Mon - Sun
Park Road, Strangford,
County Down, BT30 7LS
(see map below)
This imposing tower house on this steep hillock was built in the 15th Century as a fortified home of the 'gatehouse' type. Seen from the water, it has the most dramatic aspect of all the tower houses in south Down.
Tower houses are fortified private residences built in both the town and country to house inmportant families (lesser landlords) and their retainers. These were constructed from the 15th to 17th century and around 3,000 survive in Ireland - 20 in County Down are located in Lecale and on the shores of Strangford Lough. The string of small castles around the coasts served to protect the import-export trade. Such properties reflect the wealth and power of their builders.
In 1646 the owner, James Audley, sold it to his rich neighbour Bernard Ward. When the park at Castle Ward was landscaped in 1738, Audley's Castle was in a fashionably ruinous condition and was renterpreted as a romantic historical garden feature. It became the eye-catching focus of the long axis of the formal canal known as the Temple Water, still visible to the southwest among trees.
Unlike most other surviving tower houses, this castle has retained its bawn, its defensive walled enclosure. The bawn walls have been reduced to their foundations but you can see how they ran right to the cliff edge, enclosing the whole area at the front of the castle.
Similar in plan to the sightly earlier castle at Kilclief, it has two projecting square towers linked at roof level by an arch with an opening in it (called a machicolation) to defend the entrance. Heavy things or nasty liquids could be dropped through the arch directly on to the head of an unwelcome caller at the door. One tower contains a spiral staircase leading from the entrance - a square door, unlike Kilcief's churchy pointed door - right up to the roof and a splendid wall-walk. The other tower contains latrines on the upper floors which discharged into a pit accessible from the outside at ground level. The first-floor chamber has a barrel vaulted ceiling, a fireplace, cupboards and window seats. The second-floor chamber is stark. It doesn't even have a fireplace, and the door to the latrine could be bolted from the outside, suggesting that is was sometimes used as a prison cell.