Cromwellian troops dismantled some of Ireland's finest castles - not least of which was the great fortress of Lea. The core of the castle is a massive four-towered keep that bears such a striking resemblance to Carlow Castle that they must be contemporary, especially as both were owned by William Marshall. It therefore belongs to the early 13th century and if so, it must be one of the earliest of these distinctive castles comprising a rectangular block with cylindrical corner towers. Sadly, only one tower now stands to any height, but the main block had three storeys over a basement and like Carlow has a first-floor doorway by the north-east tower and a straight stair in the north wall. Few castles have had such an active history. Lea was burnt in 1285 by the O'Connors, in 1307 by O'More and in 1315 by Bruce, after which the adjacent town was abandoned. The castle was subsequently captured on many occasions and passed to the O'Mores, the FitzGeralds, the Earls of Ormonde and the O'Dempseys, before Cromwellian troops finally wrecked it in 1650. In the 18th century the celebrated horse-thief James Dempsey used the vaults of the keep as his stables.
4 km (2.5 miles) E of Portarlington on a minor road N of the Monasterevin Road. NGR: N 571121.