Dyserth Castle was one of the first, if not the first stone castle to have been built in North Wales by the Normans, certainly with concentric walls as they steadily moved into the traditional lands of Gwynedd after the death of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in 1240. However, there would seem to have been a castle of sorts here in 1238, since it was deemed unsuitable, dismantled and rebuilt in 1241-1245. In scale it was modest, though it owned several features which made it imposing, notably the redoubt which was built to protect the approach to the Stable Tower. It was built with a mind to replacing the motte and bailey castle at Twt Hill at Rhuddlan, but in the event the mighty Rhuddlan Castle was built close to Robert of Rhuddlan’s original fortress.
The name of castle has varied over the ages, and has been known variously as, Castell Diserth, Castle de Rupe, Castle of the Rock, Caerfaelan amongst others. It was built on a tremendous limestone outcrop, and excavations have found that the site has been well used for thousands of years. The site was occupied by Neolithic, Bronze Age and Romano-British peoples, all of whom found that the area around provided them with the mineral resources they desired, whether that be flint or lead. As a castle, however, it had one tremendous weakness, that being the lamentable lack of a reliable water supply. It was probably for this reason that the short life of the castle was one of siege and capture.
The castle was attacked by the Welsh in 1245, and probably periodically until it was captured and destroyed by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1263, after which it was allowed to fall into disrepair. Dyserth Castle enjoyed no hurried repair during the English Civil War and rather disappears from recorded history.
There is a tradition that one Einion, son of Rhirid Flaidd was killed during the siege of 1263 and was remembered with a cross placed on the hillside, the spot where he met his death at the flight of an arrow. It was notable for an encrypted inscription, which read,
HOC SI PETATUR LAPSIS ISTE CAUSA NOTATUR
EINION OXI RIRID VLAIDD FILIUS HOC MEMORATUR.
A translation of the inscription has been given as,
THAT NEAR HERE THE CAUSE HIS FALL, IF THEY ASK OF SECRET WRITING
REMEMBER EINION, THIS IS THE SON OF RIRID VLAIDD.
This would seem to be almost as confusing.
The cross was removed from the site for safety's sake, it seems, and re-erected in the grounds of St Bridget’s. However, the cross that many believe to be Croes Einion, is not the sizeable, broken wheel-headed cross inside St Bridget’s Church, but the just as dramatic, curious stump of rock adorned with strange lines and letters which is now also in the church.
The Norman knight, Sir Robert Pounderling was the supposed constable of the castle for the entirety of its life, until its destruction in 1263. He is remembered for the apparent loss of an eye at the hands of a Welshman, called Theodore at a ‘rough’ tournament. On being challenged again, Pounderling declined, declaring he had no wish to lose the other eye. Probably apocryphal, but undoubtedly amusing, the constable is said to have lived at nearby Siamber Wen and buried at Tremeirchion, neither assertion of which can be established with any credible evidence. The tale of Pounderling sounds like an embellishment of a truth which continued to evolve over the years, with whatever available architecture being appropriated to the story. Still, it remains an excellent little story as told by John Leland, Edward Llwyd and Thomas Pennant over successive centuries.
'In a field a little to the south of the castle, is a ruinous building, called Siamber Wen. This is Sir Robert said to have been the seat of Sir Robert Pounderling, once constable of the adjacent castle, a knight valiant and prudent, who had one of his eyes knocked out by a gentleman of Wales, in the rough sport of tournament; but being requested to challenge him again to feates of armes, on meeting our countryman at the English court, declined the combat, declaring that he did not intend that the Welshman should beat out his other eye.'
Thomas Pennant, 'A Tour in Wales' (1778)
The remains of Dyserth Castle could be seen for many years, slowly failing into ruin until what was left was quarried away at the beginning of the First World War. The remains amount to a collection of earthworks, rubble and the occasional impressive piece of ashlar. From the village it is possible to look up at the enormous limestone hill and imagine the castle as it may have looked as the forces of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd approached, the unfortunate Einion son of Rhirid Flaidd amongst his entourage.