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|Aughnanure Castle is one of well over 200
tower houses in County Galway built by large, wealthy, land owning
families, mainly of Gaelic but some of Old English (Anglo-Norman) stock.
Tower Houses are fortified residences and were places of power and control
over the surrounding lands. The
name Aughnanure comes from the Gaelic Achadh na nIubhar - the field of
yews, of which one old specimen remains nearby.
Situated on the banks of the Drimneed
River, which flows into the western side of Lough Corrib, 3km from
Oughterard, the site was well chosen, as the river flows gently beneath
the low cliff on which the castle was built. This allowed boats bring
supplies right up to the gate of the fortification.
The original castle at Aughnanure may have been built by Walter
de Burgo, first Earl of Ulster. The O'Flahertys had been temporarily expelled from their ancestral lands
west of Lough Corrib in Connemara by the Norman family of De Burgos in
1256. However the expulsion of the O'Flahertys
was only temporary and before the close of the 13th century and for the
next three centuries, they were masters of the entire territory of Iar-Connacht
(West Connacht). The area extended from the west bank of Lough Corrib to the
sea. Aughnanure became their strongest bastion against their neighbours to
the south and east, particularly the citizens of Galway City, who controlled
access from the ocean to Lough Corrib.
||In the 13th century, the land around the
mouth of the Galway River was wrenched from the O'Flahertys by the
Anglo-Normans who developed the City of Galway there. This remained in
Anglo-Norman control throughout the later Middle Ages.
The O'Flahertys never forgot the insult and subsequently used both land and water to harry Galway's citizens, who
regarded them as 'mountainous and wild people' by whom they were
sometimes robbed and threatened.
|In 1537, Lord Grey, King Henry VIII's Lord Deputy
in Ireland, arrived in Galway to oblige the Irish chieftains to acknowledge the
supremacy of the English monarch. While Lord Grey remained in the town, the
surrounding Irish chieftains, O'Flaherty, O'Madden and Mac Yeoris (or Bermingham)
came in and made their submissions but did not give hostages.
However, the citizens of Galway still felt threatened and the city's burghers
erected a plaque over the western entrance to the town which read: This Gate was
erected to protect us from the ferocious O'Flahertys.
The epithets of the O'Flaherty leaders, such as 'the valiant' and 'of the wars'
shows them to have remained at loggerheads with the city during the 16th
century. None more so than Morogh na dTuadh 'of the battle-axes' a
minor member in the family hierarchy who frequently mounted raids on the
territory of the English around Galway. In 1564 at Traban, the white strand,
about 3km west of Galway, he decisively defeated an expedition sent against him.
In 1569, he accepted a free pardon for his 'offences' and although not of the
senior branch of the O'Flaherty clan, allowed himself to be appointed by Queen
Elizabeth I as chieftain in the territory of Iar-Connacht. This placed him senior to the head of the
legitimate chief of the the clan who lived at Aughnanure.
In consideration of this, Morogh undertook to 'observe the Queen's peace' and
learning of an uprising planned by his kinsmen, Morogh betrayed the plot to the
English who sent Sir Edward Fitton, President of Connacht, to march against and
take Aughnanure. Though defended by muskets, the castle was no match for the
artillery which its defences were not designed to resist. In 1572, the castle
duly fell - for the only time in its long existence - and was delivered to
Morogh who re-fitted and fortified it, giving it the form we see today.
The most distinguished of the descendants of Morogh was Colenel Morogh
O'Flaherty, also nicknamed na d-tuadh, who played a determined part on the side
of the Irish in the turmoil of the 17th century. In 1618, Aughnanure was granted
to Hugh O'Flaherty by King James I but, by the middle of that century, it was
occupied by the Marquis of Clanrickarde, who is known to have written a number of
letters from the castle in his campaign against the Cromwellian forces at that
time. By 1687, the Earl of Clanrickarde allows the castle back into O'Flaherty
hands for an annual rent of £76. In 1719, it was transferred entirely to
Bryan O'Flaherty, who took out a mortgage on it for £1600, borrowing money from
Lord Saint George who subsequently foreclosed on the mortgage and took
possession of the castle. However, this see-saw change of ownership later turned
out to be to the advantage of the O'Flaheties, and it was Peter O'Flaherty
from whom the Commissioners of Public Works obtained the castle in 1952 before
declaring it a National Monument and undertaking restoration of the parapet,
chimney and roof in 1963. Aughnanure Castle is now managed by Dúchas - The
Heritage Service of the Department of the Environment and Local Government.
The castle, which stands on what is a rocky peninsula, is a particularly well
preserved example of an Irish Tower house and has been described as "the finest
fortified dwelling upon any part of the shores of Lough Corrib".
Though the castle did finally succumb to superior cannow power, the O'Flahertys
knew well enough how to protect themselves. The great rectangular Tower House is
protected insideby by two alls or enclosures. The inner enclosure is wedge-shaped
with walls pierced with gun-loops. The remains of a gatehouse and drawbridge are
at the north western corner. On the northern side, the Drimneed River adds a
natural defence line. the outer ward consisting of a large irregular enclosure
protected by a much more extensive outer bawn wall, which had five wall towers
at intervals along its length, to provide a greater variety of angles from which
to shoot at attackers.
Much of the masonry of the inner bawn wall has been demolished, but a small
circular watchtower at the south eastern corner which has a very fine corbelled
dome and a conical stone roof, indicates the original location of its outermost
corner. A gallery encircling the top of the tower provided the sentry on duty
with a complete view of the whole courtyard and its surrounding external walls
while the gun-ports in the curving walls are a stark reminder of its
The Tower-house, with battlements in the Irish style, is sited almost centrally
within the inner courtyard. It is certainly one of Connacht's tallest, rising to
a total of six storeys above a battered or sloping base. The decorative doorway
is on the eastern side away from the entrance gate to the inner bawn. High above
the doorway is a machicolation, a projecting piece of masonry, from which arrows
could be fired or stones dropped on intruders. Other projections, known as
bartizans, were placed at third floor level, on the corners of the east wall.
These were equipped with gun loops for muskets.
Inside the doorway, there is a guard's cubicle to the right and a stone spiral
stairs rising to the upper apartments to the left. Just inside the entrance a
"murder hole" allowed defenders to drop stones on any enemy who managed to enter
the castle. The ground floor was used as a storeroom for servants who would
have slept in some of the low rooms sandwiched horizontally between the larger
rooms. Other rooms would have similarly been used by family members whose days
were spent in the large room on the third floor, where a blazing fire in the
grand fireplace, send smoke up through the chimney which rises high above the
restored hipped roof. the uppermost floor, with its wide mullioned windows is
probably where the chieftain would have held court. It is now covered with a
well-crafted oak roof with timbers joined by wooden dowels. The opening in the
garderobe floor at this level is the only entrance to a secret chamber. This was
in the haunch of the vault between the floors where prisoners could be
incarcerated. The battlements were reached via the stairway door in the top
floor. The wall walk provided a fine field of view for the defenders of the lake
and surrounding countryside.
Near the south-eastern corner of the outer bawn, stand the remains of the east
wall of the once thatched Banqueting Hall. The remainder of the hall fell with
the collapse of the natural arch over the river on which the Banqueting Hall had
been built. The one remaining wall contains two windows beautifully decorated
inside and out with stone carvings. The soffit of one of them bears some stiff
carvings of grapes, suggesting that wine was quaffed there by the O'Flahertys,
and particularly by Morogh, who may have imported it from France and Spain
through the City of Galway. It is said that unpopular guests were sometimes
disposed of through a trap door into the subterranea river which ran under the
Bats of Aughnanure
Three species of bat use Aughnanure castle to roost. Most are Daubenton's bats
but a few Long-Eared and Pipistrelles bats are also present. The castle is used
as a maternity roost, where the female bat gives birth to a single off-spring in
early summer. Sometimes baby bats crawl out of the crevices and are found on the
castle floor, but in general they are never seen during the day and can only be
heard through the castle walls. Bats are and endangered species and are
protected by Irish and EU legislation.
Photo taken by John Ford in 1961, during one of
his many visits to Ireland.
Painting of image on left by Vincent X. Flaherty, father
of Vince Flaherty a candidate for Senator of California.
Admission Charges and Opening Hours
Open from late spring to early autumn. Open 09:30 - 18:30. Car/coach car park
nearby. Toilet facilities on site. Wheelchair access limited.