Newtown Castle, Co Clare | The Wild Atlantic Way

Towards the end of our first day’s hiking in Co Clare, we came down off the tops and walked along a quiet country lane into Ballyvaughan, and came across this strange looking building…

newt2aNewtown Castle is a C16th tower house. There are many tower houses in Ireland, approximately 3000, but this one is quite unique because it is round, not square like the majority of the others, yet it rises from a square, pyramidal base.

It was built c.1550 AD for the O’Brien clan, but just over a century later, it became the property of the O’Loughlins, who were the most powerful family in the region at the time. According to a census in 1839, there was still an O’Loughlin living there; his name was Charles, and he was known as ‘King of the Burren‘. Shortly after this, the castle and lands were sold to Colonel Henry White, but by the end of the C19th, the O’Loughlins had moved back in.

The castle then lay derelict for some time, until it was restored in 1993 for the Burren College of Art. They open the castle every day to tourists, but it had already closed by the time we arrived, so we didn’t get to go inside. Shame, because they had quite a nice-looking coffee shop, and we were quite desperate by this time! What a great place to study art, though.

The castle has four levels; the ground floor where originally, food was stored… the 12ft thick walls and lack of windows were conducive to good storage conditions; the first floor, which has four narrow windows with gun loops for defence; the second floor with three gun loops and a door, which required a 30ft ladder to reach the ground, and the third floor which housed the great hall. It was here, probably, that the King of the Burren lived with his family.

Tower Interior (c) JG O'Donoghue,

Tower Interior (c) JG O’Donoghue,

The above image of an Irish tower house interior has very kindly been loaned by artist and historian JG O’Donoghoe. JG is an established illustrator who creates archaeological interpretative/reconstruction illustration and concept art. Click on the image or visit his blog, Líníocht Blog, to see more of his amazing and fascinating work. You can also follow him on Facebook.

This illustration is based on Kilcrea Castle in Cork. It shows how the ground floor was used as a cellar; the first floor for servant’s and other staff sleeping arrangements; the second floor in this case was used as a kitchen, although the artist thinks that most kitchens were more likely to have been external; the third floor was the Lord’s bedchamber, and the top floor was used as his dining hall.

Visit JG’s blog to find out more. In particular, I found his thoughts on garderobes (the toilets) quite intriguing. Thanks, JG, for letting me use your amazing artwork on my blog!

The O’Loughlins were a very powerful family who retained their hold on the Burren until the invasion of Cromwell in 1649AD. The name derives from a chieftain named Lochlain who died in 953AD. Originally part of the O’Connor clan, two brothers left and formed their own clan, calling themselves the O’Loughlins. Whether this was amicable or not, I have no idea. Bearing in mind the war-like ways of the ancient Irish, I assume not.

The origins of the O’Loughlins and the O’Connors are thought to extend way back into mythological times; it is said they were descended from a man named Corc, who was one of the triplet sons born to the great Queen Medb of Connacht, and her lover Fergus mac Roigh. Who knew? I love how all these ancient families share mythological connections, even if it does get confusing at times.

Here’s a lovely quote for you; one of Cromwell’s generals is said to have complained of the Burren,  ‘It has no tree to hang a man, no water to drown him and no soil to bury him.’ Hmmm… nice.


Still to come in my Legends of the Burren mini series:

Corcomroe Abbey
Gleninagh Castle

And if you missed them;

Legends of the Burren
St Colman’s Holy Well


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22 Comments on “Newtown Castle, Co Clare | The Wild Atlantic Way

  1. 3000 tower houses at one time? That is totally cool, Ali. I’ve probably mentioned my fascination with castles and towers since we don’t have them over here in the US. I love the history and how, as you say, so much of it interconnects across families and with the ancient myths. What a wealth of knowledge and stories to feed the imagination. 😀

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  2. Love that image of the tower, Ali. It’s like looking into a Doll’s house. Very sensible keeping all the food in the cellar so it can last longer, but I wonder why the door that can only be reached with a 30ft ladder?
    I’ll have to take a photo of a mini version of a similar structure we have in our local park. You can climb to the top (which I did) and view the surrounds.

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    • Maybe the exit was so high to keep intruders out. Everything about these tower houses was built for defence. Can’t think of any other reason. I love JG’s image too. He really brings the past to life, a very talented and knowledgeable guy.

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  3. It’s very interesting how the tower is round, instead of square. Do you think they might have been following a continental fashion for round towers? You know, an ‘upwardly mobile’ type of family? I do always wonder where the other family members slept in these towers, what with there being only one big bedchamber. I suppose notions of privacy have changed quite a bit in the intervening centuries 🙂

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  4. the tower is beautiful – these stand alone towers are intriguing, mini garrets kind of. In the Hebrides last year we saw a number of standalone round towers much kike this – Brochs I think. Any link I wonder?

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  5. Lovely post Ali. Love visiting these sorts of places and finding out about their history Have never visited Ireland although I do have some Irish ancestry. It’s definitely on my list 🙂

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    • Thanks Alison. I wish we could have got there a little earlier so we could have gone inside. Its such an intriguing structure. I didn’t know you had Irish heritage. If you ever head across the water this way, let me know and we can meet up, even if just for a coffee. 😊

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    • I know… it’s like a round peg in a square hole! I wonder why they built it like that? Did the builder start off making it square, and then the owner throw a wobbly and say “I don’t want a boring common square one like everyone else, make it round!” Lol!

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  6. Very interesting, Ali. What a remarkably well built place. My eldest daughter is in Northern Ireland at the moment visiting the family of her boyfriend who are Loughlins. Now, if my daughter married a Loughlin, who may be related to the O’Loughlins, then I could say that Queen Medb is a distant relative of mine. A few ifs and buts to get over first, but that would be extremely cool. Also. I suppose my daughter’s happiness needs to be considered and she has to marry the right person before she marries just to make me a member of Queen Medb’s family tree. The castle is available for weddings. I wonder if I should tell my daughter that!

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    • You should tell her! I think it’s a fabulous venue for a wedding. But maybe wait until her boyfriend has proposed first! Lol! It would be very cool though for a Loughlin wedding to take place in the ancient O Loughlin stronghold. And yes, to be related to Queen Medb… I suspect that connection would make your day. 😁

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  7. I’ve visited castles and historic buildings all over England, Scotland and Wales. This just reminds me how much I’d love to visit Ireland. Thankyou for sharing😊

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