Looking north across the Boyne almost mid-point between Slane and Navan, one sees the impressive remains of Dunmoe Castle, County Meath. Sitting high on a bluff above the river, the building presents a high, near blank face (there are a few window openings towards the top) flanked by circular towers. From this position, it is easy to imagine the rest of the building being equally substantial. But the notion quickly proves erroneous. Despite putting on a good front, Dunmoe is the Potemkin village of Irish castles: nothing lies behind its fine façade.
It is believed the original castle at Dunmoe was built in the 12th century by the Anglo-Norman knight Hugh de Lacy. However, by the mid-15th century when the present building is thought to have been constructed the land on which it stands had passed into the hands of another family of Norman origin, the d’Arcys. Much intermarried with other local families like the Plunkets, Nugents and St Lawrences, their main residence was elsewhere in the county at Platten but by the 16th century Dunmoe belonged to the descendants of a younger d’Arcy son. Inevitably they were caught up in the troubles of the Confederate Wars, Dunmoe being taken by the Irish forces in 1641 and later fired at across the Boyne by the passing Cromwellian Army. Following the restoration of Charles II, in 1663 Thomas d’Arcy was declared ‘an innocent Papist.’ It was he who is said to have entertained James II at Dunmoe on the night before the Battle of the Boyne, and the victorious William III on the night after. This is supposed to have inspired the couplet, ‘Who will be king, I do not know/But I’ll be d’Arcy of Dunmoe.’
The d’Arcys remained at Dunmoe for much of the 18th century, converting what had been a fortress into a more comfortable house. The last of them to occupy appears to have been Judge d’Arcy (his first name deriving from the surname of his mother, Elizabeth Judge). Dying young in 1766, he left an infant heiress Elizabeth who would later marry Major Gorges Irvine of Castle Irvine, County Fermanagh (for the unhappy fate of this house, see A White Elephant, October 3rd 2016): thereafter that family were called the d’Arcy-Irvines. As for Dunmoe, it survived until the end of the century before being largely destroyed by fire during the 1798 rebellion (presumably around the time of the Battle of Tara Hill on May 26th of that year). It has since fallen into the present ruinous state so that only one of the four outer walls remains, and only two of the equivalent number of corner towers. To the immediate west inside a low walled enclosure are likewise the remains of an old church and graveyard containing what had been the d’Arcy mausoleum.