Tynte’s Castle is a late Fifteenth Century urban town house. It is the only remaining example of several urban town houses that were formerly to be found in Youghal, County Cork. It was open for public viewing on Friday 21st September for Culture Night 2012.
Tynte’s Castle is located on the east side of North Main St., Youghal, in the northeast corner of the walled area that formed the medieval town. It is a dominating structure on the streetscape, providing a large presence through its west and north elevations that front onto the thoroughfares. The castle provides a good aspect from its upper level of the surrounding medieval town with the medieval market place. To the immediate south is the medieval parish church of St. Mary’s. To the northwest, and town walls to the west on the high Youghal plateau; town harbour and estuary of the River Blackwater to the east. The 17th century almshouses, constructed by Richard Boyle, are almost directly opposite on the other side of the street. The plot on which the castle is sited is relatively flat, although there is a perceptible fall in the ground level from west to east. This fall is in common with the fall of ground within the medieval town. Analysis of the topographical development of the town would suggest that development first took place on western side of the Main Street, from at least the late 12th century. The western side of the street was better suited for building as it was further up from the shoreline than the east, which was probably open beach. It appears that building on the east side of the street occurred later in the medieval period as the town expanded. This would have seen the reclamation of the beach line on the eastern side of the Main Street with the construction timber and stone riverside revetments, progressively pushing the shoreline into the river. The sites location close to sea level would have made it susceptible to flooding. The castle was never far from the sea, with the line of the east boundary wall of the yard following that of the seaward run of the town wall. Towards the end of the 17th century and especially the 18th century, a rapid expansion eastward into the river saw the creation of large tracts of new land behind the castle site, and it came more into the core of the infrastructure of the town.
Urban Tower Houses
Tower-houses were a feature of the infrastructure of Irish towns and cities of the 15th and 16th centuries. Ben Murtagh (1988) has identified 37 surviving urban tower houses or fortified houses in Ireland, out of a number that was undoubtedly much larger. Excavations in Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim during the 1970’s by Tom Delaney, revealed foundations of three 16th century tower houses. Closer to Youghal, the remains of the 15th century tower house known as Skiddy’s Castle were excavated by Dermot Twohig in Cork City in 1974/5.
Tynte’s Castle is the only surviving example of several urban tower houses that were formally to be found in Youghal. An examination of the illustrated maps of Youghal show that at least six fortified houses are depicted on the stylised Pacata Hibernia map of Youghal of 1589. Whilst the more proportioned Hardiman map of 1602 shows two examples, both of which appear to be sited close to the waterfront and have a quay outwork on the water side of the town wall; one of these may be Tynte’s castle. As well as Tynte’s castle, a further tower house that has been definitely located is the Magazine, which was located on the western side of the North Main Street, close to the site of the Benedictine Priory.
Therefore, Tynte’s Castle was part of the custom of building fortified merchant houses in town settings. In common with the rural tower house, these urban versions were built as a response to an unstable political situation and a demonstration of the prestige and wealth of their owners within the urban setting. It is generally accepted that urban tower-houses were built by merchants and their families, especially in coastal towns such as Youghal where they would have been involved in trade. The towers were not part of the town defences and were located on the main street or at important junctions in the town. These tower houses afforded secure storage for goods, good residential space for the period and an impressive edifice that enhanced the trade of the merchant. These merchant families were a growing urban elite that was coming to the fore in urban politics in 14th and 15th century Ireland. These affluent families became civic office holders in the governing corporations of the towns, positioning themselves to benefit economically and politically from such positions as Mayors and Burgesses. By living in towns, they forged business links and created civic cohesion in a time in which central government was erratic at best. An important part of this identity was the construction of urban tower house. These structures were primarily defensive strongholds for the protection of the merchants family, vassals and goods; and as a secondary function were a display of the wealth of ingenuity of their owner.
The urban tower-houses are generally the same in form as their rural counterparts. However, because of their urban locations they are often restricted in ground room. The width of the burgage plot on which there are built dictates their width; thus the castles generally appear to be long and narrow. Building a tower house turned the disadvantage of these often-narrow plots into an advantage by allowing vertical growth of the building. Another plus was that they became very prominent buildings in the town, especially when sited in locations that faced onto main streets and market places or where orientated towards the church. Tynte’s Castle occupied a dominant position in medieval Youghal, facing onto the site of the medieval market place and having its upper apartments in view of the medieval parish church.
Both Murtagh (1988) and O’Keeffe (1999) have recognized a distinct separation of the commercial and residential functions of urban tower houses. The vaulted lower storeys of the urban tower houses would have acted as storage and retail space whilst the upper stories were residential apartments. Movement is generally difficult from the lower storeys to the upper in these urban tower houses. In Tynte’s castle, current access to the upper apartments is via the mural stairs, through what is now a low entrance passage. It is possible that the commercial and residential sides of the urban tower houses were operated separately; perhaps having the ground floor leased to a merchant while independent accommodation is maintained above. This may have been the case with Tynte’s castle when it was let by Robert Tynte in 1639.
Tynte’s Castle is the only other example of such in County Cork along with Desmond Castle, known as the French Prison in Kinsale.