Donegal Castle Tour

Donegal Castle, Built 1474, Was The Stronghold Of The O'Donnell Celtic ChieftainsDonegal Castle was the stronghold of the O'Donnell Celtic Chieftains

Take A Virtual Tour Of A 543 Year Old Donegal Castle Of The O'Donnell Celtic Chieftains
Discover This Castle's Unique Jacobean Twist

They say the best things come in small packages, and that may well apply to the O'Donnell Chieftains' castle in historic Donegal Town.

Small by any standard, this pretty castle is positively bursting with a remarkable history all of its own.

Today, the meticulously restored castle is open to the public.

Ready for a virtual tour?

Great!  Let's go...

Celtic Chieftain Red Hugh O'Donnell I Built Donegal Castle, Donegal IrelandCeltic Chieftain Red Hugh O'Donnell I built Donegal Castle in 1474

Entering Donegal Castle

One Of The Turrets On The O'Donnell Castle Donegal TownOne of the turrets

From The Courtyard

Standing in the courtyard, you see in front of you the restored Donegal Castle of the O'Donnell Chieftains.

Unusually the elegant Celtic keep has modifications, and ruins of an adjoining manor-house, in a Jacobean style.

Some Jacobean details catch your eye...

  • Stone-mullioned windows
  • The castle's pretty bay window
  • Equally pretty castle turrets
  • Multiple cross-gabled roofing features

The Manor-House

Entry to the castle is through the slightly surreal, empty shell of the manor-house.

Pass the large fireplace in the former kitchen area, where servants cooked meals for the English military captain, Sir Basil Brooke and his household.

Inside the Castle

543 Year Old Store-Rooms

In contrast to the largely roofless shell of the manor-house, you are now inside a vaulted, cavern-like double chamber.

Intricate Stonework

Stone by stone, the bare walls curve seamlessly up around you into Gothic-like intricate ceilings.  The walls here are more than three meters deep in places.

Mast And Sail From An Old Ship, With Barrels, In O'Donnell's Castle Donegal TownAn old ship's mast and sail, with barrels

Underfoot is a perfect, smooth, paved stone floor.  Narrow windows sit deep in the walls.

This intriguingly atmospheric part of Donegal castle is more than 540 years old - it dates back to 1474.

Another store-room image

The Mast

Moving in the direction of the stairs you notice, among other items, a mast from an old ship.  Its once white sail is now yellow with age.

During the reign of the O'Donnell Celtic Chieftains, Donegal Town was a thriving center of international commerce.

Ships transported cargoes to the bustling wharf near the castle, and delivered barrels full of locally caught fish from there to northern Europe.

543 Year Old Trip Stairs

Now you face the trip stairs . . . mind how you go!

This amazing spiral stairway, built of stone, was designed to give the O'Donnell Chieftain a few strategic advantages during combat...

Trip Stairs In O'Donnell's Castle Donegal Town, Uneven Steps To Trip The EnemyThe Trip Stairs
  1. The steps are uneven and vary in height, to trip the unsuspecting assailant - hence their name!

  2. The steps are narrow, so potential invaders would have to ascend in single file, making it easier to overpower them.

  3. The stairway turns clockwise going up.  That gave the right-handed O'Donnells more leeway while sword-fighting defensively downwards.  It also forced any potential invader to either sword-fight with his left hand, or awkwardly maneuver his sword around the stairwell's solid central axis.

You'll appreciate the handrails, a modern concession to safety!

The Upper Floors

Having mastered the trip stairs, you are now in the castle's lovely bright banqueting hall.

From this level up, considerable restoration works have been conducted.

Banqueting Hall, O'Donnell's Castle Donegal TownThe Banqueting Hall

Banqueting Hall

Of particular note here are two 17th century Jacobean features...

  • A large fireplace bearing the Brooke family arms
  • The pretty bay window

French tapestry and Persian rugs soften the walls.

The stuffed head of a wild boar suggests what might have been on the banqueting menu... mmm!

History Room

Climbing another flight of stairs, you are now on the top floor.  This is where you get to explore the castle's fascinating history.

Take the time to examine the displays, learn about the powerful O'Donnell Celtic dynasty that lived here, and enjoy surveying the scale models of the castle.

Practical Info

It will take you approximately an hour to amble through Donegal Castle.

Guided tours are available throughout the summer.  Make sure you ask about Red Hugh O' Donnell's secret escape... and the O'Donnell connection with Saint Columba of Iona Scotland (Saint Colmcille)!

You'll find opening times and other useful info at the Heritage Ireland website
(link opens new window)

After you've seen the castle, grab a light lunch along the town centre's Diamond, then stroll to the nearby Donegal Abbey's historic ruins, with its scenic graveyard overlooking Donegal Bay.

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