Annaghkeen Castle is a late 13th century hall-house that is considered to be the oldest example of a castle built entirely from undressed stone in the country. Annaghkeen Castle is located near the shores of Lough Corrib, in the townland of Annaghkeen, about 10 km north of Headford, County Galway.

Annaghkeen Castle was built by the Norman De Burgo family, who came to Ireland in the 12th century and became one of the most powerful and influential families in the region. The De Burgos, also known as the Burkes, acquired vast lands in Connacht and Munster, and established several castles and manors to assert their authority and protect their interests. One of these was the Manor of Headford, which faced frequent attacks from the O’Flaherty clan, the native Irish rulers of West Connacht, who resented the Norman intrusion and expansion.

To defend the Manor of Headford from the O’Flaherty raids across Lough Corrib, the De Burgos built two castles, Annaghkeen Castle and Carigin Castle to protect it from attacks across the lake. Both castles are examples of hall-houses, a type of fortified residence that consisted of a single rectangular building with one or two storeys, surrounded by a bawn or enclosure wall. Hall-houses were common in Ireland from the 13th to the 15th centuries, and were usually occupied by minor lords or wealthy tenants.

Annaghkeen Castle is remarkable for its construction technique, as it was built entirely from undressed stone, without any mortar or cement. The stones were carefully selected and fitted together to form a solid structure that has survived for almost 700 years. The castle measures about 15 meters by 8 meters, and has walls that are about 1.5 meters thick. The entrance is on the east side, and leads to a vaulted ground floor that served as a storage area. A spiral staircase on the north-west corner leads to the upper floor, which was the main living space. The upper floor has two windows on each side, and a fireplace on the west wall. The roof was probably made of timber and thatch, but it has not survived.

The history of Annaghkeen Castle is intertwined with the history of the De Burgo family and their feud with the O’Flaherty clan. The De Burgos became more assimilated into Irish culture than any other Norman family in Ireland. They adopted Irish customs, laws and language, and even claimed to be descendants of an ancient Irish king. They also engaged in constant warfare with their neighbours, especially the O’Flahertys, who refused to acknowledge their authority or pay them rent.

One of the most famous episodes of this feud occurred in the 16th century, when an O’Flaherty chieftain invited a De Burgo envoy to his castle at Aughnanure, near Oughterard, to discuss the rent issue. O’Flaherty treated his guest with great hospitality and invited him to join a banquet. During the feast, however, he pressed a hidden lever that opened a trapdoor under the De Burgo’s seat, sending him plunging into the river below. O’Flaherty then cut off his head and sent it back to his relatives as “O’Flaherty’s rent”.

The feud between the De Burgos and the O’Flaherty’s continued for centuries, until both families were weakened by internal divisions and external pressures. Annaghkeen Castle was eventually abandoned and fell into ruin. In the early 19th century, a new manor house was built nearby by another branch of the De Burgo family, but it was also deserted after the Great Famine of 1845-1849. Today, both buildings stand as silent witnesses of a turbulent past.

If you visit Annaghkeen Castle today, you will find a peaceful and scenic spot that offers a glimpse into medieval Ireland. You can admire the craftsmanship and durability of the stone walls, imagine how life was like inside the hall-house, and learn more about the history and legends of this fascinating place.


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Annaghkeen Castle



Annaghkeen-a book by Deborah Love

January 6, 2023

The book was written by Deborah Love, published by Random house, New York, 1970.Deborah died of cancer c1977. She was married to Peter Matthiessen, American author and naturalist. He wrote “the Snow Leopard “about a journey he made to Dolpo in Nepal soon after she died. One copy of Annaghkeen is available on Abe books. com. Further information on the book welcome.

Tomás Maher