Dating from 1250, they are the second longest surviving stretch of Town Walls in Ireland – the other being at the opposite end of the country in Derry! The first written record dates from 1275 when King Edward I granted a charter for their repair and extension and a tax was levied to pay for their building.
Early maps show the walls had 13 towers dotted along their length and encircled the town, both from the quay side and land side. There were three main entrances to the town. The Trinity Gate (now the Clock Gate), a Northern Gate and the Water Gate – all of which formed part of the walls. Four towers can still be seen along the remaining stretch of wall including the Banshee Tower, while the Clock Gate is an obvious reminder of the importance Youghal was – straddling the main thoroughfare and dividing it into North and South Main Street. Steps up along the side of the Clock Gate would have followed the route of the Town Walls. If you follow these, you will arrive on Ashe Street – cross over Ashe Street and up more steps to fully trace the path of the Town Walls. At the top of the steps turn right. There are a row of red brick houses here on your right hand side – the town walls run behind these and you will be able to view them in all their glory further along this road.
The seaward walls have mostly been lost to history. As the town increased its trade with most of Europe, extensions were required to the quays and so land reclamation projects were undertaken at various stages. So much land was reclaimed that the town nearly doubled in size and it was common for Youghal Council to insert covenants into leases of ground near the sea that bound the new owners to build the quays – thus, quays were built by Perry, Salter, Mannix and Grubb. Green’s Quay was built by Thomas and William Green in 1782 thereby also creating Grattan Street.
The route of the seaward walls can be roughly traced by following the boundaries of the shops and houses on the seaward side of Noth Main Street.
The walls are very much an English creation, built to protect the town from attack by the native Irish. During the 16th and 17th Century, Youghal was repeatedly attacked by the Irish, sometimes taken and then recaptured by the English. In 1568, a rebellion by James Fitzmaurice was put down. He returned to Ireland a year later to lead another revolt and this time his cousin, Gerald Fitzgerald who was the 14th Earl of Desmond was drawn into the rebellion. Armies loyal to the Earl of Desmond captured Youghal during that year (1579). They promptly demolished the walls and ransacked the town. Perhaps the English learnt a lesson from this because it was said that the walls had fallen into disrepair and were in a weakened state when the Earl of Desmond attacked.
An English army under the Earl of Ormond retook Youghal after a few weeks and they ransacked the town for a second time. Blame for the weak defenses of the town fell on the Lord Mayor, Patrick Coppinger, who was hanged by the English from his own doorway.
By 1583, the rebellion by the Earl of Desmond had all but been suppressed and thereafter, began the reign of English nobles in Youghal – the likes of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Boyle – who both received vast tracts of land around Youghal from Queen Elizabeth for their part in putting down the Irish rebellions and colonising Munster with English settlers.
The walls received a boost in the 17th century when Sir Richard Boyle, perhaps conscious of the consequences of weakened walls, heightened and repaired them.