Newry.ie
The Crown Mound as it appears today, overgrown with trees and bushes. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The Crown Mound as it appears today, overgrown with trees and bushes. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Now over-grown with trees and bushes, the Crown Mound on the road leading from Newry to Mayobridge is a well-known landmark for local people. Much folklore has grown up around this site and several 18 and 19th century antiquarians thought that the structure was built by the Danes (Vikings). The site is now interpreted by archaeologists and historians as an Anglo-Norman motte and bailey castle, possibly built in the late 12th or early 13th centuries after John de Courcy invaded Ulster.

Map of the Crown Mound Farm dating from 1888. The map shows the Crown Mound as a motte and bailey at the centre of the farm. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection.
Map of the Crown Mound Farm dating from 1888. The map shows the Crown Mound as a motte and bailey at the centre of the farm. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection.

A motte and bailey is an earthen castle comprising a raised motte or mound accompanied by a courtyard or bailey. This is surrounded by a ditch and palisade or wooden fence for protection. A building on the summit of the motte would have provided a point of refuge while the bailey contained residential accommodation and farm buildings. Being relatively easy to build, motte and bailey castles were an essential part of Anglo-Norman settlement. They afforded protection for small numbers of settlers and could easily be defended against local raiding parties. During the course of the 13th century, simple castles of this type fell out of use being replaced by stone castles or manor houses.

Denis Caulfield Brady who was MP for Newry from 1835 until 1837. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Denis Caulfield Brady who was MP for Newry from 1835 until 1837. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

The Crown Mound is located in the townland of Sheeptown and probably takes it name from Áth Cruithe “ford of the Cruithin” which is an ancient name for part of this area. Commanding good views of the surrounding countryside, the site was of obvious strategic significance and also seems to have been an important crossing point on the Clanrye River. A group Norseman from Strangford Lough were defeated at a bridge here in 924 by Muirchertach mac Neill. 

Áth Cruithe or Sheeptown was among the lands confirmed to the Cistercian abbey at Newry by Muirchertach mac Lochlainn in 1157. John de Courcy passed through the Pass of Newry on his way to conquer Down in 1177 and, in 1180, he defeated the Irish at the bridge, near Newry. It is difficult to say if this crossing point was near the Crown Mound but it appears de Courcy had been built a castle there by 1213 when the Irish attacked the castle of Áth Cruithe and slaughtered the inhabitants. In 1237, the castle was confirmed by Hugh de Lacy to the abbey at Newry.

Artist’s impression of a motte and bailey in the early 13th century. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Artist’s impression of a motte and bailey in the early 13th century. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Sheeptown, along with the other lands of the Cistercian abbey at Newry, were granted to Sir Nicolas Bagenal in 1552 and were eventually inherited by the Needham family, later Earls of Kilmorey. In 1807, Robert Needham, Viscount Kilmorey, leased the Crown Mount (Mound) to Denis Caulfield with just over fifteen acres. As part of the lease, Caulfield was to build a “Good New Dwelling House”, make ditches, plant hedges containing white thorn or crab apple and plant ash, oak, beech or alder trees. Dimensions of farm buildings to be built were also included.

The farm was inherited by Caulfield’s nephew, Denis Caulfield Brady, who was the first Catholic Member of Parliament for the Borough of Newry since the reign of James II. Brady was MP from 1835 until 1837. The lease expired on the death of Brady in 1886.

The original lease to Denis Caulfield Brady and a watercolour map of the Crown Mound Farm dating from 1888 are in the Reside Collection at Newry and Mourne Museum. 

Newry and Mourne Museum is temporarily closed.

by Ken Abraham

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