Claregalway Castle, Claregalway, Co. Galway H91 E9T3

Tourist Accommodation Facility – not open to the public
Open for accommodation: January 3-December 24


Help me to fund the maintenance and update of this website. It is created purely out of love for the subject and I receive no payment so any donation is appreciated!


In 2023 Claregalway is listed in Section 482 as accommodation and is no longer open to the public, unfortunately! We were lucky to visit during Heritage Week in 2022. I am sure it will continue to host events and tours – keep an eye on the website. Accommodation is in the auxiliary buildings in the bawn but one may have access inside the tower house itself.

The tower house dates to the early half of the fifteenth century, according to radio carbon dating [1]. Across the road is the Franciscan Friary of Claregalway, built in 1240. The tower of the Abbey was built 200 years later, around 1440.

The Friary across the road.

The castle is part of the Barony of Clare, an administrative barony formed in the sixteenth century. The other major castle in this territory is Corofin. Before being designated a barony the area was part of the kingdom of Magh Seóla (“the level plain.” It was Clanricarde Burke territory, and the castle was damaged in battles between the Burkes of Clanricarde and the Burkes of Mayo.

The castle website tells us:

Located on a low crossing point of the River Clare, the castle controlled water and land trade routes, exacted tolls, and maintained Clanricarde Burke authority in the surrounding countryside, a region known in pre-Norman times as Magh Seóla (the level plain). By 1580, there was a network of Clanricarde Burke castles stretching from Lough Corrib to the River Shannon. The castle once had a six metre high bawn/defensive wall, an imposing gate-house, a moat as well as other buildings including a dining hall.

An article in the Galway Review from July 8th 2010 by Declan Varley tells us that the castle belongs to an eye surgeon Mr Eamon O Donoghue who has funded and overseen the restoration of the castle for the past decade, bringing in some of Europe’s top stonemasons and conservationists to ensure that the castle is returned to its original state. A major reconstruction programme was planned by conservation architect David Johnson, a former inspector of national monuments with The Office of Public Works, and and archaeologist Leo Swan was also involved.

When he purchased the castle, Eamon tells us in a lecture that one can view online, there were trees growing out of the top! [2] Mr. O’Donoghue studied archaeology in Maynooth for a few years, so this probably influenced him to make the decision to buy the castle.

The ancillary buildings also influenced O’Donoghue’s decision to purchase the castle and its surrounds. Evidence for a bawn was discovered, including the base of bawn turrets, and a mill pond, a gatehouse and a moat. A tower house was generally surrounded by an enclosed space called a bawn, which would contain ancillary buildings such as a bakehouse, brewhouse, chapel, storehouses, guard accommodation, and in the case of Claregalway, a mill. Farmers and fishermen would have lived outside the bawn.

One of the ancilliary buildings, this farmhouse was built toward the end of the eighteenth century and incorporates medieval stonework.
The area around the tower is called the Bawn, and there are beautiful stone buildings with stone window openings and hood mouldings.

The castle was owned by John Buckley Jr (formerly of Spiddal House), then living in Indonesia, who agreed to sell. When purchased, the tower was roofless and had no upper floors at all, it was just a shell. The roof of the castle had been removed in 1653, following the Siege of Galway by Cromwellian forces. When restoring, Mr. O’Donoghue did research to determine what sort of turret the castle would have had, and determined from what remained that it was probably similar to Isert Kelly Castle. Isert Kelly Castle was the principal seat of the MacHubert Burkes from the early 1400s. The three storey tower house was stronghold to the MacHuberts, later passing hands to the MacRedmonds, both of whom were branches of the De Burgo (Burke) family. [3]

O’Donoghue engaged many architects including Rory Sherlock. He had stonemasons from the Companions Guild in France, including Jean Baptise Maduit, the now current master mason from Chartres, who believed the belfry of the abbey, built in 1433, was built by the same person who built the tower house. The stonemasons in the Companions Guild in France have a seven year apprenticeship.

Most of the stonework has been done by Galway Stone Design, located at the castle, but these heads look genuinely rather old.

The ancillary buildings were also restored from a ruinous state.

Ancilliary building at Claregalway Castle.
Stonemasons from Galway Stone Design did renovation work, and included medieval motifs [4]

We came across the Claricarde Burkes on our visit to Portumna Castle in County Galway. William de Burgo (d. 1205) came to Ireland with Prince John in 1185, and was granted lands stretching from Cashel to Limerick. His brother Hubert, the castle website tells us, was a Justiciar of England. In 1193 William married the daughter of Donal Mor O’Brien, King of Thomond, thus securing a good relationship with the native rulers. His son Richard (d. 1241) suceeded him and was known as Lord of Connaught. Richard began the feudalisation of Connaught after military conquest. Richard was suceeded by his son Richard (d. 1248) and then Walter, who was created 1st Earl of Ulster.

The descendents of William de Burgo adopted Irish customs and clothing.

Claregalway Castle, 2022.
The Portcullis and entry to the tower house.

The pointed doorway is in the SE wall near the east corner. It opens into a small lobby with a guardroom on the left and a spiral stairway on the right. The tower is vaulted above the second floor. There are several mural passages and mural chambers at different levels and fireplaces at first and second floors. The presence of some corbels at parapet level indicate that there was a machicolation. When one enters the tower house, one sees just how much renovation work has been accomplished. It has been furnished with a collection of wonderful antique oak furniture.

Claregalway Castle, 2022.
Claregalway Castle is the home of the Medieval Armoured Combat Ireland (MACI) team, so some of the weaponry on display must belong to them.
Claregalway Castle, 2022.

The website tells us of a battle which took place nearby in 1504, the Battle of Knockdoe (Knockdoe in Irish is “cnoc tuagh”, literally “the hill of axes”). The military axe was the traditional weapon of the Irish Galloglass, the professional military caste in medieval Ireland. Literally meaning foreign young men or foreign young warriors, the galloglass had first come into Ireland from the Scottish Isles as early as the 13th century. Over the following centuries these men had established themselves under the patronage of different Gaelic Lords, first in Ulster but soon spread to other parts of the country. [5]

The battle was fought between the Clanricarde Burkes, led by Ulick, who had become the lord of Clanricard in 1485, and a combined force headed by the 8th Earl of Kildare, Gearóid Mór Fitzgerald. The official reason for this battle was that Ulick Burke had aggressively overstepped his authority in Connacht. He also married a sister or daughter of the Earl of Kildare, Eustacia, and she returned home claiming to have been mistreated. Furthermore, Burke was traditionally an ally of the Ormonds, who were enemies of the Fitzgeralds. The Fitzgeralds supported the royal House of York whereas the Ormonds were loyal to King Henry VII.

Near-contemporary accounts of the battle are found in the Annals of Loch Cé, the Annals of Ulster, the Annals of Connacht and the Annals of the Four Masters, as well as in The Book of Howth, a chronicle about the St. Lawrence family, who were represented in the Earl of Kildare’s army. The Book of Howth depicts the battle as an Old English victory over the Gaelic Irish. Interestingly, it portrays Clanricard as a full member of the Gaelic Irish community. The Clanricard de Burgos also used the alternative name of “McWilliam.”

The Garret Mór Fitzgerald (1455-1513), 8th Earl of Kildare, was at the time the crown’s lord deputy in Ireland. He held this office until his death in 1513. Between 1496 and his death Garret Mór did much to uphold and even extend royal power in Ireland and the campaign that led to Knockdoe arguably represents the height of Garret Mór Fitzgerald’s political and military power in Ireland. Although it has been described as a battle between Old English and the Irish, Fitzgerald’s army had many Irish as well, including Hugh Roe O’Donnell of Tyrconnell, some of the O’Neills, the O’Conor Roe, the McDermots of Moylurg, the McMahons
from modern-day county Monaghan, the Magennises, the O’Reillys of Cavan, the O’Farrells of Longford, the O’Hanlons of Armagh, the Mayo McWilliam Burkes, and the O’Kellys. (see [5])

 The website tells us that this battle took place five kilometres from Claregalway Castle and was one of the largest pitched battles in medieval Irish history, involving an estimated 10,000 combatants.

There was terrible slaughter and Burke’s army was defeated, though he himself survived. At least 3,000 men died in close, hand-to-hand combat.

 Afterwards, the website tells us, Fitzgerald captured Claregalway Castle, taking some of Burke’s children as hostages. He then proceeded to Galway city whose mayor provided over 7,000 gallons of wine for the victors to celebrate with.

Claregalway Castle, 2022.

Ulick Burke of Clanricarde (d. 1544) became Earl of Clanricarde and Baron of Dunkellin, and was one of the earliest Irish Chiefs to accept Henry VIII’s policy of “surrender and regrant,” accepting Henry VIII as his sovereign. The website tells us that he was called in Irish Uileag na gCeann (‘Ulick of the heads/the beheader’), so he had quite a reputation!

The website tells us:

…known as Ulick of the heads because of his having taken many heads of defeated enemies. This charismatic figure travelled to meet Henry VIII at Greenwich Palace, London. There, as part of Henry’s ‘Surrender and Regrant’ policy in Ireland, Ulick knelt before Henry, accepting his claim as King of Ireland. In return, Ulick was granted the title of Earl of Clanricarde, along with lands and property near Dublin. Prior to visiting England, Ulick married Dame Marie Lynch, a rich widow from Galway city. Marie helped Ulick prepare for English court etiquette, and also taught him some English since Ulick spoke only Gaelic and Latin. Unfortunately, Ulick already had two other wives; Grainne O’ Carroll and his cousin Honora De Burgo. In the following generation, there were bitter wars of succession between the sons from these different marriages, and Connacht suffered as a consequence.

The website adds that “While at Greenwich, King Henry presented Burke with a gift of the so-called Irish Harp, the national symbol of Ireland, now held at Trinity College Dublin. Tradition says that Ulick brought this famous instrument back to Claregalway Castle with him, where its music likely echoed through the castle’s great hall.

Ulick’s son Richard, 2nd Earl of Clanricarde, fought the Irish for the British crown. The website tells us that Claregalway castle was the chief fortress of the powerful Clanricard de Burgo or Burke family from the early 1400s to the mid-1600s.

Richard Burke (1572-1635) the 4th Earl of Clanricarde built Portumna Castle which then became the Irish base for the de Burgo, or Burke, family.

Richard Bourke 4th Earl of Clanricarde was brought up and educated in England. He fought on the side of the English against Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and was knighted on the field at the battle of Kinsale. He was a protege of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and married Frances Walsingham, who was the widow of the poet Philip Sydney (1554-1586) and of Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex (1566-1601), favourite of Queen Elizabeth I.

Portrait of Frances Walsingham, along with her husband Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and in the small picture, Sir Philip Sydney.

The website tells us that Ulick Burke (1604-57), 5th Earl of Clanricarde, spent time at the castle during the late 1640s/early 1650s. He was the Royalist commander in Ireland for King Charles II in the closing stages of the English Civil War which had also extended into Ireland. Correspondence written by Burke from Claregalway Castle to the King  survives.

The website tells us: “In 1651 Claregalway Castle was captured by Oliver Cromwell’s commander for Connacht, the brutal Sir Charles Coote (later Earl of Mountrath), who made the castle his headquarters. The English Civil Wars combined with the Irish Rebellion were by then nearly over.  Galway, a staunch Royalist stronghold, was the last town in Ireland to yield to Cromwellian forces but only after a dreadful nine month siege prosecuted by Coote. On 5April 1652, Galway’s leaders surrendered the town to Coote at Claregalway Castle. It is probably sometime after this that the castle was slighted, meaning that its battlements and bawn walls were demolished. In the centuries after this, the castle fell into disrepair.

We learned about this battle for Galway when we visited Oranmore Castle in Galway.

Claregalway Castle, 2022.

The ground and first floors are both constructed under a vaulted arched ceiling. We saw a similar ceiling in Oranmore Castle, which did not have the wooden floored upper room within the space.

In the castle they have an amazing collection of carved chairs.

We then went upstairs to the first floor. Tower houses built in the fifteenth century had complex internal layouts to distinguish the private from the public space.

You can see the holes in the walls where wooden beams were placed to form the mezzanine level.
This cupboard has 1716 carved into it so I assume it was made then. The castle has an amazing collection of furniture, in keeping with the history of the castle.
Claregalway Castle, 2022.
Claregalway Castle, 2022.
The carving on the mezzanine level includes a “Clonfert angel.”
Claregalway Castle, 2022.
There is a beautifully carved balustrade holding the mezzanine level, and we can see the wickerwork on the ceiling as we have seen in several other castles.
Claregalway Castle, 2022.
Claregalway Castle, 2022.

Typical of tower houses of this period, Claregalway Castle has a great hall on the second floor, which is carried by a principal vault, and this great hall is very tall and open to the underside of the roof. The principal stair ends at the level of the hall, and a second stair rises from that level. Often in the case of towers of this type, this second stair gives access to a wall walk, as well as to lesser upper chambers. Tower houses of this type are heated by a central hearth, and often have window seats and window embrasures with carved rear arches and the windows often have multiple opes and ornate heads.

The tower houses of this type often have ornate arches and arcades on the end wall of the hall, and finely carved corbel courses. Tower houses of this type are found in Galway, Limerick, Cork and Tipperary, and include Barryscourt in County Cork (an OPW property which one can visit, the OPW website tells us that Barryscourt Castle was the seat of the great Anglo-Norman Barry family and is one of the finest examples of a restored Irish Tower House. Dating from between 1392 and 1420, the Castle has an outer bawn wall and largely intact corner towers).

The Great Hall.

The Great Hall is on the second floor and rises to the underside of the roof. Smoke from the hearth can rise to the open roof space which can be opened by a louver or vent. The apex of the restored roof of Claregalway is 10.74 metres from the floor of the hall, and it was built to impress.

The Great Hall upstairs has a beautiful wooden vaulted ceiling.
Claregalway Castle, 2022.
Claregalway Castle, 2022.
The Great Hall.

In 1620 Luke Gernon wrote about a visit to a tower house. He writes that the hall is the uppermost room, and once you go up to it, you won’t come down until the next day! You would first be presented by the lady of the house to the drinks of the house: first ordinary ale, then sack, then “olde ale” which you must not refuse. You would then wait by the hearth until dinner was served, and then housed in a chamber for sleep. Next morning you are woken with “aquae vitae.”

The Great Hall also contains an amazing ancient bed from 1542. Our guide told us nobody sleeps there, the bed is much too precious.
Claregalway Castle, 2022.
Claregalway Castle, 2022.
Claregalway Castle, 2022.
Claregalway Castle, 2022.
Claregalway Castle, 2022.

The website tells us that there was an English military garrison stationed at the castle in the early 1700s. In 1791, a French diplomat, Coquebert de Montbert, passed through Claregalway while on a tour of Connacht. De Montbert described the castle as being in good condition, but without its roof and battlements.

Claregalway Castle, 2022.
Claregalway Castle, 2022.
A fifteenth century tithe box.
The Great Hall also has a lovely carved table and chairs.
Our told us that a person would be locked in this little room off the Great Hall until death.
Claregalway Castle, 2022.

The website tells us that at some point, either in the late 1700s or early 1800 centuries, there was a water-wheel and flax mill in operation at the castle. An etching by Samuel Lover in 1831, and an engraving by the artist William Henry Bartlett from about 1841, show the ruined castle, with the water-wheel, the original eleven-arched bridge beside the castle and the nearby Franciscan Friary.

The pointed gabled building is an old mill. You can stay here, it is listed in airbnb. [6]

Stay in one of our five beautiful rooms (River, Old Mill, Salmon Pool & Abbey) at the Old Mill & Manor House beside the Castle, a peaceful medieval gem on the banks of the River Clare in the village of Claregalway. Just 10km from Galway City Centre and within walking distance of a bus stop, restaurants/bars and the stunning Abbey. The room is very comfortable with under-floor heating and luxurious bedding. Includes complimentary wine, tea/coffee and a generous continental breakfast.

This room is directly adjacent to the Castle tower and you will have access to the tower and the delightful castle grounds.

Several of the ancilliary buildings contain the rental accommodation. You would be in august company, as in 1931, the actor Orson Welles, then a 16 year old unknown, stayed at the castle for a time as part of his travels in Ireland.

At Claregalway Castle, 2022.
At Claregalway Castle, 2022.
At Claregalway Castle, 2022.
At Claregalway Castle, 2022.

The castle was used by the British as a garrison and as a prison for I.R.A. soldiers during War of Independence, 1919-21. The first Garda Siochána (Irish police force) station in the area was based at the castle for a short time.

[1] Sherlock, Rory, “The Evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space,” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature, Vol. 111C, Special Issue: Domestic life in Ireland (2011), pp. 115-140 (26 pages). On jstor,




[5] “Knockdoe (1504): the archaeological & historical significance of one of Ireland’s great but forgotten battles” by John Jeremiah Cronin & Damian Shiels,

[6] There are five rooms for hire at Claregalway Castle, all in the adjoining buildings. They include the Salmon Pool Room that overlooks the river:

The ground floor of the Mill House:

The River Room Ground Floor

and River Room 1st floor:

and the Abbey Room first floor:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s