Donegal castle was built in the c. 1474 by Red Hugh O’Donnell sits beside the River Eske. The castle was originally the home of the O’Donnell clan who were originally loyal subjects to Queen Elizabeth I. Around the same time he and his wife built a friary for the local Franciscans, and legend has it there’s a tunnel connecting the two, however this was never confirmed.
The family’s loyalty changed when Red Hugh O’Donnell rebelled and fought a nine year war against the crown, which they lost. The loss meant they had to accept English laws, language and customs , but were allowed to keep their castle and lands. This lasted a few years, and in 1607, the O’Donnell clan left Ireland in the Flight of the Earls. Red Hugh went to Spain where he was later poisoned.
In 1611, an English captain, Basil Brooke was awarded the castle and its lands as part of the Plantation of Ulster. Before the O’Donnell’s left for Spain they damaged the towerhouse of the castle to prevent it from being used by the English against the remaining Gaelic clans.
The new owners restored and extended the castle in the Jacobean style; adding new windows, a gable and manor house. The Brooke family lived there until 1670 when they moved to Co. Fermanagh. Around the same time they sold the castle to the Gore family, who later became the Earls of Arran. They allowed the castle to fall into ruin. In 1898 the 5th Earl of Arran vested the castle to The Office of Public Works.
Restoration of Donegal Castle
In the early 1990s the Office of Public Works partially restored the castle. It’s open for public tours. The original tower is still visible, as is a fireplace with Brooke’s English coat of arms engraved on it, and the Jacobean front door.