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Letterkenny Accommodation - Grianan of Aileach

Grianan of Aileach is probably the best-known monument in County Donegal  Located twenty miles from Letterkenny on the Derry road this ancient stone ringfort is one of the finest in Ireland.

The name Grianan of Aileach has been variously translated as "Stone Palace of the Sun", "Fortress of the Sun" and "Stone Temple of the Sun". Although heavily restored, there are no doubts as to the antiquity of the site as it is one of only five Irish locations marked on Ptolemy of Alexandria's 2nd century map of the world.

Situated on a hilltop 800 feet above sea level the stone fort was probably built on an earthen rath. The view from the fort is truly breathtaking. The shimmering waters of Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly are clear, as is the outline of the entire  Inishowen peninsula. On a very clear day  5 of the 9 counties of Ulster can be seen from the forts parapets.

A windy and exposed place, Grianan of Aileach has been a silent witness to the troubled history of Ireland.

The origins of the Grianan of Aileach fort can be dated back to 1700 B.C. The site is linked to the Tuatha de Danann who invaded Ireland before the Celts and built stone forts on top of strategic hills. They worshipped Dagda (the Good God) and he too is associated with the origins of Aileach. Reputedly it was he who ordered the building of a stone fort to act as a burial monument to his dead son.

Although the stone fort -  or cashel -  looks very intact today, this is largely the result of restoration carried out between 1874 and 1879 by Dr. Walter Bernard , a Derry antiquarian. The restored sections seem to include just about anything more than 1m above ground, so the fidelity of the upper walkways to the original layout can only be speculated upon

The round fort is built largely without mortar to remain close to the original building. The interior has three terraces and wooden structures were built against the terraces to provide accommodation. The outline of Bronze Age or Iron Age ramparts can be seen below the fort.

The remains of the three earthen banks, which surround the cashel, are still visible in places. They are heather covered with possible ditches located in between. In the east northeast a gap in the banks indicates the location of an ancient road, which passed through them. Petrie, who surveyed the site in 1835 showed settings of stones, no longer visible, between this gap in the banks and the cashel.

The tumulus, located midway between the inner and middle bank in the southeast, is no longer visible due to the covering of heather. It consisted of a low mound of stones. The well is located to the south of the cashel between the outer and middle bank. It is thought that St. Patrick visited the site in the 5th century and baptised the local chieftain, Eoghan (from whom Inishowen gets its name), here.

Two theories are put forward as to its function, whether it was a defensive or ceremonial site. We do know that it was the royal site of the Northern Uí Neill between the 5th and 12th centuries A.D. According to the Annals of the Four Masters Murtagh O'Brien, King of Munster, destroyed it in 1101 A.D.

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Photos of Grianan of Aileach on Flickr



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