The Castle

The Castle, commonly known as Castletown or Bellew’s Castle, is an integral part of our school.

Photograph of Bellew's Castle in the early 20th Century

It is a fine example of a Tower House of which there are 26 examples in Co. Louth. Typically they were the residences of the gentry and were really fortified houses rather than “castles”. Most tower houses were built in the late 15th century and tend to follow the same basic plan. The government encouraged their erection to protect the Pale against the marauding Irish from Ulster by providing a grant of £10. Richard Bellew, a prominent Anglo-Norman lord, built his castle in 1472 and the Bellews were to remain in residence for a further two centuries. The rectangular structure stands 20.4 metres in height and is made mainly of rough limestone blocks. Four smaller towers project from each corner. The original castle had four stories but an extra story was added when “renovation” work took place in the early 1950’s. One of the towers includes a spiral stairwell and another an interesting garderobe or medieval toilet facility. Access at ground level was provided by a single and rather small arched doorway which could be protected from a platform above it. Projecting supports or machiolations and the outline of an entrance doorway can still be seen towards the top of the front wall. Another “welcoming device” was a “murder hole” in the ceiling just inside the doorway.

Photograph of Bellew's Castle in mid 19th Century

The ground-floor rooms would have been used mainly as a kitchen and for storage. The main room on the first floor has a distinctive rounded barrel-vaulted ceiling. This was to support the heavy stone floor of the room immediately above it. The second floor would have been the principal room of the castle and was heated by two large fireplaces which are now blocked off. There was access at this level from two of the turret rooms to the rooms immediately above by means of “secret” stone stairways. One of these rooms was probably a chapel and the room above it used as living quarters by a priest. The original windows were stone mullioned and a lot smaller than their modern replacements. One of the towers has a small puzzling carved head projecting from a corner at second-floor level.

Photograph of the Castle as it stands today

This can only be seen when the Virginia creeper, which now almost covers the castle, is not in leaf. Its purpose may have been to ward off evil medieval spirits! A similar Sheelagh-na-Gig or Mouthpuller embedded in the wall in front of the castle probably came from the ruined chapel in the graveyard across the road. By the 17th century the Bellew connection had ended and the castle was virtually a ruin and a more modern house, now the Convent, was built beside around 1740 by Edward Tipping. Prior to the school opening in 1950 only the ground floor was in use. Apples from the extensive orchard in front were stored there. The first St. Louis students then used it as a bicycle shed. As the school expanded the decision was made to restore the castle as a school building. These proposals met with considerable opposition from local historians but, as there were no such things as planning permission or preservation orders at that time, the work went ahead. In recognition of its historical importance, in 1989 the Castle and grounds were selected by Dundalk Town Council as the venue for the main celebration of Dundalk’s Heritage Year.

Picture of Bellew's Castle as it stood in the 18th Century