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Doe Castle in Donegal: History, The Tour And Handy Info

Doe Castle in Donegal: History, The Tour And Handy Info

The fairytale-like Doe Castle, which was once the stronghold of the McSweeneys, stands at the edge of Donegal’s Sheephaven Bay.

Overlooking the ocean, the 15th century structure was constructed in the early 15th century by the O’Donnell family.

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

Some quick need-to-knows before visiting Doe Castle

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 if you need a pick-me-up.

3. Tours

Tours of Doe Castle used to take place during the summer months, but they haven’t ran consistently in some time. As it stands, you can only wander around the grounds and admire the castle from the outside.

4. Manage your expectations

I’ve visited Doe Castle a handful of times in recent years with visiting tourists. I’d argue that Doe Castle is only really worth visiting if you’re passing by. With access to the castle now a thing of the past, you can only see it from the outside.

The history of Doe Castle

Doe Castle

Photos via Shutterstock

The story of one of the smaller castles in Donegal is an interesting one. 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.

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

Photos courtesy of Gareth Wray Photograph

Just 9km around the bay, Ards Forest Park is an 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 home to countless walking trails.

2. Mount Errigal (10-minute drive)

Mount Errigal

Photos via Shutterstock

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 there are panoramic views from its summit.

3. Glenveagh National Park (10-minute drive)

Glenveagh Castle

Photos via Shutterstock

Just a 10-minute drive south of the castle, a visit to Glenveagh National Park. The remote and rugged park features beautiful mountains, lakes, waterfalls, oak trees and a variety of animals.

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 free?

Admission to the grounds of Doe Castle is free. When tours are running, there is a nominal charge, but keep in mind they haven’t run in a while.

Is Doe Castle worth visiting?

I’d argue that it’s only worth visiting if you’re passing by. Now that the tours aren’t running consistently, you can only walk around the small grounds.

Are the Doe Castle tours running?

As of 2024, the Doe Castle tours are not running. They used to run during the summer months, but that ceased several years ago.

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