rooms with no doors. At this time, also, alterations were made to the bedrooms and several floors and ceilings were raised. Off the drawing rooms two circular turret rooms were added and the North wing of the Castle developed. There is an area of mystery about the Oak Room as there is no record of the insertion of the oak paneling. Originally, the inner portions of this room would have been the principle room of the ancient tower house. There is a tradition in the Castle which states that one of the Talbots was warned in a dream that he must build a votive chamber "garnished with ivory pillars". Ivory, however was hard to get and expensive, so he put in oak columns, painted white, saying, "The Blessed Virgin will never notice the difference". However, after some time, he was unable to bear the sight of these "candles”, as he called them, and had them painted black. Today the Oak Room is one of the finest examples of a 16th century panelled room, with the walls overlaid with richly carved oak, highlighted by a set of six very fine carved panels depicting incidents from Biblical stories.
The Oak Room was enlarged to the South by Colonel R.W. Talbot in 1820, when he added on the Entrance Porch and the two small squared towers. Originally, there was no entrance on the south side, but there was a shell-lined grotto there. There used to be a statue of Edward IV over the original doorway but it seems to have disappeared during the 1820 renovations. The library and the rooms above and below were originally separate from the rest of the building. They are said to have been built by a "Mr. Talbot, who came over from Wales, meaning to leave his property to the family as his nearest heirs. But, in consequence of a quarrel which took place between the servants of the two families, he went back to Wales". When the vaults on the ground floor were converted into the cellar by the 4th Baron, a doorway from the yard was closed and a horse's skull was found embedded in the floor, which suggests horses had at one time been kept there.
The castle was let for the summer of 1825 to the 1st Marquis Wellesley, brother of the Duke of Wellington, during his first term as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. “The Fashionable World” column of the Freemans Journal of the 31st May that year carried the following piece:
Malahide Castle, the beautiful seat of Colonel Talbot, one of the Representatives for the County of Dublin, has been offered to his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant, for the summer season, and accepted. Part of the Viceregal establishment will be sent there in a day or two. Colonel Talbot and Mrs Talbot are gone to spend the summer on the Continent. They are at present in France.
A gas-making plant was purchased from Messrs Edmundson of Capel Street in Dublin in 1856 and erected on The Green in the village. Apart from providing street lighting the gas appears to have been piped to the castle thus making it one of the earlier 'great houses' to have gas lighting installed. Before electricity became generally available an engine-driven generator was installed to supply the castle needs. The Talbots held 1,893 acres according to a 1876 survey report and would have been the ground landlords for virtually all of Robbs Walls, Malahide and Yellow Walls.
So, one can see the huge changes brought in Malahide Castle, over the centuries. Today it is a square, castellated building with circular towers flanking the corners. The old moat has been drained, but like that of the Tower of London, not completely filled up. The declevities of the original wall and ditch now constitute steep banks of greenest verdure, planted, in places, with shrubs that love the shelter.
The lodges and gateways have been changed and improved over the years. Many trees had to be felled to give these buildings a finer aspect and footpaths have been developed through the woodlands and parklands. The Dublin approach to Malahide, used by vehicles, ran along Kinsaley Lane, passed in front of the Castle, around by the Abbey and down the present avenue, exiting opposite the Casino. The 2nd Baron, wishing to avoid the expense of keeping it up as a carriageway, turned it into a walk. In the early 1800s the public road was changed to it’s present route, west of the castle and became a section of the toll road running from Annesley Bridge in Fairview to Malahide village.
On the death of Milo, the 7th and last Baron, in 1973 the Castle and Demesne passed to his sister who found the death duties an intolerable burden. She put the estate on the market and it was purchased by Dublin County Council who opened it to the public. When that body was re-organised the property passed to Fingal County Council.
The Castle and Courtyard underwent major repair and conservation work in 2012 and visitor facilities were greatly enhanced. The walled botanical gardens and glasshouses, containing Lord Milo Talbot's remarkable collection of Southern hemisphere and other plants, were also restored and conserved. There are guided tours of the castle daily and visitors stroll at their leisure through the wonderful gardens. The Castle and 260 acre Demesne serve as an oasis in the midst of urban development. In a sense, it is a time-machine to whisk visitors from near and far back into historic days of old.
The Great Hall with the Minstrels Gallery to the rear
The Oak Room window looks out over the Front Lawn and Yourrells Meadows