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Woodstock Castle originally built in the 13th century, was a rectangular keep of two stories, with a large hall on the first floor. The entrance was on the first floor facing the river and was probably reached by a wooden staircase which could be readily removed when under attack. This was a key feature at the time as the Irish were at war with the Anglo Norman settlers and the castle as well as the town of Athy was under attack. It is believed to have been burnt down on at least four occasions during the first one hundred years of existence.
The castle was the first building in what is now the town of Athy, but as a result of hostility from the Irish, the Anglo Norman settlers were forced to relocate to the more easily defended east bank of the Barrow. It is believed that this co-incided with the building of Whites Castle in 1417.
Tradition assigns Woodstock Castle to about 1290, and that a descendant of the Earl of Pembroke was its first master. However some historians attribute the erection of the present structure to Thomas Fitzgerald, Lord of Offaly, and afterwards seventh Earl of Kildare, who, on marrying Dorothea, the daughter of Anthony O’Moore, of Leix, received in dower the manors of Woodstock and Rheban, in which family it still remains.
The plan of the building was originally a regular square tower, joining the south side, and built in uniformity with the front facing the river. The walls are of great thickness, and, considering the attacks they have been exposed to, remain in good preservation.
The castle was modified many times over the course of its existence with extensive refurbishment carried out in the 16th century. This converted the once Anglo-Norman keep into a fortified house. Larger windows were inserted into the walls of the castle while a tower was erected at the south side for defensive purposes. On the west face of the tower, at first and second storey level, are a pair of circular gun ports set within rectangular openings. The gun ports which are now blocked up served to defend the castle on the only side which did not have an enclosing wall. They were used in connection with floor cannons and above each gun port are viewing slits, to enable the gunner to look out while firing the cannon. These features are of national importance, being very fine examples of 16th century gun ports, very few of which remain in Irish castles.