Merlin Castle, or sometimes known as Doughiske Castle, is a three storey medieval tower house ruin in Galway City which was believed to have been built in around the 15th or 16th century. Located in the scenic Merlin Woods, this medieval tower house is a testament to the rich and turbulent history of the city and its surrounding lands.
In the second half of the 16th century the castle passed hands to Nicholas Fitz John Blake whom left the castle to his daughter Evelyn, married to John Lynch FitzRichard FitzsSander. In 1574, it was recorded that Stephen Lynch was the owner of the castle.
Between 1553 and 1655 the Lynch family were evicted by Cromwellian Commissioners. It is believed that this is when the castle first lost its roof by the Cromwellian’s. In 1657 Alderman Michael Lynch was listed as the former owner of Doughiska and William Buckley is listed as the former tenant.
Later, in 1669 John Whaley received a grant of three quarters of Doughiska which he sold in 1680 to Francis Blake, the Catholic Recorder of Galway. In 1731, Francis (a grandson to Francis Blake – 1680) was the first of the Blake family to move into the castle. He renamed the estate Merlin Park, after his wife’s maiden name, Merlyn. He was a prominent lawyer and politician who defended the rights of Catholics during the Penal Laws era. He died in 1763 and was buried in St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church.
The castle was inhabited until 1812, when Charles Blake, a descendant of Francis Blake, built a new mansion on the estate, known as Merlin Park House. He also built a house against the eastern wall of the tower house, but this has since disappeared. The estate remained in the Blake family until 1853, when it was sold to Henry Hodgson by the Encumbered Estates Court. It was then purchased by Robert Waithman, a wealthy merchant from London who had married a Galway woman.
The Waithman family lived in Merlin Park House until it was abandoned in the early 20th century. The house was demolished in 1973 and the estate was acquired by Galway Corporation. The castle was left neglected for decades until it was restored by Galway City Council in 2021 with funding from Fáilte Ireland. The restoration project aimed to preserve and enhance the historical and architectural features of the castle.
Merlin Castle is a remarkable example of a medieval tower house, a type of fortified residence that was common in Ireland from the 14th to the 17th centuries. It has a rectangular plan with four corner turrets and a projecting entrance on the south side. It has three floors connected by spiral stairs and lit by narrow windows with ogee arches.
The castle has many interesting details that reveal its history and culture. For example, there is a secret chamber or priest’s hole on the ground floor, which was used as a hiding place for persecuted priests during the Penal Laws era. There is also a machicolation on each side of the roof level, which is a defensive feature that allowed defenders to drop stones or boiling water on attackers below.
One of the most intriguing features of Merlin Castle is the tiny Sheela na Gig that is carved on one of the second floor windows. A Sheela na Gig is a grotesque female figure that displays her genitals, often found on medieval churches and castles. The meaning and purpose of these carvings are still debated by scholars, but they may have been symbols of fertility, protection or warning.
The Sheela na Gig at Merlin Castle is one of smaller ones to be found throughout Ireland, measuring only 4.5 centimeters in length. It is also carved upside down, sitting on an object that resembles an upside down shield. The figure has a large head with round eyes and mouth. It is one of the few Sheela na Gigs that are decorated with triskels, rosettes and floral motifs.
Merlin Castle is a treasure trove of history, art and mystery. It is a must-see attraction for anyone interested in the heritage of Galway and Ireland. Visitors are free to explore the surrounds of the castle, but the door to the inside is usually locked in order to avoid vandalism, so access to its interior is not permitted. While there, you can also enjoy the beautiful Merlin Woods, which is home to a variety of wildlife and plants.
Let us in bro