Nestled in a sweet little inlet of Sheephaven Bay in County Donegal is the beautiful Doe Castle. It sits right on the wild waters of the Atlantic and boasts some absolutely incredible views. It was once the historical stronghold of Clan tSuibhne (Clan MacSweeney) who were an Irish Clan of Scottish origin.
The history of Doe Castle
Doe Castle is often described as a waterside citadel with a thrilling history. It is seen as one of the better fortalices in the northwest of Ireland. The small peninsula it sits on means that it is entirely surrounded on three sides by vast water. On the landward side, it features a moat cut into the rock.
The structure consists of many high outer walls around an interior with a four-storey tower-house/keep. Let’s take a look into the limited history of Doe Castle.
The early history
It is thought that Doe Castle was built sometime in the 15th century. It is said that the O’Donnell family built it, however, by the time the 1440s came around, it fell into the hands of the gallowglass MacSweeney family. It is said that the MacSweeney’s were descendants of a class of elite Norse-Gaelic mercenaries.
They were called Gallowglasses and they strictly lived along the Western Isles of Scotland. For around 200 years, the castle remained in the hands of the MacSweeney family until it then fell into the hands of the English settlers. It fell into their possession due to the aftermath of the Plantation of Ulster in the very early 17th century.
In 1642, a man by the name of Owen Roe O’Neill returned to lead the Ulster/Laggan Army of the Irish Confederate forces during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It was during the late 17th century that the castle changed hands many, many times as the struggle for control of Ireland between the English and the Irish was happening.
In the year 1650, Sir Charles Coote, the Governor of Londonderry took possession of Doe Castle. Once again, the castle changed hands after being purchased by Sir George Vaughan Hart, a retired British Army Officer and his family. They inhabited the castle until the year 1843. The last occupant to ever inhabit the castle was a Church of Ireland minister who left in 1909.
The current day
After the last occupant left, the castle then fell into disrepair until it fell into the hands of the Land Commission. In the year 1934, it was finally declared a national monument and was acquired by the Office of Public Works. Then, in the 1990s, the castle underwent a giant restoration.
The castle grounds are open daily to the public and guided tours of the tower house are available during the Summer month.
A tragedy at Doe Castle
It seems as if every castle has some sort of legend that recounts tragedy, romance, and ghosts. Doe Castle is no exception to that as it harbours a sad story of two lovers. It is said that a young lady by the name of Aileen had fallen in love with someone her father didn’t approve of. When her father learnt of her deep love for a young Gaelic chieftain, he ambushed, imprisoned, and brutally tortured the young man.
In the night, he dragged the young man to the base of a tree where he slashed him over and over with his own sword until he took his final breath. Legend says that it took many, many slashes to kill the strong young warrior. As the sun rose, the young man breathed his last breath. Poor Aileen witnessed the brutal murder from the round tower of the castle and in heartbreak, she jumped from the tower to her death.
Local fishermen swear, even to this day, that they have seen the phantom boat and the ghosts of two young lovers, smiling and rowing to their heart’s content.
You may enjoy reading about other Irish Castles such as Donegal Castle.
Doe Castle Timeline
- 15th century- Doe Castle is built
- The 1440’s- The castle falls into the hands of the gallowglass MacSweeney family
- 17th century- The castle falls into the hands of the English settlers due to the aftermath of the Plantation of Ulster
- 1642- A man by the name of Owen Roe O’Neill returns to lead the Ulster Army of the Irish Confederate forces during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms
- Late 17th century- The castle changes hands many, many times as the struggle for control of Ireland between the English and the Irish was happening
- 1650- Sir Charles Coote, the Governor of Londonderry takes possession of Doe Castle
- 1843- Sir George Vaughan Hart, a retired British Army Officer and his family leave the castle
- 1909- The last ever occupant to inhabit the castle and leaves
- 1934- The castle is finally declared as a national monument and is acquired by the Office of Public Works
- The 1990s- The castle undergoes a giant restoration
Doe Castle facts
- The castle tower is believed to have been built in the 1420s
- The deeply carved and highly ornamented Mac Sweeney grave-slab that is now inside the tower house dates from 1544
- The tower stands fifty feet high
- The tower has one room on each of the four floors
- Within the tower, the walls are approximately eight feet thick
- The largest room in Doe Castle is the great hall that is 35 feet long and 18 feet wide
Books on Doe Castle
Doe Castle, Creslough, Co. Donegal by Kevin Ward (1992)
Who owns Doe Castle?
After Doe Castle was given to the Office of Public Works, it underwent plenty of restorations. To this day, it remains in their hands and is looked after by them. The Office of Public Works does an amazing job at keeping the castle in tip-top shape for visitors.
Doe Castle is most certainly a wonderful place to visit. Admission is completely free so that you can simply enjoy your visit without any cost. The grounds are open all year daily from 09:00 – 18:00. Nearby, you can visit the ever so beautiful Ards Forest Park or enjoy some delicious food and a warm coffee at the Huckleberry Coffee Shop.