Doonagore Castle: The Disney-Like Tower In County Clare That Witnessed 170 Murders

Doonagore Castle
Photo by shutterupeire (shutterstock)

If you’ve nipped into our guide on things to do in Doolin, you’ll have seen the mighty Doonagore Castle riding high in the list.

Although like many Irish castles, it looks like something knocked up with some CGI or Photoshop wizardry, Doonagore Castle is a very real bit of ancient Ireland.

In the guide below, you’ll discover the story behind the 16th century tower house and you’ll get an insight into the best way to see it if you’re visiting County Clare.

About Doonagore Castle

Doonagore castle doolin county clare
Photo via Tourism Ireland

The fairytale-like Doonagore Castle can be found in Doolin, a handy 3-minute drive from the colourful little Fisher Street, where it’s finely situated on a hill overlooking Doolin Point.

The castle is what’s known as a round tower house and it has a little courtyard that’s enclosed by a defensive wall.

Interestingly enough, the castle is used as a navigational point for the boats and ferries that are making their final bob into Doolin Pier.

Its History

Although the current castle, which was constructed from sandstone, is believed to date from the mid 16th century, there was a castle on this site (or very close by) as far back as 1300.

Like many of the many castles in Ireland, Doonagore passed through a number of hands over the years.

In its early days, the castle passed between two of the strongest clans in County Clare – the O’Brien’s and the O’Connor’s. In 1570, the castle was owned by a member of the O’Brien clan, named Sir Donald O’Brien.

12 years later, in 1582, it was granted to a member of the O’Connor clan. Not long after, in 1583, the tower house and its grounds were surrendered to the Crown and were granted to a lad named Turlough O’Brien from the village of Ennistymon.

A Shipwreck and Murder

Here’s where the story gets a little bit mad. In 1588, a ship from the Spanish Armada got into difficulty not far from the coast and crashed close to the castle.

170 of the ship’s crew managed to make their way out of the wreck. Sounds like a happy ending, right? Yea, well, all was going to plan until the High Sheriff of Clare arrived.

ALL of the survivors are believed to have been hung at the castle or at a site nearby that’s known as ‘Cnocán an Crochaire’ (AKA Hangman’s Hill).

Post-1641 Rebellion

After the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Doonagore Castle was granted to a fella named John Sarsfield as a result of the Cromwellian settlement.

If you’re not familiar with this, the Cromwellian settlement was introduced after the rebellion. It included a number of penalties (death and the forfeit of land) against those that had taken part in the rebellion of 1641.

Many years later, in the 18th century, the castle was passed to a family called the ‘Gore’s’. The castle had fallen into disrepair at this point and the Gores went about repairing much of it.

Current owners

By the mid-19th century, Doonagore Castle had yet again fallen into a state of disrepair. Then a private buyer named John C. Gorman (an Irish-American) swooped in and bought it.

The castle was restored to much of its former glory in the 1970s by an architect named Percy Leclerc. Fast-forward to 2020 and the castle is still owned by John C. Gorman’s family.

Visiting the Castle

Unfortunately, you can’t access Doonagore Castle or its grounds as it’s privately owned and no form of tours take place at any point during the year.

I’ve been up to Doonagore a good few times over the years. As it’s on a hill, you get a decent view of it as you approach, from afar.

If you’re visiting, find a quiet place to pull in OFF THE ROAD. You’ll be able to get a solid view of the castle along with a mighty view out over the surrounding County Clare countryside.

On a clear day, you’ll be able to spot boats approaching Doolin Pier along with the Aran Islands off in the distance. A visit to Doonagore is perfectly paired with a visit to the Cliffs of Moher and the Doolin Cave.

Enjoyed reading this? Check out our guide to the best castles in Ireland or have a nosey at more brilliant things to do in Doolin in County Clare.

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