The Fall of Daingean Ui Bhigh Castle
Diarmuid Kilmartin & Jeremy Schewe
There is a little Indiana Jones in all of us...
In the summer of 2005, I found myself living and working in central County Clare, Ireland. While tending a biodynamic farm, living in a 280-yearold thatched cottage, and conducting biodiversity and geomantic studies in the region, I began to play football (soccer) with the international community who lived in the area.
The organizer told me about 150 acres of Celtic-Broadleaf Forest across the street from his house, my interest was peaked. When he told me there was a 14th century Norman castle in the middle of the forest, my eyes lit up. When he went further to say that the forest had taken over the castle since the Cromwell years and was almost impossible to find, I showed up the next day. After hours of wandering, I almost gave up. One last go, directly through a wetland, into a mature wood, I came face to face with a 35-foot high curtain wall of ivy. I had found the castle.
Daingean Ui Bhigh Castle was once a MacNamara castle or tower house where Gaelic and Norman-Gaelic chieftains reigned and banquets were enjoyed. While frequently the castle is believed to have suffered a Cromwellian attack in the 1650's, Diarmuid told me the true story shared herein.
The Fall of Daingean Ui Bhigh Castle
First published by Inchanted Journeys Press in 2017 in Ports of Entry
I can hear their laughter and braggart tales - roaring over the din of music, feasting, braying dogs, and squealing scullery maids. It is the type of laughter and bravado that seeks to cover over a deeper fear, or to push back a looming shadow to the corners for the hunting dogs to growl out. A current of fear and darkness lies thick within the hearts and minds of all those who feast here on this eve of Midsummer. I can smell the fear and taste it in the air under all of the revelry, as if the laughter was a perfume poured over urine and filthy sweat to cover the undesirable scents without cleaning the entire hall.
There is a tangible and formidable power here. Not ancient like the Neolithic dragon paths of standing stones, dolmens, and cairns here in Ireland, but a primordial power that stems from the strangulation of the natural rhythms of the land by a moldering, conquering people; a people who have left a footprint where they should not have. Daingean Ui Bhigh was a massive keep in the north of Munster, and the hall that I now sat in could have feasted anywhere between two to three-hundred people.
I smell the smoke, where now great trees stand. I can taste the mead where now my mind wanders across the form and textures of a forgotten human realm, buried in oak, ash, beech, and ivy. Here, where once Christian men ruled, now has been reclaimed by the Fae. Stone walls erected with order and plans, are now slowly torn apart and reduced into piles of rubble by roots of the trees and vines. The trees and their keepers have returned from the archives of time, to seal the gate, and reclaim what has always been theirs: stone, earth and heaven. This is the story of their reclamation of the land, and the return of the primordial wood, as told through the last journal entries of the Lord of the Keep, whose wife still roams the empty halls and winding stairs crying into the night looking for her lover. Ask anyone who lives near the wood. They know she is still there.
We have barred the gate and a great fire is lit in the keep to heat the pitch to a boil. The men are at the walls of the outer keep, in the inner keep, and in the north turret.
Look to your standards, lads. The trees are at the outer keep, throwing stone missiles in a rain of death and destruction upon the men-at-arms. The women and children are stricken with fear in the hall of the inner tower house. Come, the bracken and the vine, tearing into the mortar, gripping the very foundations of the outer walls, and tearing it apart, piece by piece.
Axe and spear, sword and flame, fly true! The defense is held as the men-at-arms repel the initial onslaught, clearing limbs, branches, boughs, and tendrils as fast as they come. Ah, good iron and fire is a bar to anything this feral army of the forest can muster. Whoa to you, tide of the old world, for this is the time of man. Stand ye back, wildwoods and wilding things, for ye are no match for cold iron, hungry fire, and the insurmountable spirit of men!
Wait, the eastern wall of the outer keep has been breached. A regiment of oak and beech has launched an all-out assault with missiles of stone and dried clay. Under the cover of these missiles, several sorties of ivy crept to the base of the wall unnoticed, despite heavy losses from friendly fire, they gathered in force, burrowed deep tendrils into the cracks of the outer wall, and have sapped the wall. The men are fighting valiantly, but the missiles from the oak and beech units are now inflicting extensive casualties among our outer defenders. O’Sullivan, captain of the eastern wall has fallen under the crushing sweep of an oak, and the wall is collapsing.
Quickly! Fill the breech!
Men held in reserve are called from the Great Hall, but it is too late. The distraction of the east wall was sufferance enough that a contingent of elder and ash were able to clamber over the south wall and onto the roof of the great hall. Stamping, stamping, crushing the roof with a million little feet, the elder and ash are trying to get into the hall from above.
Call the reserves back, for it is a route now. We must protect the hall, for our horses have been sheltered there to protect them from the attackers’ missiles. Blood and sap cover the walls and yard. An oak giant stepped to the south wall under cover from hazelnut fire in the west, and ripped a massive hole in the wall just west of the Hall. The hole was quickly captured by ferns, as they rushed to cover the entry and maintain the breech. Elder and ash crushed through the roof of the Hall, while the massive oak beams that once supported the roof, collapsed into the central fire. The flames quickly spread across the hall from the hearth, engulfing men, screaming horses, and trees alike.
The east wall has fallen as well. Legions of ivy have torn the walls down to rubble. Oak, beech, alder, hazel, larch, and willow are storming through the gap, followed by a division of thorn, elder, and ivy. The men on the north wall are attempting to flee the wall to retreat to the inner keep. Another division of maple thrust their way through the gap and rip into the retreating men with a savagery that has not been seen since the Vikings raided the eastern shores near Waterford. The men are being cut to pieces as they have lost all discipline and battle formation and are caught up in the chaos of a free-for-all.
Left and right, swords and axes swing true, as the men fall before the keep. But hold! The maples have cut the retreat in two and now the heavily armored division of oak that first burst through the breech is joining in the fray. Metal is crushed under a sea of wood and leaves and roots.
Boiling oil! Clear the field so the remaining men can find sanctuary in the keep.
Boiling oil is spilled by the men in the inner keep. A coal from the fire on the roof of the inner keep sets saturated forest of beech, oak, maple, and ivy ablaze. But it is too late, for none of the men from the east wall survived the onslaught.
The fire from the oil is amplified by the blazing banquet Hall. When the fires meet on the field of battle, everything went up in flames. Oh, the sight - to see a thousand trees burning and quivering in their death throes. From the east to the south, there is so much flame and smoke that nothing can be seen for the time being.
Turn to the north, where maple and ash divisions have succeeded in tearing through the outer keep’s gate and have renewed the decimation of any man left in the outer yard. The inner keep is closed to all entrants, be they man or forest. From the battlements atop the inner keep, flaming arrows are raining down on the renewed assault of the forest. A quick glance to west brings news that there are men still in the turret. They fight on. Spear, axe, and sword are cleaving tree tops from the apex of the turret, while fire and arrows from the inner keep fly true and holding the attackers somewhat at bay. It seems the forest is temporarily stalled.
The divisions of maple and ash that broke through the north gate have fallen. Yet, the men inside the turret are still trapped for now in yet another wave of the forest’s assault. This wave is led by lightly armored thorn and bracken. Quick in movement and precise in the delivery of their attack, they are held at bay by the men in the turret for only so long, for the men are greatly outnumbered and grow weary. Support from the inner keep is now all but impossible as heavily armored beech, oak, and ash begin to pound against our walls under the protection of heavy missile fire from hazel and yew. The remaining men in the turret are left to their own demise and will suffer their own fate.
Horns sound from across the river. The Duncan’s have ridden to our aid and are riding hard across the stone bridge, bearing down on the willow reserves to the west waiting as defense for the hazel and yew artillery.
Ride! Ride and let your iron swing true old friend! Ride and come to our aid in this forsaken hour, for all is lost otherwise.
But what is this I see as they ride across the long stone bridge over the river? Where is the water? Stop! A mixed regiment of alder, birch, and willow have held the river back with their roots and now release it in a flash flood that bears down on the Duncan’s and the bridge. Turn back, cries the horn man, as he sounds the retreat. Turn back, cries the captain of the guard, as he waves the standard. But it is too late. The sweeping torrent of water crushes into the bridge thereby crushing the Duncan’s charge and our hope of aid beneath mud and water.
To the north, the turret and all of her men have been broken by ivy, thorn, elder, and ash. The inner keep seems to be the only refuge now in a sea of smoke and trees. The walls are too high to climb, too tightly knit to rend, and flame and arrow pour from the walls. Any of the besiegers who would venture to parley, would become yet more fuel for the fires that rage around the inner keep. And so the mantle of Aengus, keeper of dreams, is set upon the keep as the night follows on the heels the battle. The outer keep has been lost, and the flames of the ebbing battle raged into the night, filling all of our eyes with the thick smoke of green wood.
Many of my men are broken, wounded and torn. Many more yet still are terrified as to what they have seen on this day. The bombardment of stones upon the keep by the artillery units of the forest continue and are enough to string one’s mind out so thin as to break into the chaos of madness at any moment. And some it did take. One of the men who had escaped from the fall of the outer keep, threw himself to his death from the battlement into the ghostly flames of the yard below.
The bombardment continues through the night and is slowly dismantling the battlements on top of the keep, but does not seem to be impacting the structure of the keep proper. A regiment of oaks, ivy, and reckless elder and thorn camp the night away on the south side of the keep within range of our fires, but we have abated our own defensive assaults somewhat in order to reserve missile material for the pending assault at dawn.
A heavily armored company of beech and oak are huddled closely to the southern wall, where the fires have died back. What they are doing, it is hard to say, for the other sides of the keep are free and remain on an edgy standstill, beneath a barrage of missiles from the artillery units in the dark.
I am going to sleep for a bit if I can, under the din of this battle and tension. We will all need our strength to struggle yet another day to hold back the tide of the forest from taking over our keep.
I wake from troubled sleep to find the south side of the castle in pitched battle. We have suffered few casualties overnight, but the numbers of fallen trees are innumerable. The inner keep remains in good standing as I left it when I slept for those scant hours. Steadfast beech and oak, though many have been burned to charcoal stumps, hold their ground against the south wall, while division after division of trees and vines throw themselves at the walls around them.
Suddenly, the attack takes on a whole new level of ferocity. A cold winds pours down on us from the north, which brings a temporary relief to those of us in the hot tower, but then brings a chill to the spine as again we are assaulted from all sides just as the sun peaks over the eastern horizon behind billowing smoke clouds. They are coming from all sides now. All to arms! To arms!
One of the battlements has been crushed with a dozen men inside. Unleash oil and fire and all the reserves. Bring down this mad forest army.
Looking to the west, a battery of missile-projecting willows has gone up in flame from some of the spilled oil, rolling downhill, and across the lake. A site to behold and it lifts the hearts of the men who counter-attacked with a new vigor. Oh, how the boughs and leaves sputtered and popped, throwing flames 20 meters in the air. Stay out of the world of men!
The assault on the south wall has increased in ferocity. The trees are throwing thorn and vine up onto the battlements now to tear us apart from the top down or inside out. To the ramparts with iron, lads! Clear the bracken before they take hold and rip us asunder.
The fray is all over us now. We are running low on arrows and oil. Keep the oil and arrows on the hottest areas, so we can sweep the fields when necessary with fire. I am not sure how much longer I can write, I must take up my father’s sword and shield and join the pitch. I fear we may lose the keep before noon. There will be no survivors in this battle, for we have made an enemy out of the forests, and the protectors of this land.
I pray for myself, my family, and the souls within which I was deemed to protect. May we find our glory resting in Heaven when we leave this wicked Earth.
What is that? My God! The south wall of the keep is collapsing. The heavily armored oak and beech have been digging their roots in all night to sap us. They are in the keep! They are in the keep!
A heavy mist has settled around the keep. Last night in the pouring rain and howling winds, I could hear the Lady wailing for her loss. But it is her wailing that calls to the ancient ones to return here and there from the Otherworld to what was once their own. And so we return on the backs of great birds and sea monsters.
Meanwhile, we can listen as the raindrops speak on behalf of the forest.
Tapping, tapping...and dripping, dripping upon soft earth, we call. Where once mud, feces, animal piss, and hewn stone obstructed our landing upon the earth, now ash, oak, beech, yew, elder, thorn, willow, alder, fern, and ivy embrace us and drink deep. They catch us. Like music, we light our feet upon their blossoms in spring, leaves in summer, and buds in the winter. We slide into living soil where we are again the song of the earth, seeping into mycorrhizae and root hairs, as we come together again in kinship in sap, streams, lakes, rivers, and sea. Where once, drunken, fool hardy, and power-hungry creatures decimated the beauty of creation, we thrive again.
Ancient forests stood here once. They were filled with the voices of wild creatures, and the love play of gods. These were felled by axe, sword, and fire to push back the indigenous voice of the land and replace it with a civilized stamp of approval from far another land. Now here stands a young forest, whose limbs reach again from the earth to the heavens. Yet, this cathedral is only an empty forest. It waits for the return of the voices of the wilding creatures, and waits for the gods to awaken again in their love play.
Interested in the upcoming fae writing retreat in Scotland with Jeremy and Steve Blamires? Contact us! We will see you in Scotland...