Donegal Castle, or O'Donnell's Castle, is a small but impressive 17th century building with a distinctive fortified tower, which has been fully restored. Overlooking the Eske river for defensive reasons, the castle's location is both scenic and central to the many gift shops and traditional Irish pubs of Donegal town.
Highlights and Tips
- Unlike some Irish castle visits, a tour of Donegal Castle is a mostly indoors activity and there are some beautifully restored rooms to explore
- The castle tour is self-guided -- visitors are offered a fact-sheet, which they take with them when exploring the castle
- Highlights include Persian rugs, French tapestries, a Jacobean fireplace, a pretty banquet hall, and a beautiful vaulted ceiling made with strong wooden beams
- Visitors can also read the information panels as they are passing through the rooms
- As with many castles, the stairways are quite narrow, so it may be better to avoid climbing these if you have mobility problems
While historians believe that the castle may have been erected on the site of a former Viking settlement, the first castle was built in 1474 by Sir Hugh O'Donnell and his wife Nuala. His clan's reign in the region of Tir Chonaill (pronounced Cheer-Khan-Ull), of which Donegal was then the principal town, lasted until an infamous episode in Irish History, known as the Flight of the Earls.
Flight of the Earls
A group of prominent Irish chieftains, among them Prince Red Hugh O'Donnell, great-great grandson of the castle's first resident, had been battling successive waves of English invasion, in the Nine Years War. In 1607, they fled to European shores in a hastily-conceived plot to seek military reinforcements, which they never ultimately secured. The Irish leaders lived the rest of their lives exiled in Spain and Italy. It marked the end of many hundreds of years of Gaelic rule in Ireland, and the beginning of British Colonialism in Ulster (Northern Ireland). See also: What is the difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland?
The Brooke Era
Ownership of the castle was then transferred to Sir Basil Brooke, a Captain in the English Army in Ireland, who was granted large tracts of lands during the Plantation of Ulster. The plantation was a period of extensive colonization of much of the northern parts of Ireland by Protestant settlers from England and Scotland, during the reign of King James I. The castle that is seen today owes much to the reconstruction work undertaken by Brooke. During Brooke's time, he renovated the castle by adding gales and windows, and building a banquet hall on the first floor that can still be seen today. Sir Basil also reinforced the surrounding castle walls and built a manor house inside their perimeter, complete with magnificent towers and turrets. The hall is still decorated with Sir Basil's coat of arms. The castle remained in the hands of the Brooke estate but by the 18th century it had become a ruin. In 1898, ownership was transferred to the State, but it was not for another 90 years that the castle keep --- the fortified tower where the family would have resided --- was restored.
- Adult €4.00 euros
- Senior Citizen €3.00
- Group rate €3.00 euros per person
- Child / Student €2.00 euros
- Family €10.00 euros per family
Peak Season (from mid Spring to mid September)
- 7 days a week
- 9.30 am 6pm
Out of Season (other months)
- Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday
- 10am - 4.30pm
- Last Admission is 45 minutes before closing
- Please allow around 45 minutes to 1 hour for the self-guided tour
Donegal Castle. Image by Hec Tate
Vaulted ceiling in Donegal Castle. Image by Damian Entwistle