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Donegal Castle

The first Red Hugh O'Donnell, who died in 1505 in the 78th year of his life, is recorded as having built a castle for himself and a convent for the Franciscan Order in Donegal. It is known that the convent or friary was built in 1474 and it is likely that the castle was built about the same time.

It was built in Norman style and masons from England were employed. Tradition has it that animal blood was used in the mortar. Tenants were asked to supply this blood from their animals. Tradition also has it that a widow was annoyed because she was asked to supply blood on more than one occasion. She complained to O'Donnell saying he was hard on his own relatives. He asked her what was the relation and she replied "cousin sixteen times removed". O'Donnell maintained it was so far removed that it was not worth talking about. The woman then took a pail and filled in sixteen measures of water and on of milk (some say blood). The water immediately changed colour. On seeing this, O'Donnell exempted the widow.

Sir Henry Sydney, an English deputy writing of a visit to Donegal in 1566, says of O'Donnell's castle: "It is the greatest I ever saw in Ireland and 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 as a boat of ten tons could come within twenty yards of it".

The castle was partially destroyed at the close of the 16th century. This was done on Red Hugh O'Donnell's orders as he realised the danger of the castle falling into enemy hands. The castle did fall into enemy hands and was granted to Captain Basil Brooke, an English soldier, who had it repaired and extensions added.

The Brooke family are believed to have lived in it up to the opening decade of the 18th century when they moved to Brookhill, which they had built. The castle was knocked about during the Williamite Wars.

To-day it is a national monument in the care of the Office of Public Works under whose supervision repairs have been carried out down the years and finally, the O'Donnell Tower (the original part of the castle) was fully restored and opened to visitors in 1996.


(This is the view as you enter the Tower) 


Walk straight ahead and start to climb the tower stairs - the stairs are narrow, steep and circle around....the stones are smooth and shallowed out in places from the footfalls of people who climbed these same steps over the centuries.



Half-way to the first floor is this little room on the left side. The sign outside explains it all:

'The Garderobe....Garderobe is an old word for what we would call a toilet. This was a small room containing a wooden seat with a hole in it. Waste would fall down a chute built into the castle wall and into a pit in the ground below.'


On the first floor, you will find a beautifully restored room, with a high ceiling and the original fireplace - the fireplace unfortunately, is engraved with Basil Brooke's family crest.


You then climb the wooden staircase to the top floor. This floor contains display cabinets full of information on the O'Donnell's. Some of the cabinets also contain models of the castle at different stages of it's occupation. This photograph on the right is a depiction of the castle when the O'Donnell's were residing there, before it was given to Basil Brooke to play with.

The ceiling has been faithfully reconstructed to be as close as possible to the original and is quite magnificent.


(Note: Some of the text for this page was sourced from the book 'O'Donnells of Tir Chonaill' edited by V. O'Donnell)