The Rock of Dunamase is a spectacular natural feature visible in the landscape of Co. Laois. 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. Nothing of this early fortress can be seen today today, but what does survive is one of the most spectacular Anglo-Norman fortifications in the country.
The castle keep or hall located on the summit of the rock may have been built about 1200 by Meiler fitz Henry. The courtyard area around the castle was defended by a curtain wall that follows the cliff edge of the rock outcrop. This area can only be accessed through a gateway called the barbican that crosses over a rock cut ditch. These outer fortifications were probably built between 1208-1210 by William Marshal the Elder, Lord of Leinster. Around 1320, Dunamase was attacked and captured by local Gaelic forces under the command of Leysagh O’More.
The castle appears to have been abandoned in the second half of the 14th century. Dunamase was reused during the Irish Confederate Wars of the 1640s and large parts of the castle were demolished by Cromwellian troops after a siege in 1650.