The standing remains of Dromineer Castle show evidence of a two-phase structure: an Anglo-Norman hall-house dating to the thirteenth or fourteenth century, later enlarged in the fifteenth or sixteenth century to form a tower house.
Hall-houses were built by the Anglo-Normans to control and administer their new fiefdoms, and are usually considered to represent the first stage of castle-building in Ireland c.1180-1320. This castle-type was smaller than Anglo-Norman fortresses which were constructed in a range of architectural forms (six of which survive in North Tipperary).
Instead, hall-houses functioned as satellite manors of the lesser Anglo-Norman lords. The hall-houses at Dromineer and Clohaskin provided financial and military support to the caput of Nenagh, and acted as the fortified residences of the lesser Anglo-Norman lords who were likely to have been under pressure from displaced Gaelic families.
Caimin O’Brien has argued that “the Anglo-Norman castles or hall-houses of Tipperary have highly defensive first floor entrances protected by a wooden or stone forebuilding”.
The residential role of these castles appears to be secondary to their role as a defensive stronghold”. While the hall-house at Dromineer appears ruinous and much adapted during alteration in the later medieval period to a tower house, comparison with other know hall-houses provides a general understanding of how the hall-house of Dromineer may have appeared.
Hall-houses were generally a two-storey stone building  with a first floor entrance, possibly provided with additional protection in the form of a wooden of stone forebuilding. Internally, the hall-house consisting of a principal room or hall consisting of an open unvaulted and possibly unpartitioned chamber at first floor level. This main hall would have contained an open hearth with a louvred chimney in the high timber roof above.
The tower house section of the castle is believed to have been built pre-1556 by the O’Kennedy’s. In 1576, Dromineer was transferred by the O’Kennedy’s to the Earl of Ormonde who let the property out initially to Patrick Purcell, and then later to Thomas Cantwell of Cantwellsourt, Co. Kilkenny 1582-97.
On May 15th 1597, Dromineer was granted to Thomas Cantwell:
“The Manor of Dromynr in Lower Ormond, also the towns of Annagh, Castleheile, Carrigin, Carrick and half Ballyderrone, containing 5 ploughlands of the measure of Lower Ormond, with the Castle, Bawne, hall and other houses for dwelling and for the defence of the country – To Hold for Ever to him and his heirs, male, with reversion to the Earl and his heirs at the annual rent of £5 6s 8d”.
During the Irish Confederate Wars 1641-53 (part of a series of civil wars fought over who would govern, own most of the land, and which religion would predominate in Ireland, England and Scotland which were then under the rule of Charles I), Dromineer Castle was in the possession of the Cantwells. The Cantwells did not take up rebellion, and stood with government and their patron James Butler, Earl of Ormonde in his role as commander of Crown forces during the early part of the wars.
Presumably the allegiance of the Cantwells followed the Earl of Ormonde when he returned to Ireland in 1648 to lead a Royalist-Confederate alliance against the English Parliament, as Dromineer was laid siege by Parliamentary forces in 1650. Henry Ireton (commander of Parliamentary forces in Ireland after the departure of Oliver Cromwell from Ireland on 27th May 1650) sent a party to Dromineer “where there was a lieutenant and 50 men”, and Dromineer Castle was garrisoned after being taken in 1650.
In Cromwell’s Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652, all of Ormonde’s lands were confiscated.
The castle and the manor of Dromineer was recorded during the Civil Survey 1654-6 and during the Down Survey 1656-8. The Civil Survey listed “John Cantwell of Cantwells Court in the County of Kilkenny, Irish Papist” as the proprietor in 1640, and provided a description of the manor of Dromineer:
“The Manor of Dromenier &c appertaineth a Courte Laete and Courte Barron with all the Rights priveleges & immunities belonging to a manor. Uppon the sd lands stands an old castle six thatch houses and fowerteene cottages”.
On the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the restoration of Charles II as king of England, Scotland and Ireland, the Earl of Ormonde endeavoured to regain his confiscated lands.
Ormonde, took on a number of key roles close to the king and recovered his Irish estates and large grants in recompense of his monies spent in service of the king, and was created Duke of Ormonde on the 30th March 1661. Ormonde’s Irish estates consequently expanded beyond his original holdings, and in his capacity of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, claimed possession of Dromineer Castle.
The 1665 Hearth Money Rolls, a tax levied on the number of hearths in each house, note John Parker in residence at Dromineer, and tax recorded for three hearths. Parker appears to have been an agent or employee of Ormonde. Dromineer appears to fall out of use from the end of the seventeenth century.
The topographer Samuel Lewis, in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, published in 1837 stated:
“DROMINEER, a parish, in the barony of LOWER ORMOND, county of TIPPERARY, and province of MUNSTER, 5 miles (N. W.) from Nenagh, containing 561 inhabitants. This parish, which is bounded on the east by Lough Derg, comprises 1672 statute acres of arable and pasture land. The principal seats are Annabeg, the residence of J. R. Minnitt, Esq.; Shannon Vale, of J. Odell, Esq.; and Hazle Point, of Lieut. P. Bayly, R. N. It is a rectory, in the diocese of Killaloe, and one of the parishes that constitute the union of Ballynaclough : the tithes amount to £110. In the R. C. divisions it forms part of the union or district of Monsea. A school, endowed by the Countess of Farnham with £30 per ann., and an acre and a half of land, affords instruction to about 40 children; and about 80 more are taught in a private school. One of the principal stations of the Inland Navigation Company 011 the Shannon has been established near the castle of Dromineer, which is much dilapidated. Here is a Danish fort, occupying more than two acres, in the ditch surrounding which brass battle-axes, coins, large human bones, &c., have been discovered”.
At this time, Dromineer Castle is marked on the first edition ordnance survey map overlooking Dromineer Harbour to the south-west, and with a buoy and a number of islets to the north-west. The harbour was subsequently developed, adding a quay structure to the north-east of the castle and sub-rectangular bawn which appears on the 25-inch ordnance survey sheet.
The National Library of Ireland hold a number images taken by the photographer Robert French sometime between 1865 and 1914 which form part of the Lawrence Collection which show the castle in a similar condition to today, but with additional detail visible at the north-east and south-east angles.
The Commissioners of Public Works provided a description of Dromineer Castle in 1908, pre-empting its transfer into local authority ownership and making a sound prediction on the survivability of the ruined castle:
“This ruin is situated on the shores of Lough Derg … Lewis states it was much dilapidated in 1837. It is about 43’0 x 24’6 clear inside. Walls about 5’6″ thick. There were three floors 1st floor vaulted. Floors, vaulting and roof all removed as well as most part of end walls. Only two side walls standing about 40 ft high. No cut stone in any part of it now to be seen. It was plastered outside. There are some dangerous settlements in the present wall. It is not a structure possessing any features, or of such historical interest as to justify it being maintained as a National Monument, though as a picturesque land mark on the Shannon it is not desirable that it be removed”, R. Lynch, letter dated 20th February 1908.
“The remains of this castle are in a very dilapidated condition, as described by Mr Lynch and no useful works of repair could be done by the Board that would be of any permanent value in the way of showing what the original structure was when it was in occupation. It is simply a mass of dislocated masonry and as such could not be recommended to the Board for vesting. At the same time, it is of sufficient interest in the locality to render it undesirable that it should be injured in any way or removed by the tenant, and if vested in the Co. Council – without any expenditure on their part – if not interfered with would probably survive for many generations”, R. Cochrane, letter dated 22nd February 1908.
The local community hold an undated collection of landscape photographs and oblique aerial photographs of Dromineer Harbour, which appear to date from the mid-twentieth century. The oblique aerial photographs may be part of the mid-1950s Morgan Collection of aerial photographs held by the National Library of Ireland.
A series of condition survey drawings were prepared by An Foras Forbatha in 1980:
Ordnance Survey of Ireland aerial ortho-photographs show the development of a foreshore structure to the north-east of the site between 1995 and 2000.
The castle was inspected on the 24th May 1995 as part of the Archaeological Survey of Ireland, subsequently revised and published in 2002 as part of the Archaeological Inventory of County Tipperary:
“originally two storeys high with a wooden floor carried on large timbers set into joist holes in the side walls over the ground floor with a possible first floor doorway at the E end of the S wall near the SE angle.
It was later converted and raised into a four-storey building. The earlier windows were vaulted and two partial vaults were inserted over the ground floor in the SE and SW angles orientated E-W and N-S respectively … crennelated parapet on the S wall at wall-walk level and on the angle tower rising above the parapet with wicker centering on the SW angle.
Evidence of arcading with sloping stones at the E end of the N wall which belongs to the earlier hall-keep is associated with drainage of the roof and possibly dates to the 14th century (pers. comm. Con Manning).
A later series of drainage holes associated with the later roof is also visible at this level. A large fireplace was inserted at ground floor level, its mantle and side-stones are missing and its chimney stack, which narrows as it rises, projects out from the N wall cutting across an earlier window … all other floors were wooden supported on corbels. A possible off-set in the S wall may be the original height of the two-storey hall-house. …A bawn wall extends from the NE angle around the S side. 24-5-1995″.
 Farrelly & O’Brien, ibid. Record the circular keeps of Nenagh and Latteragh, the keepless castle of Roscrea, while Terryglass is a rectangular keep with flanking angle towers, while Tullowmacjames cannot be easily categorised.
 O’Brien, C. (2007) “The castle at Ballingarry, County Tipperary: a fourteenth-century Gaelic castle?”, in Manning C. [ed] From ringforts to fortified houses: studies on castles and other monuments in honour of David Sweetman. Dublin. Wordwell. Pp.171-86
 O’Brien, ibid. P.182
 It should be noted that no medieval timber houses survive though they are known to have existed, and some sites such as the hall-house forming the Bishop’s Palace in Co. Roscommon may have been a composite structure with a masonry ground floor with timber superstructure.
 Farrelly & O’Brien, ibid. P. 317
 Gleeson, D.F. (1936) “Castle and Manor of Dromineer”, North Munster Archaeological Journal, No.1, 1936-9, Pp.22-8
 McNally, M. (2009) Ireland 1649-52: Cromwell’s Protestant Crusade. Oxford. Osprey.
 The Civil Survey is a collation of landowner records determined at townland level – valued as at 23 October 1641, the outbreak of Rebellion. The valuations were based on rents and improvements, buildings, mills and market days, and included a detailed boundary description for each barony and parish.
 Simington, R.C. (1934). The civil survey A.D. 1654-1656. Vol.2, County of Tipperary: Western and Northern Baronies, with the return of crown and church lands for the whole county. Dublin. Stationery Office. P.298
 In addition to Dromineer, Ormonde also acquired the lands formerly belonging to his kinsmen and allies at Killownine and Ballingary. Smyth, W. (1985) “Property, patronage and population – reconstructing the human geography of mid-seventeenth century County Tipperary”, in Nolan, W. *ed+ Tipperary: History and Society – Interdiscilplinary essays on the history of an Irish county. Dublin. Geography Press. P.113
 E.g. http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000321551 Accessed 18th Dec 2013 showing L_ROY_05602 provides a view of the east and south elevations, and the interior of the north elevation, including the extent of the south-east and north-east angles at that time.
 Transcript in archives of the National Monuments Service noted “Dromineer Castle – file OPW – Offered to C.P.W. by Estate Commissioners File No. 1228/08”.
 1995 aerial ortho photograph at http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,581361,686157,7,5 Accessed 18th Dec 2013; 2000 aerial ortho photograph at http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,581361,686157,7,4. Accessed 18th Dec 2013.
 Farrelly, J. & O’Brien, C. (2002) Archaeological Inventory of County Tipperary. Volume 1: North Tipperary. Dublin. Stationery Office.