• Ali Isaac

gleninagh castle, co. clare | the wild atlantic way

Updated: Aug 1, 2020

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’.

Castle tower-house with green fields, rolling blue sea and stony shore covered with black seaweed in background.
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 Photo.org). Courtesy of Wikimedia.
Gleninagh Castle (c) Jon Sullivan (PD Photo.org). 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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