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Doe Castle in Donegal: History, Tours And Need-To-Knows

Doe Castle in Donegal: History, Tours And Need-To-Knows

The fairytale-like Doe Castle is arguably one of the more unique castles in Donegal.

Known as the stronghold of the MacSweeneys, Doe Castle stands right on the edge of Sheephaven Bay.

Overlooking the ocean, the 15th century structure is an incredible historical landmark to visit while exploring north west Donegal.

Below, you’ll find info on everything from tours and parking to where to visit nearby. Dive on in!

Some quick need-to-knows before visiting Doe Castle

Doe Castle tours

Photo via Shutterstock

Although a visit to Doe Castle is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

Commanding a spectacular location on Sheephaven Bay, Doe Castle is a 15-minute drive from both Downings and Dunfanaghy and a 30-minute spin from Letterkenny.

2. Parking

As you drive towards the castle, you’ll see a large parking area at the end of the road (here on Google Maps). There is also a little coffee shop there for a snack before or after a tour of the castle. From there, it’s just a couple of minutes’ walk to the castle itself on a flat path.

3. Tours

While the grounds are open all year round and free to enter, the guided tours are on only during the summer months. However, it’s looking like they won’t be running in 2022 (we’ll update when we hear more).

The history of Doe Castle

Doe Castle donegal

Photos via Shutterstock

It’s thought that the original fortress was built in the early 15th century by the O’Donnell family. By the 1440s, it had been acquired by the MacSweeney family and became best known for being their stronghold.

Doe Castle remained in the hands of a branch of the Clan MacSweeney, known as Mac Sweeney Doe, for almost 200 years. It served as a home, refuge and fortress for at least 13 clan chiefs and still retains the name Doe Castle from that time.

The last Chief of Doe

The last chief of the castle, Maolmhuire an Bhata Bhui, marched out with lord of Tyrconnell, Red Hugh O’Donnell, to the Battle of Kinsale in 1601.

It was then that the castle was seized by King James VI and the 200 year occupancy by the MacSweeneys ended. The King conceded the castle to the Attorney General for Ireland in 1613, after the Plantation of Ulster.

Uprising and Wars of the Three Kingdoms

In 1642, Owen Roe O’Neill returned to the castle to lead the Ulster Army of the Irish Confederate forces during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. During the continual struggle, the castle changed hands repeatedly throughout the 17th century. 

The castle was eventually bought by Sir George Vaughan Hart, a retired British Officer and his family inhabited the castle until 1843. The last occupant was a Church of Ireland minister who left in 1909.

The castle today

Doe Castle fell into complete disrepair, until it became a national monument in 1934 and was acquired by the Office of Public Works.

It underwent major restoration works, however, it miraculously retains much of its original glory. Of the castle that you see today, the main tower is believed to date back to 1420s.

The two-storey hall and bawn walls beside the tower are from around 1620s and the MacSweeney grave slab inside the tower house dates to 1544.

Doe Castle Tours

Of course, you’ll learn all of this history plus plenty more on one of the guided tours of Doe Castle. Tours inside the castle must be with a guide, and they generally run daily during July and August. The tours take you through the inside rooms of the castle, including the tower and hall.

This is undoubtedly the best way to really get a nice idea of what it was like during its glory days as the stronghold of the MacSweeneys and during the more tumultuous 17th century. 

The guided tours are just €3 per person, aged 12 years and above. It’s looking like they may not be running in 2022, but we’ll update this guide when we hear more.

Things to do near Doe Castle

One of the beauties of Doe Castle is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Donegal.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Doe Castle (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. Ards Forest Park (15-minute drive)

ards forest park in donegal

Photo left: shawnwil23, Right: AlbertMi/shutterstock

Just 9km around the bay, the Ards Forest Park is an incredibly beautiful place to stretch your legs and soak up some natural beauty. With incredible views of the coast, woodland walking trails, rivers, lakes and even megalithic tombs, it’s one of the best parks to visit in Donegal. Set across 1000 acres, there’s plenty of trails to choose from, from easy 90-minute wanders up to longer 13km forest hikes.

2. Muckish Mountain (15-minute drive)

Muckish Mountain

Photos via Shutterstock

The distinctive flat-topped Muckish Mountain is located in the Derryveagh Mountains in County Donegal. For those interested in hiking, it’s one of the best places to climb to the top for an outstanding view. There are a couple of routes to the top, including a difficult Miners Path up the northern side or the much easier trail from Muckish Gap.

3. Mount Errigal (10-minute drive)

mount errigal hike

Photos via shutterstock.com

Just further south of Muckish Mountain, you can try your hand at climbing to the top of Mount Errigal. The 751-metre high peak is the tallest mountain in County Donegal and a very popular hike. The climb up is rewarded with panoramic views of the mountains, and even all the way to the coast on a clear day.

4. Glenveagh National Park (10-minute drive)

Glenveagh National Park walks guide

Photo left: Gerry McNally. Photo right: Lyd Photography (Shutterstock)

Just a 10-minute drive south of the castle, a visit to Glenveagh National Park is a must when exploring Donegal. The remote and rugged park features beautiful mountains, lakes, waterfalls, oak trees and a variety of animals. There’s plenty to do in the park area, including scenic drives and spectacular hikes.

FAQs about visiting Doe Castle

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Are the tours running?’ to ‘When is it open?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Is Doe Castle worth visiting?

Yes. Even if you just have a ramble around the grounds, it’s worth a visit. If you can get on the tour, you’ll get to soak up the castle’s rich history.

Are the Doe Castle tours running?

As far as we can tell, the tours aren’t going to be running. When they do, they only take place during the months of July and August.

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