13-168 Donegal Castlle
Taken 19/08/13: A useful laminated descriptive card is handed to you as you enter Donegal Castle, but you hand it in on the way out. Therefore these notes rely on a combination of my failling memory and my sketchy knowledge of Irish history, with some help from the net.
As a starting point, this is probbaly not the first fortification or castle built on this site, the protection afforded by the River Eske making it an obvious location for both the local population and invaders, including the Vikings. The keep on the right of the picture dates from the 15th Century, being built by the elder Sir Hugh O’Donnell. Broadly the O'Donnell Clan were the Chieftans of Donegal. To put this in context, although since the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1171 English Kings had been Lords of Ireland, they exercised little power or influence outwith the Dublin Pale. So at the time of the castle's construction through to the end of the 16th Century, the O'Donells held power in Donegal, or to be accurate the area then known as Tyrconnel
English attempts to extend their infuence beyond the Dublin Pale led to the Nine Years' War of 1594-1603, in which the O'Donnells along with the Ulster O'Neils were the main Irish participants. With the Spanish never arriving to support their fellow Catholics, the English prevailed at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. Although in 1603 the pragamatic James 1 granted pardons, subject to conditions, to the O'Donnells and the O'Neils effectively this was the end of the Gaelic order and Brehon Laws in Ireland, Dimished in status (and I am precising hugely here and merging successive O'Donnells into one) the Earl of Tyrconnell set fire to Donegal Castle and joined the Flight of the Earls in 1607 to mainland Europe, which directly led to Tyrconnell and Ulster being colonised in the Plantation of Ulster (and bear in mind here that the term Ulster has not always been used to denote the 'six counties' that make up the current Northern Ireland).
In the Plantation era the Castle was rebuilt in the Jacobean style by Sir Basil Brooke and the 'manor house' wing that appears on the left of the picture was built. The Brooke family owned the castle for many generations until it fell into a ruinous state in the 18th century. In 1898 the then owner, the Earl of Arran, donated the castle to the Office of Public Works. When I first saw the Castle in circa 1985, it was in poor repair and, I think, roofless. However, in recent years the castle has been renovated; the keep has had new roofing and flooring added, in keeping with the original styles and techniques used in the 15th and 17th centuries. The stonework has been restored and the manor wing has been partially roofed. The oak timbers used came from the Brookeborough Estate in County Fermanagh. The castle is now open to the public.