This county on the north coast of Ireland is blessed with rugged beauty. It has some of the country’s most beautiful beaches and picturesque scenery – it’s arguably the prettiest part of the Wild Atlantic Way. It was even named as the coolest destination in the world by National Geographic in 2017!
Cool and beautiful it might be, but your trip to Donegal very much relies on the weather– you can forget enjoying those blue flag beaches if there’s a storm. In this post, we’ll take a look at five of the castles in Donegal that have shaped this county’s history. After you’ve read it, you might have a better idea of which one to visit first!
5 Castles to Visit in Donegal
1. Carrickabraghy Castle
Standing on a rocky promontory and built over a pre-Viking settlement, Carrickabraghy Castle stands guard over the Isle of Doagh. It’s part of the Wild Atlantic Way, and you can get to the castle on foot via the route known as the Causeway to the Castle.
There’s no charge to visit. The castle is built of quartz, the same rock that makes up the landscape around it. The highlight of visiting Carrickabraghy Castle is the view of the Atlantic Ocean; you may even see seals if you’re lucky!
When: 16th century
Open for Visit: Yes. The castle is freely accessible.
2. Doe Castle
Doe Castle was built in the 1440s and was a stronghold of the MacSweeney Clan, who came to Donegal from Scotland. The clan were professional fighters, and it’s thought that they sheltered survivors from the Spanish Armada here.
The location of the castle is spectacular: it lies in Sheephaven Bay near the village of Creeslough and is surrounded on three sides by water. Four, if you count the moat that is cut into the rock on the side that faces land. The castle grounds are now open daily, and tours of the tower are offered during the summer.
When: 15th century
Style: Tower House
Open for Visit: Yes. Daily from 09:00 – 18:00. The grounds are freely accessible, but tours inside the castle must be with a guide.
3. Donegal Castle
Hugh O’Donnell of the O’Donnell chieftains preferred to burn the original Donegal Castle to the ground than see it fall into enemy hands, so the building you can see now is an example of Jacobean architecture from a century later.
The castle is centred around a rectangular keep in the centre of Donegal Town. For those who want to visit the castle, free tours are available, and it takes around an hour to see everything.
The castle has several extravagant furnishings, including French tapestries and Persian rugs. You can also learn about the history of the O’Donnell chieftains and the Brooke family!
When: 15th century, rebuilt in the 16th century
Open for Visit: Yes. 10:00 – 18:00 from Easter to mid-September. 09:30 – 16:30 Thursday – Monday from mid-September to Easter.
4. Glenveagh Castle
This fairytale castle has not seen the sieges and bloody battles that some of the other castles in Donegal on this list have. Less than 200 years old, it is a mansion that was built as a hunting lodge on the shores of Lough Veagh.
The castle is surrounded by nature and a perfect place to combine your love of that and history. Glenveagh National Park is open to walkers year-round, and there is a shuttle bus going to and from the castle. Castle tours are limited during busy and off-peak periods.
Where: Gartan Mountain, Glenveagh National Park
When: 19th century
Style: Scottish Baronial
Open for Visit: Yes. Tours of the castle are available only in May, but you can visit the grounds and gardens year-round.
5. Inch Castle
What’s left of Inch Castle is on an island in Lough Swilly which is connected to the mainland by a causeway. It was built in the middle of the 15th century to help protect the land of the O’Dohertys. In the 17th century, the island was the wealthiest district in Donegal, and there were more than 400 houses on the island along with the castle.
Inch Castle is sometimes confused with the ruins of both Inch Fort and Burt Castle. Both are also around Loch Swilly. There is such a high concentration in this relatively small area as it was vulnerable to attack from both land and sea.
Where: Inch Island
When: 15th century
Open for Visit: Yes, you can walk up and see what’s left of the castle.