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Bagenal’s Castle, the home of Newry and Mourne Museum, is an early example of a fortified residence, a type of building which was favoured by the gentry in Ireland and Scotland in late 16th century and early 17th century. One of the primary objectives of the Museum is to explain to visitors how the rooms in the Castle originally functioned and what is may have been like to live in the building in the days of Sir Nicholas Bagenal. 

‘Cut away’ drawing of Bagenal’s Castle by Philip Armstrong showing how the rooms may have originally functioned and were furnished. Original 16th – century drawings of the Castle show that it had a stair turret and latrine turret, both of which were demolished in the 18th century. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
‘Cut away’ drawing of Bagenal’s Castle by Philip Armstrong showing how the rooms may have originally functioned and were furnished. Original 16th – century drawings of the Castle show that it had a stair turret and latrine turret, both of which were demolished in the 18th century. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

This objective is achieved by a ‘cut away’ drawing of the Castle commissioned from an artist who specialises in archaeological reconstructions. This provides an impression of how the rooms may have functioned and how they were furnished. 

Ground Floor

The two rooms on the ground floor of the Castle have been interpreted as a kitchen and storage chamber respectively. This is suggested by the existence of a large fireplace with a bread oven in the larger room. The entrance doorway still possesses its original draw-bar hole and this indicates that servants may have slept here at night. 

Original 16th- century drawings of the Castle show that the other chamber on this floor had a barrel vault. The base of the supporting cross wall of this vault can still be seen in Gallery 1. This room may have been used for storing foodstuff, wine, ale and general household material. 

First Floor

The larger chamber on the first floor with its fireplace and two large windows may have functioned as the ‘hall’, the most public room in Bagenal’s Castle. This would have provided living and dining space for the lesser members of the household. Furniture in the hall may have included a large table, stools and benches, a few chairs and a court cupboard on which the silver plate would have been displayed on important occasions. One or two large tapestries may have covered the walls.

Artist’s impression of the kitchen, with dinner being prepared and foodstuffs in the vaulted storage chamber.  Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Artist’s impression of the kitchen, with dinner being prepared and foodstuffs in the vaulted storage chamber. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

During the 16th century ‘parlours’ began to appear in gentry houses and the second, smaller chamber on this floor has been interpreted as such. The parlour provided private dining space for the members of the family on a daily basis and may have been used by Bagenal to meet privately with his estate officials. The parlour had access to the latrine turret. 

Second Floor

The larger chamber on the second floor at Bagenal’s Castle has been interpreted as the Great Chamber, the most important room in a late medieval or 16th century gentry house. One of the two windows in this chamber is the largest in the building and it had large fireplace. This chamber provided living space for Bagenal and his immediate family members and would also have been the preserve of Bagenal’s wife. Containing the most expensive furnishings in the Castle, special guests also dined and were entertained in this room. 

The hall and parlour were furnished for everyday living by members of the Bagenal family and their household. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The hall and parlour were furnished for everyday living by members of the Bagenal family and their household. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

In the medieval period the Great Chamber functioned as a type of bed-sitting room. During the day the bed hangings would have been tied up and the bed used as a sort of couch. In the Tudor period, with the development of bedrooms, the bed began to disappear from this room. In a smaller house, like Bagenal’s Castle, where rooms were still multi-functional to some extent, the bed would still have probably been the central feature of the Great Chamber. Beds, or more specifically the bed hangings, were the status symbols par excellence in an aristocratic or gentry house and would have been shown off to guests with much pride. 

The smaller chamber on this floor may have functioned a bedroom being used by members of Bagenal’s family and may even have been a type of nursery for a young baby. It is possible that the bedroom, with access to the latrine turret, functioned as a suite with the Great Chamber

The Great Chamber on the second floor may have been furnished with a large bed with expensive hangings and other elaborate items. Important guests were entertained here while their retinue dined in the hall below. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The Great Chamber on the second floor may have been furnished with a large bed with expensive hangings and other elaborate items. Important guests were entertained here while their retinue dined in the hall below. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Attic

The uppermost storey at Bagenal’s Castle with an open ceiling and dormer windows was probably used by children and members of the household as sleeping accommodation. Storage was also a priority in this space. Furnishings would have sparse being confined to simple bedsteads, chests and household items in storage. 

Children and servants were confined to the attic storey with furnishings being simple. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Children and servants were confined to the attic storey with furnishings being simple. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

By ‘reading’ the features of Bagenal’s Castle and interpreting these in the context of architectural developments and social trends of the 16th century, we get a glimpse of what it may have been like to live in the building.

Newry and Mourne Museum is temporarily closed.

by Ken Abraham

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