If you are looking for a historical and cultural attraction in Galway, you might want to visit the Kilclooney Castle, a 15th/16th century tower house that was once the home of a famous bardic school.
Kilclooney Castle was believed to have been built in the 15th / 16th century by the Ó hÚigínn (Higgins) family, who were renowned poets and scholars in medieval Ireland. They ran a bardic school at the castle, where they taught filíocht (poetry) to students from all over the country. The school was active from the 16th to the 17th century, and produced some of the most celebrated poets of the time, such as Tadgh Dall Ó hUigín of Sligo (1545-1593), who composed a poem praising the castle and its students.
Tadgh Dall Ó hUigín of Sligo refers to the castle as a school of poetry in the 16th century, stating; ‘seventeen poets of Ulster’s brightest progeny sought learning in Kilclooney of Connacht’.
It is believed that the students each studied filíocht (poetry) for 12 years and that the school year lasted from November to March. It is said that each student had his own stone hut where he would meditate on a prescribed theme, and next day would recite his composition before fellow students and his tutor. There is unfortunately no evidence of the stone huts there today.
The castle was a typical Irish tower house, with four storeys and a vaulted ceiling. It had a spiral staircase, a fireplace, a garderobe (toilet), and a mural chamber (a small room within the wall). It also had a bawn (a walled enclosure) and a gatehouse. The castle was strategically located near a river and a road, and had a view of the surrounding countryside.
The castle was occupied by Donell Ó hUigín in 1574, but it was confiscated by the English crown after the Restoration in the 1660s, and granted to William Burke. The castle gradually fell into ruin, and today only the remains of the first floor are still standing. The castle is a recorded monument, and is protected by law.
Kilclooney Castle is located in Milltown in County Galway, about 40 km from Galway city. The castle is not open to the public, but you can view it from outside the fence. To visit the castle up close, you will need to seek the landowner’s permission. There is an interpretive sign at the site, as well as a 3D reconstruction video that you can watch.
Kilclooney Castle is a fascinating place to visit if you are interested in Irish history and literature. It is a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Galway, and to the legacy of the Ó hÚigínn poets. If you go there, you will be able to imagine how life was like for the students and teachers of the bardic school, who created beautiful poetry in this peaceful setting. The castle is now a recorded monument but in ruin, with just the remains of the first floor still standing.
The following is a verse in Irish from the poem ‘Cáislean Cheall Chluaine agus Scoil na bhFile’ composed by Tadgh Dall Ó hUigín recalling the presence here at Kilclooney of seventeen poets from Ulster:
“Seacht bhfir dhéag d’éigaibh Uladh,
Do chuaidh d’larraich ealadhan
Dal an chuaine fhinn Ultaigh
Go Cill Chluaine I gConnachtaibh”
Stunning sight to see!
Although the ruins are on private land, the castle is clearly visible from the main road. It appears to have been maintained and cleaned in recent months, which has really highlighted the stunning building. It is also in a beautiful location, on the side of a sloping valley. The view is incredible. My only wish is that the castle was more accessible to the public. I think that it could be a nice place for tourists to visit as they drive by. Regardless, it is a lovely location and I would definitely recommend keeping an eye-out for it if you ever happen to be driving-by!