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 Doolin Castle and you’ll get an insight into the best way to see it if you’re visiting County Clare.
Some quick need-to-knows about Doonagore Castle in Doolin
Unlike nearby Doolin Cave, a visit to Doonagore Castle isn’t that straightforward, as there’s 1, no parking and 2, no way to enter the castle.
Here are some quick-need-to-knows. Pay careful attention to the note about parking, as this can be dangerous.
You’ll find Doonagore Castle on a hill in Doolin, where it offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside. It’s a 3-minute drive from Fisher Street and it’ll take you 8 minutes to drive from the Cliffs of Moher to Doonagore.
There’s no where to park at Doonagore Castle and, as it’s on a hill on a BAD BEND, you shouldn’t attempt to just park anywhere at the side of the road. If you continue up the hill (away from the castle) you’ll find a tiny spot that fits one car. Be careful when walking back towards the castle (the road is narrow).
3. A dark past
In 1588, a ship from the Spanish Armada sank near the coast at Doolin. The crew managed to make their way out of the wreck and over to Doolin Castle. Instead of room and board, they were hung. More on this below.
4. Not open to the public
Unfortunately, Doonagore Castle is privately owned, so you can’t have a look inside. This has been the fate of many Irish castles. The land is private, so avoid trying to get up to the castle.
About the fairytale-like Doolin Castle
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, which dates back to the mid 16th century, 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.
The dark history of Doonagore Castle
Although the current Doolin 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 1,300.
Like most 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.
Shipwreck and Murder
Here’s where the story of Doolin Castle gets a little bit mad. In 1588, a ship from the Spanish Armada got into difficulty off the coast of Doolin 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).
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, Doolin 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.
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 2023 and the castle is still owned by John C. Gorman’s family.
Visiting Doolin 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.
Things to do near Doonagore Castle
One of the beauties of Doolin Castle is that it’s a short spin away from a clatter of other attractions, both man-made and natural.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Doolin Castle (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Food in Doolin
2. The Burren
The Burren National Park is a short spin from Doonagore Castle and there are several long and short Burren walks that you can head off one, several of which will take you to Fanore Beach, Poulnabrone Dolmen and Father Ted’s House.
3. Cliffs of Moher
4. The Aran Islands
FAQs about Doonagore Castle
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from can you go inside Doonagore to where to park.
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.
Can you go inside Doonagore Castle?
No – the Doolin Castle is privately owned, and tours have never been a thing, unfortunately.
Where do I park near Doonagore?
There’s no parking here, and the road near the castle is at a bad bend, so you should never just stop in the middle of the road. If you drive up the hill and away from the castle, you’ll find space for 1 car to safely pull in.
What happened at Doolin Castle?
In 1588, a ship from the Spanish Armada sank near the coast at Doolin. The crew managed to make their way out of the wreck and over to Doolin Castle. Instead of room and board, they were hung. More on this above.
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.