If you are looking for a unique and fascinating destination in Galway, you might want to visit Aughnanure Castle, a 16th-century tower house that was once the stronghold of the O’Flaherty clan, one of the most powerful families in Connacht. Located about two miles from Oughterard, at the gateway to Connemara, Aughnanure Castle is a national monument that offers a glimpse into the turbulent history of Ireland.
The name Aughnanure comes from the Irish ‘Achadh na nlubhar’, which means “the field of the yews”. The castle was built on a strategic site near the shores of Lough Corrib, where the O’Flaherty clan controlled the waterways and trade routes. The castle is said to have been originally built by Walter de Burgo, the first Earl of Ulster, in 1256, when he briefly expelled the O’Flahertys from their lands. However, the O’Flahertys soon reclaimed their territory and held it for centuries.
The O’Flaherty clan was one of the most influential and feared families in Ireland, especially in the 16th century, when they resisted the English conquest and expansion. They were known for their raids and attacks on Galway city, which prompted the citizens to erect a gate to protect themselves from the “ferocious O’Flahertys”. The clan also had a rivalry with the Burkes, another powerful family that ruled over much of Connacht.
The castle was captured by Sir Edward Fitton, the President of Connaught, in 1572, after he received information from Morogh na dTuadh, a minor member of the O’Flaherty clan who had accepted the authority of Queen Elizabeth I. Fitton granted the castle to Morogh, who became the chieftain of West Connacht and swore to keep the peace. However, his kinsmen did not agree with his loyalty to the English crown and rebelled against him.
The castle was used as a base to blockade Galway during the Cromwellian invasion in 1652. It was then granted to Richard Burke, the fourth Earl of Clanricarde, who had sided with the royalists. However, he lost his lands after the Restoration and fled to France. The castle was reclaimed by Roderick O’Flaherty, a scholar and writer who petitioned King Charles II for his ancestral property. He lived in the castle until his death in 1718.
The castle then passed through various hands until it was acquired by Lord St George as a mortgage foreclosure. It fell into ruin and decay until it was donated to the state by Peadar O’Flaherty in 1952. It was restored by the Office of Public Works in the 1960s and opened to the public as a historic attraction.
Aughnanure Castle is one of over 200 tower houses in County Galway, which were built by Gaelic and Anglo-Norman landowners as fortified residences. The castle has six floors, a banqueting hall, a watch tower, a bawn (a walled courtyard), and a double bawn (a second outer wall). It also has an underground stream that flows beneath the castle and provides water and drainage.
One of the most interesting features of the castle is the narrow spiral staircase that leads to the upper chambers. The staircase has trick steps that are uneven in height and width, designed to confuse and trip any intruders who might try to storm the castle. Another feature is the trap door in the banqueting hall, which could be opened to drop unwelcome guests into the stream below. This trap door is also known as ‘the flagstone of treachery’, as legend has it that it was used to kill Burke’s son who came to collect tribute from the O’Flahertys.
The castle also has several fireplaces, windows, loopholes (narrow openings for shooting), machicolations (openings for dropping stones or boiling oil on attackers), and murder holes (openings above doors for similar purposes). The castle also has some decorative elements, such as carved stone corbels (supporting brackets) and coats of arms.
Aughnanure Castle is managed by Heritage Ireland and is open to visitors from April to October. You can take a guided tour or explore the castle at your own pace. The castle is located about 25 km from Galway city and can be reached by car or bus. There is a car park and a picnic area near the castle. You can also enjoy the scenic views of Lough Corrib and the surrounding countryside. The castle is a popular venue for weddings and events, as well as a cultural and educational resource.
Aughnanure Castle is a remarkable example of Ireland’s medieval heritage and a testament to the history and culture of Galway. If you are looking for a memorable and enriching experience, you should definitely visit this historic tower house and discover its secrets and stories.
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