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Letterkenny Accommodation - Donegal Castle

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Donegal Castle or O’Donnell’s Castle is a castle located in Donegal Town, County Donegal in the northwest of Ireland.  Standing on a rocky outcrop in the centre of Donegal Town, the  castle is linked to the powerful dynasties of Ulster and a fine surviving example of a Scots Planter fortified home. For most of the last 2 centuries, the majority of the castle buildings were in ruins but they were almost fully restored in the late 1990s.

The castle itself consists of a 15th century rectangular keep with a later Jacobean style wing. The buildings are sited on a bend on the River Eske, near the mouth of Donegal Bay, and is surrounded by a 17th boundary wall. There is a small gatehouse at its entrance mirroring the design of the keep. Most of the stone work was constructed from locally sourced limestone with some sandstone. The castle was the stronghold of the O'Donnell clan, Lords of Tír Conaill and one of the most powerful Gaelic families in Ireland from the 5th to the 16th centuries.

The name Donegal, or in Irish, Dún na nGall, translates as Fort of the Foreigner. This possibly comes from a Viking fortress in the area destroyed in 1159. However, due to hundreds of years of development, no archaeological evidence of this early fortress exists. The elder Sir Hugh O’Donnell, wealthy chief of the O’Donnell clan, built the castle in 1474. At the same time, he and his wife Nuala, built a Franciscan Abbey further down the river. A local legend tells of a tunnel connecting the two but no evidence for this has been found. The castle was regarded as one of the finest Gaelic castles in Ireland. This was indicated by a report by a visiting English deputy, Henry Sydney, in 1566:

        "it is the greatest I ever saw in an Irishman's hands: and would appear to be in good keeping; one of the fairest  
        situated in good soil and so nigh a portable water a boat of ten tonnes could come within ten yards of it"

After the disastrous Nine Years war the leaders of the O'Donnell clan left Ireland in the Flight of the Earls. In 1611 the castle and its lands were granted to an English Captain, Basil Brooke. The keep had been severely damaged by the departing O'Donnells to prevent the castle being used against the Gaelic clans but was quickly restored by its new owners. Brooke also added windows, a gable and a large manor-house wing to the keep, all in the Jacobean style. 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.

Restoration of Donegal Castle
In recent years the Office of Public Works has renovated the castle. 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 stone work 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 furnished throughout and includes Persian rugs and French tapestries. Information panels chronicle the history of the Castle owners from the O'Donnell chieftains to the Brooke family. The castle is now open to the public and often hosts events like Gaelic cultural evenings. Limited access for people with disabilities to the ground floor.

Location: In the centre of Donegal Town
              30 miles drive from Letterkenny
Guided Tours: Available every hour.
Max. No: 35
Duration: 30 mins
Leaflet/Guide Booklet: English, Irish, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

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