At the time of the Norman invasion, the Archbishop of Dublin was St Lawrence O’Toole. He died in 1180, and was succeeded in 1181 by an Englishman, John Comyn who was a great favourite of the king of England.
In addition to being an archbishop, John Comyn was a landowner, and in view of the fact that many Irish people were resentful of the Normans, it was necessary for him to build a fortified stronghold so that he would have security for himself and his retainers.
Swords Castle, which was built around 1200 A.D., became the centre of a manorial estate consisting of 41,000 acres, and “was a storehouse of English civility and law for the territory and withal a wholesome check upon the excesses of the neighbouring temporal barons”.
Archbishop Henry de Loundres
John Comyn died in 1212, and was succeeded as Archbishop by Henry de Loundres (Lowndes). In 1216, the manor of Swords with fresh privileges and enlarged possessions was granted to de Loundres by Henry 11 on condition that he build and maintain a castle at Castle Kevin near Glendalough in order to defend the southern sector of the Pale from the attacks of the O’Byrnes and O’Tooles.
Alexander de Bicknor
Alexander de Bicknor, a successor of Comyn and de Loundres as Archbishop, managed to displease the King, so the King seized the profits of the See. The most notable element of the inquisition’s final report is that no profits were being derived from the castle or its buildings, and “they need thorough repair”. De Bicknor had already vacated Swords Castle, and had built an archiepiscopal palace in Tallaght in 1324.
Office of Chief Constable
Connected with Swords Castle was the office of Chief Constable which was of considerable importance and long survived the occupation of the castle. Among those who held the position of Chief Constable was Patrick Barnewall of Grace Dieu, who was given 10 acres of land in 1624 in the Broad Meadow in lieu of salary. On the manor, the Chief Constable was exempt from all interference of the sheriff of the county and the courts of law.
It is not clear if any of the buildings in the grounds of the Castle or the castle itself were ever renovated to any great extent from 1300 onwards, but evidence from the small-scale excavations of the early 1970s suggests that some form of renovation occurred. It is possible that portion of the Castle may have been repaired by a constable throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. In 1583, the viceroy, Sir Henry Sydney, had some of the buildings repaired, and brought into Swords Castle, a colony of Dutch weavers who he hoped might “show some example of industry to the lazy natives”.
Wars of the Catholic Confederation 1641
Swords Castle came to national prominence again during the Wars of the Catholic Confederation in 1641. On 5 December 1641, Luke Netterville of Corballis near Donabate issued a proclamation “that the gentlemen of the county of Dublin should assemble at Swords upon pain of death”. On 8 December 1641, Netterville had raised an army of 1200 men who were prepared to fight for religious liberty. Sir Charles Coote, “the most ferocious and blood-thirsty soldier of his time”, was appointed by the Lords Justice to sort out the insurrection in Fingal. He beat the men of Fingal out of their fortifications, and killed about two hundred of them. As a reward, Coote was granted a large portion of the estates forfeited by the Fingallian gentry.
The Cobbe Family
When the Church of Ireland was dis-established in 1869, the castle was sold to the Cobbe Family of Newbridge House. They leased it to Robert Savage who turned the grounds into an orchard and sold the produce in his shop. In 1985, Dublin County Council purchased Swords Castle, and in subsequent years, it commissioned a number of historical and archaeological studies of the Castle and its environs. In March 1995, a plan for the phased restoration of the castle was approved by Fingal County Council. In 1996, work commenced on the restoration of the Constable’s Tower, and this was completed in 1998.
© St. Colmcille's B.N.S., Chapel Lane, Swords, Co. Dublin