Trim Castle, Ireland
“Welcome to Trim Castle! It’s a pleasure to have you here!”
The knight in (somewhat) shining armour gives a broad smile. I’m sure there’s a bit of a twinkle there too. He has kind eyes – not what you would expect from a man in a uniform for war.
“I’m not Sir Lancelot,” he explains. “I’m Sir Laugh-a-Lot!” And he gives off an unnaturally hearty laugh, throwing his head backwards. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.
It turns out that’s not his real name (just to clear that up, in case you were wondering). In fact, this is 72 year old local Vincent Adair. His wife passed away last Christmas and he decided he didn’t want to spend his days alone. So, of his own initiative, he started dressing up as a knight and waiting outside Trim Castle to greet tourists.
He gives them a brochure, tells them a bit about the site, poses for photo and even knights them himself. He’s become a bit of a celebrity.
“It’s good for visitors because you can get a laugh and take a photograph home with you,” he tells me.
“It’s long overdue because if you come from all parts of the world, it’s nice to have a laugh.”
Of course, he’s not the first actor to get attention here at Trim Castle. In 1994 it was used as a set for the filming of the movie Braveheart with Mel Gibson. The outer walls were turned into the city of York in the thirteenth century. The inner keep became the Tower of London where Gibson’s character, William Wallace, was executed. Hundreds of locals were hired as extras and other parts of the city were also used for other scenes.
Although Ireland had little to do with the struggle the Scottish were having with the English, there are obvious parallels. The castle here at Trim played a role in the early days of Anglo-Irish conflict.
The first iteration of the castle was built in 1173 as a fortress from which to protect the ‘kingdom’ of Meath that had been declared by the English King Henry II. The problem was, the kingdom was only in name. So the first thing the new rulers had to do was actually capture the land that they were going to control.
From then on, for centuries, Trim Castle played an important role in the history of the country and the seemingly never-ending conflicts that moved parcels of land between the English and the Irish and between different ruling nobles within each of the nationalities. The castle was strategically placed close enough to Dublin that it was also used as an advance defence of the capital.
Visiting today, you can see the shell of the castle’s final iteration. A tall and solid box rising from the hill, intimidating from a distance and impenetrable up close.
When you do go inside – as you can do with a guided tour – you realise that most of the interior is missing. The floors of the different levels would have been made of wood, so they have disappeared with time. That means most of the main rooms in the central part of the keep are also gone.
But you can stand in the middle and look up and around. And you can use the old staircases and new walkways to move upwards and look into the sections on the sides that were once bedrooms or kitchens or chapels.
What amazes me are all the medieval techniques used in the design for defence. Such simple things that are also so clever and effective. Putting the main door above ground level with a wooden staircase that can be burned; windows designed for archery; spiral staircases that give the men coming down the advantage of having their swords in the right hands.
I find the guided tour to be excellent with a great insight into the life of the people who lived here. There was a period when they used to hang their clothes above the pile of excrement from the toilets, for instance. Apparently the gases would kill the bugs in the material. (I’m not too sure about the smell, though.)
As I leave, I wonder how the tour inside Trim Castle would have been if it had been led by Sir Laugh-a-lot. He’s busy helping a local ranger find the driver of a bus, while some tourists wait to have a photo. It’s probably best he’s out here, not inside. He’s the perfect first impression for a castle full of character.