Regarded as one of the most unique castles in Ireland, Galway's Aughnanure Castle is one of over 200 fortified tower houses built by the most powerful families in Ireland centuries ago. Becoming home to the O’Flaherty clan in the 1500s, you’ll find this castle just about two miles outside of Oughterard at the gateway to Connemara.
Drawing a crowd for its historical appeal and intriguing stylistic features, here’s a little information on Aughnanure Castle to get you excited for your next visit, once this stunning Galway building has reopened its doors to the public…
Originally, the castle is said to have been built by the first Earl of Ulster, Walter de Burgo, in 1256 when the O’Flahertys were temporarily expelled from the land. Quickly reclaiming ownership of the site, the O’Flaherty clan remained outraged at the affront for decades and utilised their power to plague the people of Galway, who later described them as ‘mountainous and wild people’ and even went so far as to erect a gate at the entryway to the town to protect them from the ‘ferocious O’Flahertys’!
In the late 16th century, Morogh na dTuadh - a minor member of the O’Flaherty family - was appointed chieftain of the territory of West Connacht and vowed to observe the Queen’s peace. When he heard tell of a planned uprising by his kinsmen, he betrayed them to the English who responded by besieging Aughnanure, causing the castle to fall for the first time. Refitted and fortified, the castle became a stronghold against attacks from Galway for 60 years.
In 1630, scholar and writer Roderick O'Flaherty successfully petitioned to have the castle returned and remained at the helm for some time. While ownership of Aughnanure Castle alternated many times in the subsequent years, it was Peadar O’Flaherty who gifted the property to the state in 1952. Going on to become a national monument and beloved tourist attraction, the castle is filled with a number of features that tell the tale of life in days gone by.
The Office of Public Works began a restoration programme in the early 1960s, and they slowly started to wipe away the cobwebs and breathe life back into the ancient building. With six floors, a banqueting hall and an underground stream, Aughnanure Castle is an architectural marvel. At the southeast corner of the tower house, you’ll find a narrow spiral staircase accessing the upper chambers with trick steps built in at uneven height and width that would send potential intruders flying - genius!
One of the castle’s most famous features is the infamous trap door in the banquet hall. Legend has it that after a lengthy siege, the O’Flaherty clan were required to surrender to the fourth Earl of Clanricarde - Richard Burke - who sent his son to the castle to collect the tribute. It just so happened that Burke was standing over the infamous ‘flagstone of treachery’, which turned on its axis and plunged him deep into the flowing river beneath the castle.
Fun fact: ‘Aughnanure’ comes from the Irish ‘Achadh na nlúr’, which translates to ‘field of the yews’. While a great forest of the trees may have existed in the past, only two specimens remain within the townland. An extraordinary structure with centuries of history, a visit to Aughnanure Castle once they’re back up and running should be on everyone’s to-do list. If you're a Galway local who hasn't yet seen this building's majesty, or a visitor who wants to learn about the history of Galway, this one's for you!
Regularly uploading great, informative pieces, keep an eye on Aughnanure Castle Heritage Site’s FACEBOOK PAGE for updates.
Photos by Jenny Young of The Office of Public Works.