I didn’t expect to be wowed by castles in the Isle of Man. After all it’s just a small island out in the Irish Sea – not a home of kings or anything. At least that’s what I thought. But I was wrong. The Isle of Man is in a prime location for navigating and trade and, therefore, was of great interest to the Vikings, Scottish, and English. And when different groups are interested in land they tend to fight over it – hence the castles.
There are two castles on the island, one in the southeast and one in the west. Both castles are of Viking origin, although much additional building was done in the ensuing centuries so very little of the original Viking buildings remain.
Castle Rushen, located in the former island capital of Castletown (not exactly creative in their town names), is an impressively complete example of a medieval castle. It has all its floors, many rooms, and retains its walls. The last Viking king died at Castle Rushen in the 13th century at the time when the island came under Scottish rule. For a few hundred years the castle was used as a home for the king, later lord, of the Isle of Man. In the 18th century it then became a prison, notorious for its poor facilities where prisoners were housed in spaces where the roof leaked or was even partially missing. Despite its faults, it was used as a prison until the late 19th century. Now, however, it’s a magnificent example of a medieval castle and a great museum experience.
The other castle is in Peel. Peel Castle served as both a defensive structure but also held a catholic cathedral. The castle is in ruins but somehow seemed more dramatic because of that. Perhaps it was the view from the walls over the Irish Sea; perhaps the ability ruins have of sparking imagination; or perhaps its location on a little outcrop of land (St Patrick’s Isle) that at one time would have been separated from the mainland. Whatever it was, I liked Peel Castle more. It probably helped that Rowan piped there – filling the lonely castle with the haunting sounds of the bagpipes.