Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Little Snippet About Architectural Ingenuity in Irish Castles

- Posted By: Laura Chilson

There was much to conceive of in planning a castle in Ireland. These buildings were really called tower forts, because with all the cattle raiding, inter-tribal feuding, and attacks by foreign peoples there was a huge need for protection. The whole castle is built up around these necessities. The stairs coil up in a counter clock-wise manner so that (assuming the majority of the population is right handed) the defender going down the steps has the ability to freely wield his sword while the attacker's sword swings into the inner framework of the staircase. Steps were designed unevenly so that those attacking up the stairs would stumble, a feature that is unnerving even to modern visitors. Small holes in the walls allowed muskets to fire out at invaders in the hall, without the fear of return fire. The doors had iron points that didn't allow the attacker to shoulder them down without the loss of an arm. Should these men somehow manage to splinter the door, they would only splinter half of it as there were two doors affixed together, with the boards each going opposite ways (and thus splintering opposite ways). The windows are wide in the inside to provide range of motion in an archer or rifles aim, but thin in the pane so that arrows have a very small mark to hit. Murder holes were sometimes put above doors or windows so that if an attacker should get within the castle they would be shot from seemingly out of nowhere, or have a rock tossed down on them. They even thought through which floors should be wood and which stone to balance not having to much weight bearing down on the castle's frame and not having too much work to rebuild should the castle be burned.

In terms of everyday practices, they also had toilets, with a slot wide enough to fit three people at once. Some of the waste was removed from where it collected at the bottom of the shoot outside the base of the castle, and some was left. The ammonia fumes from this waste would waft back up the shoot and into a special chamber used to hang up clothes so that the ammonia would kills fleas, lice, etc. a surprisingly ingenious answer to pests at such an early period. Not everything was quite so perseptive. Due to the smoke of the candles and fires, the chipping of unhealthy paint, and lead plates- their respiratory systems were horrible. Thus the short beds one sees are not because they were shorter, but rather because they slept sitting up to facilitate breathing. Not so luxurious as one might think.

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