The Rock of Dunamase in County Laois is a dramatic 150 foot outcrop that was formerly the place of a Castle that was christened Masg Castle. The rock soars above the Laois countryside as a testament to former times when various clans and invaders battled each other for control over the strategic strong-point. One of the clans whose writ ran large over the area was the O Moore’s who ruled over their Laois fiefdom with an iron fist. The principal leader of this clan was a chieftain by the name of Laois Ceannmor, who gave his name to the county that we now commonly know as County Laois. The area is one of the most ancient of sites in Ireland and its history stretches way back to the time of the original Celtic inhabitants of Ireland.
The rock has seen and witnessed many battles and was a very important fortification throughout much of Ireland’s long and blooded history. In the 9th century the rock was plundered by the Vikings. In the 13th century, with the invasion of the Normans the rock became their own stronghold. Diramuid McMurrough, who was High King of Lenister granted the Castle to Strongbow a Norman Knight when he married his daughter Aoife. The Castle was finally laid to ruin when Oliver Cromwell attacked and sacked the fortification during his conquest of Ireland.
With such a long and turbulent history there is little wonder that myths and legends abound. There are stories that gold,sliver and riches of all kinds are buried on or near the Rock of Dunamase. Some locals swear that the Rock itself is haunted by the ghosts of yesteryear. The place is said to be guarded by a huge creature of the spirit world a guard-dog named Bandog, who it is alleged has huge gaping jaws from which fiery flames appear.
From the caves nearby at Clopook a banshee is said to roam warning locals of the sign of impending death. It has been said that the Banshee attaches itself to Irish family’s of certain royal Gaelic lineage and when one of these family members are to pass on to the next world the Banshee is said to wail her cry warning of impending demise. The noise was said to be heard by people of the Stardbally region as recently as 50 years ago, who described the sound as being “like a hare being killed.”
Despite the ruined state of the Castle visitors can get a real glimpse of the places former grandiosity with the ruins of some magnificent round towers still in place. The thickness of the walls is probably one of the main reasons why some of the ruins have stood the test of time.It is only a short walk from the road up to the stronghold, which is easily reached from the rear. Once you visit here you’ll also be afforded the opportunity to take in some of the panoramic views of the surrounding countrywide.