Gleninagh Castle, Co Clare | The Wild Atlantic Way

Burren. Ballyvaughan.

Gleninagh comes from the Irish Gleann Eidhneach, which means ‘valley of ivy’. The castle itself stands overlooking Galway Bay, in the shadow of the Black Head, called in Irish Ceann Boirne, which means ‘Burren Head’.

Gleninagh Castle viewed from the Black Head.

Gleninagh Castle viewed from the Black Head.

Gleninagh Castle was the stronghold of a powerful  local clan known as the O’Loughlins. They ruled much of North Co Clare well into the late C19th, and styled themselves as ‘the Princes of the Burren’.

This castle was built to withstand attack. It stands 31.8 feet (9.7 m) tall, and as you can see from the image, it was constructed in an L-shape, rather than the simple square tower house we are more used to seeing. This allowed the entrance to the castle to be better defended by covering fire from the adjacent tower wall.

In the image, you can also see a box shape jutting out from the wall high above the entrance. This is called a box-machicolation. A machicolation is an opening through which rocks, boiling water or boiling oil could be poured on attackers below.

There are also various other defensive features; the round things which look like balconies sticking out from the corners at the very top of the castle away from the entrance are called bartizans. These are overhanging, wall-mounted turrets which jut out from the walls enabling the guard inside to get a good view of his surroundings whilst affording him excellent protection.

Also, the walls contain many narrow arrow-slit windows for firing at enemies whilst keeping the archer protected.

Gleninagh Castle (c) Jon Sullivan (PD Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Gleninagh Castle (c) Jon Sullivan (PD Wikimedia Commons.

Although the building is in the care of the OPD, and is free for anyone to visit, there is no access to the interior. However, inside the entrance a spiral staircase ascends to four stories. There is also a basement, which is speculated to have been used as a pit-prison. In the roof area, there is also an attic.

To see what the interior of a tower house looked like, and how it may have been used, click here. This image was kindly loaned by artist and historian JG O’Donoghoe. JG is an established illustrator who creates archaeological interpretative/reconstruction illustration and concept art.

The O’Loughlin’s sold the castle during the mid C16th, after which it was granted to Richard Harding by King Henry VIII. It then passed through a number of hands until the O’Loughlin’s regained it sometime after the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland in the 1650s.

It was then that some of the original windows were closed off and fireplaces inserted. Perhaps the need for defence had been superseded by the greater requirement for comfort.

The O’Loughlin family continued to inhabit the castle until 1840, at which point records show that it had a thatched roof. T.J. Westropp,  an Irish antiquarian, observed in April 1899 that the castle was still occupied and in good condition, but by the early C20th, it had been abandoned and was in use as a farm building. Who would abandon a castle??? A ramshackle hovel, I can imagine, but a castle?

Tobar na Croiche Naoimhe. (c) Dr Charles Nelson. Wikimedia commons

Tobar na Croiche Naoimhe. (c) Dr Charles Nelson. Wikimedia commons

Nearby there is a holy well dedicated to the Holy Cross, called Tobar na Croiche Naoimh.  It was thought to cure problems with eyes. Another known as Tobar Cornain can be found a little further to the north. There are also the remains of a fullachta fiadh and a ring fort, suggesting that the area was in use long before the castle was built.

This post brings us to the end of my Legends of the Burren mini series. Hope you have enjoyed it.

Legends of the Burren
St Colman’s Holy Well
Newtown Castle
Corcomroe Abbey
Gleninagh Castle

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9 Comments on “Gleninagh Castle, Co Clare | The Wild Atlantic Way

  1. Wow, this is fascinating, Ali! Great defense tactics, but I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end. 🙂
    Hmmm, not sure why anyone would abandon a castle. Too cold? Even with the fireplaces, there might not have been much in the way of insulation. Just a speculative guess and there are many more of those I’m sure. Hard to childproof, I bet.

    The way time passes and how we can see it unfold in landscapes and structures always moves me. And, if you only have memories of the present time, then you can only look backward to witness history unfolding; but for those who have memories of the past and the present in equal measure it’s kind of like watching what is the past and was the future at the same time. Or so I’m told.


  2. It’s interesting how few and small the windows were, even before some of them were blocked off. Good for defense, but so dark inside, I imagine. And yes…who would abandon a castle??? Loved the series, Ali. Can’t wait to see these places in person some day 🙂


  3. OK, so as much as it hurts to admit that I was wrong about you living in a castle surrounded by fairy forts, I’ll remove the thought I had of your flag flying proudly on top of Gleninagh. My daughter was due to fly home last night with her Loughlin chap and the flight was over-booked, so they gave them both return tickets to Dublin. So what I’ll do is fly back with them and we’ll rightfully claim the castle back for the Loughlin’s, stick the Loughlin flag on top, keep the murder hole activated just in case another owner wants it back and I’ll live in the drafty old, dove-filled castle happily for the rest of my life! You and your family can come and visit, if you like. The spare bedroom will be in the dungeon, although it may be better to make that a wine cellar. I better not get too far ahead of myself, my wife has to let me go on a one way ticket first. I hope your blogging batteries are recharged and ready to go. Your tan won’t last long, so much sure all your friends see it soon before it fades. I’m glad you’ll soon be back on deck.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I must own the pictures are stunning; something in the light maybe. As for abandoning a castle, blimey the fuel bills alone would drive me out!! And I want one of those box thingies over my front door!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I wouldn’t fancy that living in a castle was very comfortable, Ali, no matter how many fireplaces you put in it. However, this must have been mitigated by the ability to pour boiling oil on one’s enemies, which as everybody knows, is both a pleasure and a privilege.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I loved your mini series and the special Gleninagh Castle. Ali, I think I could see you happily living in that castle with your family, a few chooks, a milking cow, horse and growing some vegies and surrounded by a myriad of ancient sites shrouded in myths in legends.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! That vision makes me laugh… I’m actually not that domesticated, and any plants I try to grow usually die. I’m one of those people who over or under waters them. Just can’t seem to get it right. I dont think I’d cope very well with the toilet thing, either. Or the lack of electricity or Internet… but I LOVE the thought of it! Lol!


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