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A Round 16th-Century Tower House – Doonagore Castle

Doonagore Castle, sometimes referred to as a fairy-tale castle or Disney-like tower, isn’t as beautiful as it seems. On the outside, it is quiet, still, and peaceful, but many years ago, it was anything but that when murder rocked the castle. Though seemingly beautiful, the dark past of this castle is enough to send a shiver down the spines of even the bravest people.

The history of Doonagore Castle

This round 16th-century tower house is located in County Clare, Ireland. Under the tower house sits a small walled enclosure that is said to be the remains of an older castle. Its name supposedly derives from Dún na Gabhair, meaning “the fort of the rounded hills” or the “fort of the goats”.

Doonagore Castle overlooks Doolin Point and is used as a navigational point by boats that are approaching Dooling Pier or leaving. Sometimes, it is also considered to be located in the area known as the Burren, depending on who you ask and where you ask. Keep reading to discover the story behind this breathtaking tower house located in County Clare.

Doonagore castle at sunset
The castle was once used as a navigational point by boats. Source: Flickr.

The early history

An earlier castle was built either on or near the site of an even earlier ringfort by a man named Tadhg (Teigue) MacTurlough MacCon O’Connor sometime during the 14th century. However, the most current structure is said to date back from the mid-16th century. This tower was not built from limestone like many others in the region. Instead, it was built from sandstone drawn from the quarry of Trá Leachain roughly 2 km to the southwest.

Changing hands

In the year 1570, Doonagore Castle was owned by Sir Donald (or Donnell) O’Brien of the O’Brien dynasty. Then, in the year 1582, it was occupied by Brian MacCahill O’Connor. One year later, in 1583, almost all of the property in the area was surrendered to the Crown and regranted to Turlough O’Brien of Ennistymon. However, soon after, Doonagore fell to the MacClancy (or Clancy) family, also known as the hereditary brehons or lawyers of the O’Briens.

The castle featured a very defining tower. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Spanish Armada hanging

In the year 1588, a ship from the Spanish Armada got into quite a bit of strife off of the coast of Doolin. This ship was part of a fleet of 130 vessels that were attempting to return home after they had reached a failed solution with the British in a battle at Flanders. They had hoped for a safe return, however, that is not what they got.

A severe storm sent around 24 of these warships to their demise on Ireland’s tumultuous and wild Atlantic Coast. The wreckage spread for roughly 500 kilometres all the way from County Antrim in the north to County Kerry in the south. It is estimated that 5,000 sailors lost their lives in these shipwrecks. However, over 170 soldiers from the shipwreck at Doolin managed to survive, but not for long.

These 170 sailors thought they had found a safe haven at the castle and were relieved to find it. That was until the High Sherriff of County Clare arrived. The Sheriff rounded them up and hung them for being enemies of the British Crown. Some reports claim that the sailors were held and hanged at Doonagore Castle while others say they were hanged and buried at a nearby hill.

Many castles are associated with romance and fairy tales, but Doonagore Castle is not one of them. There are no reports of hauntings, however, you may just hear their whispers in the walls or hear their sighs of relief in the waves that once swept them ashore.

The Spanish Armada of 1588 CE By van Wieringen
The Spanish Armada of 1588. Source: World History.

The Gore family

In either the late 17th or very early 18 century, the castle fell into the hands of the Gore family. This then resulted in the false etymology of “Gore’s Castle”. They worked hard to repair the castle in the early 19th century, however, by 1837, it had once again fallen into a state of complete disrepair.

That was until it was restored in the 1970s by the architect Percy Le Clerc for a private purchaser. The man who purchased it was an Irish American named John C. Gorman whose family still own the castle to this day.

The current day

Nowadays, the castle is a private holiday home and is no longer open to the general public at all. However, you can get somewhat close without entering the official castle grounds. It is on a hill so you can gain a decent view, even from afar. Even though you can’t wander inside, it is still worth the walk to see even a glimpse.

You may be interested in other Irish castles such as Ross Castle.

Doonagore Castle Timeline

  • 14th century- An earlier castle is built either on or near the site of an even earlier ringfort by a man named Tadhg (Teigue) MacTurlough MacCon O’Connor
  • Mid-16th century- The current castle is built on the site
  • 1570- Doonagore Castle is owned by Sir Donald (or Donnell) O’Brien of the O’Brien dynasty
  • 1582- The castle is occupied by Brian MacCahill O’Connor
  • 1583- Almost all of the property in the area is surrender to the Crown and regranted to Turlough O’Brien of Ennistym
  • 1588- A Spanish Armada ship wrecks below the castle and the surviving soldiers are hanged by the High Sheriff of County Clare
  • Late 17th or very early 18 century- The castle falls into the hands of the Gore family
  • 19th century- The Gore family work to restore the castle
  • 1837- The castle once again falls into a state of complete disrepair
  • The 1970s- The castle is restored by the architect Percy Le Clerc for a private purchaser

Doonagore Castle facts

  • When the castle was built in the 16th century, its primary purpose was as a navigational aid for boats arriving at the Doolin Pier
  • The castle has been a private residence since the 1970s
  • The name of the castle derives from Dún na Gabhair, meaning “the fort of the rounded hills” or the “fort of the goats”
  • The castle has one tall tower as well as an enclosure surrounding the property
  • The site that the castle sits on has always been home to important structures

Who owns Doonagore Castle?

When the mid-19th century rolled around, Doonagore Castle was in a state of complete disrepair. That was until a wealthy private buyer by the name of John C. Gorman swooped in and purchased it. The castle was then returned to its former glory by a great architect John C. Gorman had hired. To this day, the castle is still owned by John C. Gorman’s family.

Tourism

Due to the fact that Doonagore Castle is now privately owned, you cannot enter the castle or grounds. You can, however, walk for a while to gain a distant view of it. The castle is situated atop a hill, so the view you achieve is fairly clear, even from afar. It is a quick 3-minute drive from Fisher Street, and it’ll take you roughly 8 minutes to drive from the Cliffs of Moher to Doonagore.

Beware though, there is absolutely no parking at Doonagore Castle. It is also on a fairly dangerous bend so don’t attempt to park anywhere on the side of the road. If you continue up the hill there is a small parking spot for one car, just be careful as you walk the rest of the way as it is fairly narrow.

On a clear day, you can also see boats approaching the Doolin Pier as well as the lovely Aran Islands in the distance. Nearby, you can also visit Cliffs of Moher, the Aran Islands, the Burren, Doolin Cave, and Inisheer. Visiting this castle, even from a distance, should be a part of everyone’s travel plans when visiting Ireland.

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