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Wexford Castles: landscape, context and settlement
Wexford Castles: landscape, context and settlement


 

Billy Colfer’s Wexford Castles expands the IRISH LANDSCAPES series by taking a thematic approach, while still staying loyal to the central landscape focus. Rather than adapting a narrowly architectural approach, he situates these buildings in a superbly reconstructed historical, social, and cultural milieu. County Wexford has three strikingly different regions - the Anglo-Norman south, the hybridised middle and the Gaelic north - which render it a remarkable version in parvo of the wider island. Colfer’s wide-angle lens takes in so much than the castles themselves, as he ranges widely and deeply in reading these striking buildings as texts, revealing the cultural assumptions and historical circumstances which shaped them.


In this most cosmopolitan of counties, we range far and wide in search of the wide-spreading roots of its cultural landscape - from the Crusades and the Mani peninsula in Greece to the Bristol Channel, from Crac des Chevaliers to Westminster, from the Viking north and the cold Atlantic to the warm Mediterranean south.

The book breaks new ground in exploring the long-run cultural shadow cast by the Anglo-Normans and their castles, as this appears in the Gothic Revival, in the poetry of Yeats and in the surprisingly profuse crop of Wexford historians and writers. While most books on a single architectural form can end up visually monotonous, creativity has been lavished on this volume in terms of keeping the images varied, fresh and constantly appealing. The result is a sympathetic and innovative treatment of the castles, understood not just as a mere architectural form, but as keys to unlocking the mentalité of those who lived in them. Wexford Castles: landscape, context and settlement is a worthy conclusion of Billy’s Colfer’s superb trilogy of landscape studies.

Our Price: €49.00
Authors: Billy Colfer
Publication Year: Hardback 1 March 2013
Pages: 272
Size: 299 x 237mm

ISBN: 9781859184936
Qty:

Description
 

Billy Colfer's Wexford Castles expands the IRISH LANDSCAPES series by taking a thematic approach, while still staying loyal to the central landscape focus. Rather than adapting a narrowly architectural approach, he situates these buildings in a superbly reconstructed historical, social, and cultural milieu. County Wexford has three strikingly different regions - the Anglo-Norman south, the hybridised middle and the Gaelic north - which render it a remarkable version in parvo of the wider island. Colfer's wide-angle lens takes in so much than the castles themselves, as he ranges widely and deeply in reading these striking buildings as texts, revealing the cultural assumptions and historical circumstances which shaped them.


In this most cosmopolitan of counties, we range far and wide in search of the wide-spreading roots of its cultural landscape - from the Crusades and the Mani peninsula in Greece to the Bristol Channel, from Crac des Chevaliers to Westminster, from the Viking north and the cold Atlantic to the warm Mediterranean south.

The book breaks new ground in exploring the long-run cultural shadow cast by the Anglo-Normans and their castles, as this appears in the Gothic Revival, in the poetry of Yeats and in the surprisingly profuse crop of Wexford historians and writers. While most books on a single architectural form can end up visually monotonous, creativity has been lavished on this volume in terms of keeping the images varied, fresh and constantly appealing. The result is a sympathetic and innovative treatment of the castles, understood not just as a mere architectural form, but as keys to unlocking the mentalité of those who lived in them. Wexford Castles: landscape, context and settlement is a worthy conclusion of Billy's Colfer's superb trilogy of landscape studies.


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Wexford Castles Environment Settlement and Society July 17, 2014
Reviewer: Oliver Creighton, Landscape Vol 15 from UK  
The 'landscape approach' to medieval castles in the Republic of Ireland has emerged out of quite different research traditions to the UK. In some senses, castles in Ireland have always fitted naturally into the narratives of landscape history given that they are the most prominent vestiges of the mainly dispersed pattern of medieval rural settlement, although studies of Norman fortifications in particular have also taken time to shake off the contentious baggage of colonial and military associations.

This hefty and nicely produced new volume in Cork University Press's 'Irish Landscapes'series marks one of the most detailed studies to date of the castles of a particular county. This is fortunate: Wexford, in the south-east, in some senses represents Ireland in microcosm, with upland and lowland regions corresponding broadly to those zones with strong Gaelic character and others heavily colonised by the Anglo-Normans. The primary focus is not on military architecture; rather, castles loom large as manorial centres, emblems of colonial settlement and as forerunners to country houses. Despite the title, Billy Colfer covers a much wider range of fortifications than 'castles' (although definition of the term is notoriously difficult in this context), with moated sites, tower houses, fortified hall-houses and ecclesiastical sites including embattled churches and priories also well covered. A 'oneoff'structure is the 'Tower of Hook' - a thirteenth-century coastal light-tower, which exemplifies another promising research theme: fortifications and their multiple relationships with the 'seascape'.

The book comprises fourteen chapters, arranged thematically and covering the county's castles from many different viewpoints. We are introduced to early castles within the context of wider European population movements and castle-building patterns; presented with fortifications of the Anglo-Norman colonisation (skilfully relating castle distribution to the geography of land grants); and then guided through the later medieval pattern of shifting frontiers and tower-houses before chapters entitled 'Endgame' and 'Legacy' assess the heritage of fortification. Areas of strength that immediately stand out are the adroit treatment of early castle forms beyond the supposedly 'classic' motte and bailey, and the detailed exposition of tower-house landscapes, both in the sense of case studies of individual townlands and settlements, but also networks of patronage, with 35 families responsible for over 100 structures in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Less successful is the speculative map of a defensive Anglo-Norman system of fortification consisting of diagonal chains of castles running south-west to north-east (p. 49). The status of the castle in the 'designed' or 'elite' landscape, as emphasised by Kieran O'Conor, Tadhg O'Keeffe, and others, is one theme that doesn't receive much of a look-in although this is a quibble about a finely researched volume. The book ends with a helpful illustrated gazetteer of over fifty tower houses with standing remains, and appendices summarising the state of preservation and documentation for the full range of sites.

The book is lavishly illustrated with excellent use of colour. Sites are represented from every conceivable angle: individual and comparative plans; architectural close-ups; superb colour maps; cleverly annotated aerial views panoramas; and pictorial material ranging from romanticised watercolours and etchings to contemporary map extracts showing castles and tower houses at war.

Tragically the author passed away before publication of this volume, although it is testimony to Dr Colfer's considerable skills as a researcher and writer that he succeed in attaining the cliche'd holy grail -beloved by publishers - of being 'scholarly yet accessible'in his highly recommended study.

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Wexford Castles Environment Settlement and Society July 9, 2014
Reviewer: Rory Sherlock, Landscape History from Ireland  
The publication of Wexford Castles by the late Billy Colfer brings to a close a remarkable trilogy in which the author sought to explore the history of his native county through a series of profusely illustrated volumes within the Irish Landscape series published by Cork University Press. Colfer's first engagement with Cork University Press came though his contribution of a case study on the Hook Peninsula, Co. Wexford, to the hugely successful Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape (1997) and continued through his subsequent publication of a three large-format books on The Hook Peninsula (2004), Wexford: a town and its landscape (2008) and Wexford Castles (2013). The current volume, with the support of superb cartography, outlines the Anglo-Norman colonisation of County Wexford in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries and so places the discussion of the castles of the county which follows in its wider geographic and historical context. Colfer notes the existence of twenty mottes and nine ringworks in the county, nineteen of which were adjacent to churches, and also records that five of the six thirteenth-century stone castles in the region appear to have been preceded by earlier earthwork fortifications. The gradual decline of the Anglo-Norman colony, due partly to the impact of the Bruce Wars and the Black Death, and the concomitant rise in the power of the Gaelic Irish in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries led directly to the abandonment of manors and the neglect of castles in the region.

These events also shaped the settlement patterns of the coming centuries, as the old Anglo-Norman families retreated southwards to the baronies of Forth and Bargy where most of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century tower houses were built, leaving the northern areas under Gaelic control. Towerhouse construction is commonly associated with weak central authority, as persons of means seek to provide for their own security in lawless times and, since Wexford was held as a palatinate by the absent earls of Shrewsbury until 1536, it seems that many of the 137 tower houses recorded by Colfer in Wexford were built within this context. While the suggestion that thirteenth-century castles were arranged in a series of defensive lines across the county may cause some debate amongst scholars, most of Colfer's arguments are securely founded in his extensive fieldwork, his knowledge of the Wexford landscape and his mastery of the available historical sources. For example, the suggestion that tower-house building in Wexford may have been boosted by an Act of Parliament of 1441 which established a subsidy for their construction in the south of the county is worthy of note and reflects the better-known act of 1430 in the Dublin Pale which gave rise to the term £10 castles. Like the tower houses of the Dublin Pale, those in Wexford are simple structures and are considerably smaller than comparable buildings in most other counties. Most of the Wexford examples are rectangular in plan, have a single entrance doorway at ground-floor level and feature a stone vault over the main ground-floor chamber, above which comfortable accommodation is provided on three levels. Discussion on Irish tower houses tends to focus on issues of architectural detail and Downloaded by [Fiona Counsell] at 07:19 08 July 2014 100 landscape history regional variation and Colfer is strong on matters of form and typology, but he must also be commended for taking a broader approach by exploring the manorial landscapes, including extensive church lands, within which tower houses were built. Tower houses and churches frequently mark the site of late medieval manorial villages which failed to prosper in subsequent centuries and so they can act as a key settlement indicator for the period in Ireland, since the lesser-status housing which developed around these twin nuclei was often quite ephemeral in form. Many Irish tower houses may also have had free-standing, timber-framed halls beside them, as described in late sixteenth-century sources, but the landscape of Wexford also features an important series of stone-built three-storey fortified hall houses of late sixteenth-century date. These buildings, rarely found elsewhere in Ireland, are commonly served by an attached four-storey service tower and mark the end of castle construction in the county. This handsome volume concludes with an exploration of the decline of the castle in Wexford, a consideration of their legacy and a useful gazetteer of standing tower houses in the county. Over 400 illustrations of the highest quality, including plans, maps, photographs and antiquarian sketches, serve to illuminate Colfer's elegant, well-referenced narrative and his love for his native place shines throughout this volume, a fitting legacy for a fine scholar.

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