Situated to the west of the town of Clifden in the Connemara region of County Galway, Ireland, is the ruined manor house known as Clifden Castle. It was built in a Gothic Revival style and loved by all who saw it. It was once a beautiful manor house that played home to John D’Arcy, the founder of Clifden, and his beloved family.
The history of Clifden Castle
Clifden Castle is the epitome of Irish beauty. Even though it is abandoned, it has just as much charm and elegance as any other castle in Ireland. There are very few photos of the castle before it fell into disrepair. However, if you head to the local library, you can catch a glimpse in some of the old history books.
Before the beautiful manor house fell into disrepair, it had a long history behind it.
The early history
This grand manor house was constructed for John D’Arcy, founder of Clifden, and his beloved family. Even while he was busy building up the town, he paid specific attention to the beautiful castle he called home. The castle was built in 1818 and served as the main dwelling of the rather large D’Arcy family for the next few decades.
The land that surrounded the castle was among the first drained and reclaimed in the Clifden area by D’Arcy himself.
In the year 1839, John D’Arcy suddenly died which led to his eldest son, Hyacinth, inheriting Clifden Castle. However, Hyacinth simply could not handle the pressure as he was not as adept as his father at running the family properties and at dealing with his tenants. Just as he was starting to understand it all, the 1845 famine struck.
The area was riddled with hunger, starvation, and fever as the potato crop failed. In sheer desperation, many emigrated due to this. As a side effect of this disastrous time, rental income for the D’Arcy’s plunged significantly. Then, in 1846, the D’Arcy’s tenants gathered en masse on his front lawn, begging for work or food.
As a result of this tumultuous time, the D’Arcy estate went bankrupt, and Clifden Castle was one of the many D’Arcy properties that were put up for sale in 1850. Two brothers from Bath, Thomas and Charles Eyre, purchased the castle, parts of the town, and the surrounding lands for 21,245 pounds. They had been the mortgagees of the estate since 1837, not long before John D’Arcy’s death.
The Eyre family
The Eyre family went on to use Clifden Castle as a holiday home. Then, in the 1850s, a new roof was added, and the façade was altered to suit the taste of the new owners. Later on, in 1864, Thomas bought Charles’ share two years before his own death. He then gave the Castle and the Clifden estates as a present to his nephew, John Joseph Eyre of Saint John’s Wood, London.
The Eyre family remained as absentee landlords. However, they used Clifden Castle through John Joseph’s death in 1894. After his death, a trust was set up to administer his estate which included many holdings in Britain and elsewhere. The trust ran the estates and John’s six children, as well as his descendants, received all of the income from them. In fact, there was no individual owner of the Demesne after 1894.
The estate was then left to the agents to run. It was at this time that the castle fell into disrepair and the Demesne was leased out for grazing to locals. This was done as an attempt by the agents to sell the property. However, their efforts were unsuccessful. Eventually, all of the lands, except the Demesne were purchased by the Congested Districts Board or later the Land Commission.
In 1917, a local butcher by the name of J.B. Joyce purchased Clifden Castle and its lands. However, this sale quickly resulted in great controversy. The Demesne of the castle was around 200 acres. Numerous tenants of small-scale farms in the area who had purchased their holdings via the Congested Districts Board had coveted the land of the Clifden Demesne to expand their own farms.
The local Catholic priest, Canon Patrick McAlpine, started what would soon be called a “severe and sometimes violent” campaign against “the underhanded way” of the purchase. Joyce was soon denounced by McAlpine as a ‘land grabber’ and claimed that he “had passed the graves of grabbers and within six months he would pass the grave of the Clifden Grabber and there would be six feet of clay over him”.
Soon enough, the whole town of Clifden turned against Joyce. Only Sinn Féin supported him at this time. Farmers soon drove Joyce’s cattle from his land, put their own livestock in the fields, and barricaded the lands against him. A town meeting regarding the issue resulted in a large fight with stones being thrown at the police. Policemen were injured during this scuffle.
Legal action continued until 1920 when the judge confirmed Joyce’s ownership. However, the tenants did not accept that, and his cattle were once again driven off.
It was only after a Sinn Féin arbitration court suggested an agreement in 1920 that Joyce agreed to sell the land. At the time, it was purchased for 2,300 pounds plus legal costs with 150 pounds on top for damages by trustees who were to set up the ‘Clifden Cooperative’. The agreement postulated that the wood and the castle had to be ‘preserved as the property of the Clifden people’.
The cooperative was established in 1921. Although it held the official title, the tenants still divided up the land amongst themselves. In 1935, the Land Commission then purchased the land from the Cooperative and passed on the ownership of Clifden Castle to the tenants to be held jointly. The roof, windows, timber, and lead were stripped away to be sold so that the locals could afford food. Without a roof, the castle soon fell into ruin.
Nowadays, very little remains of the house. It is essentially only a shell. You can still walk through the house via an entrance through the back garden. Due to a steep drop into the structure, the front entrance is completely inaccessible.
You may enjoy reading about other Irish Castles such as Ballycarbery Castle.
Clifden Castle Timeline
- 1818- The castle is built and serves as the main dwelling of the rather large D’Arcy family
- 1839- John D’Arcy suddenly dies which leads to his eldest son, Hyacinth, inheriting Clifden Castle
- 1845- Famine strikes and the area is riddled with hunger, starvation, and fever as the potato crop
- 1846- The D’Arcy’s tenants gather en masse on Hyacinth’s front lawn, begging for work or food
- 1850- Clifden Castle and the many other D’Arcy properties are sold off
- 1850s- A new roof is added, and the façade is altered to suit the taste of the new owners
- 1864- Thomas buys Charles’ share two years before his own death and gives the Castle and the Clifden estates as a present to his nephew, John Joseph Eyre of Saint John’s Wood, London
- 1917- A local butcher by the name of J.B. Joyce, purchases Clifden Castle and its lands
- 1920- The judge confirms Joyce’s ownership, and he soon agrees to sell his land
- 1935- The Land Commission then purchases the land from the Cooperative and passes on the ownership of Clifden Castle to the tenants to be held jointly. The castle fell into ruin soon after
Clifden Castle facts
- Technically, the Castle is actually a manor house
- Throughout the 19th century, anything of value was stripped from the castle in order to feed the hungry locals living nearby
- The unusual standing stones that surround the castle are not ancient, although they look like they could be. They were erected by D’Arcy to add some historic flair to the estate
- Clifden Castle was built in a Gothic Revival style
- The castle was built for John D’Arcy and his family while he was busy building up the town
Featured in TV and film
- The Quiet Man (1952)
- The Field (1990)
- Into the West (1992)
- The Matchmaker (1997)
- The Suicide Club (2000)
- Tristan + Isolde (2006)
- Single-Handed (2007)
- Love Me No More (2008)
- Nothing Personal (2009)
- Leap Year (2010)
The only way to reach Clifden Castle is by foot after walking down a dirt track. Parking is very limited but can be found along the road. Technically, the castle is on private property, however, the walkway is still open for visits. There are no tours or opening hours, so you can visit whenever you please.
Beware, the walls are questionable and in need of serious repairs. It is possible to explore the ruins, but not advisable. Nearby, you can visit Connemara National Park, Diamond Hill, and Twelve Bens.