My Adventure Through Our Family Tree Branches

For over 50 years my Dad researched both his and my Mom's family tree branches - and loved every minute of it! Trying to fulfill the promise I made him the last month of his life, I have spent the past four years continuing where he left off - finding out about all the many family members who came before us, from the many branches of our family trees. The histories will still be published as my Dad always wanted. But what he wanted most was to share the stories of the people who came before us - the places they lived, the cultures of the times, the families they created, and the circumstances - good and bad - that would one day lead to us, their descendants. These are the stories of my Mom's families. . . .

Surnames in this Blog


Sunday, March 18, 2012

SATURDAY'S STRUCTURE - Donegal Castle, County Donegal, Ireland

Newly Restored Donegal Castle
Donegal Castle, built by the elder Sir Hugh O'Donnell in 1474 (that's 538 years ago!), is located in the centre of Donegal town, County Donegal, Ireland, in the northwest of the country. It was built on a bend in the River Eske. It is 35x55 feet in size, with walls eight feet thick. At the time it was built the castle was regarded as one of the greatest Celtic castles in all of Ireland. This was noted after a visit by the visiting English Viceroy, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney in 1566, in a letter he sent to William Cecil, the Lord High Treasurer, describing it as "the largest and strongest fortress in all Ireland." He added, "it is the greatest I ever saw in an Irishman's hands; one of the fairest situated in good soil and so nigh a portable water boat of ten tonnes could come within ten yards of it."

Model of 1590 Donegal Castle
Home of O'Donnell Clan
In 1592 the King of Tyrconnell abdicated in favor of his eldest son by his second wife, Ineen Dubh; Red Hugh O'Donnell, at the age of just 19 years old, became the head of the O'Donnell clan and the leader of Tyrconnell (now Donegal). England had taken over Ireland, against the will of its inhabitants. O'Donnell, along with Hugh O'Neil (head of the O'Neil dynasty, regarded at the time by many as King of Ireland) and other clan leaders, revolted in 1594 against the English in an attempt to drive them out of Ireland. This revolt against English occupation was known as the Nine Years War.

O'Donnell and O'Neil led several successful battles, defeating the English armies, but this was short lived. After the defection of his brother-in-law to the English side, in return for their backing his own claim to the O'Donnell chieftainship, Red Hugh - "the O'Donnell", as he was known - knew that their only chance to expel England from their country was with the aid of a Spanish invasion. It was during this time that the O'Donnell clan was forced to abandon their stronghold. Before leaving their castle they did their best to destroy it, setting fire to it, thus making it unusable to the English.

O'Donnell and O'Neil were defeated at the Battle of Kinsale, even with assistance of Spanish general del Aguila. At this point O'Donnell left for Spain, to build additional resources for the cause of Irish independence. Other Irish chieftains were also arriving in Spain at this time. O'Donnell was making plans for his return to Ireland but after a year of not hearing from Phillip III, who had promised his support, Red Hugh traveled to Valladolid, the capitol of the Kingdom of Spain, to meet with the king but died en route. He was buried at Simancas Castle in 1602.

Model of 1620 Donegal Castle
Home of Basil Brooke
After the Irish defeat by England, the castle and the land was granted to Sir Basil Brooke, an English Captain. Brooke repaired the tower, replacing the original slit windows with three- and four-mullioned windows to match those of the new three-story gabled manor house which he erected next to the tower. The tower roof was gabled and a huge bay window replaced the original entrance to the tower. Both Sir Basil and his son Sir Henry served as Governors of County Donegal. Henry sided with the Parliamentarians during the Civil War, losing Donegal Castle to Clanrickarde in a surprise attack. Sir Henry recaptured his castle just three days later, and his son Basil successfully defended the castle against the Jacobite forces under Sarsfield. The Brooke family owned the castle for many generations, but by the 18th century it had fallen into ruins. In 1898 the owner donated the castle to the Office of Public Works.
Donegal Castle in Ruins, ca. 1900

The following reference from Atlas and Cyclopedia of Ireland, published in 1900, gives a description of DONEGAL CASTLE after over a century of neglect.--
"The town of Donegal is beautifully situated on a bay of the same name, and does a thriving trade. To the tourist, the great object of attraction is its splendid old castle, the ancient seat of the O'Donnells, lords of Tirconnell. The ruin, compared with others in the island, is in a tolerably good state of preservation, and from what remains it must have been a noble mansion, and worthy of the rank of these once powerful chieftains. Two magnificent sculptured chimneypieces, in the style of James I., still remain in a very perfect state. The grand hall on the ground floor, is arched, from which several smaller apartments open; and upstairs the grand banqueting hall was lit by several Gothic windows, which look out upon the bay; and at one end are the remains of a great bay window the entire height of the chamber, which bespeaks its ancient magnificence. This ruin derives a melancholy interest from the affecting history of the life and adventures of Red Hugh, the last of the powerful line of the princes of Tirconnell and lords of Donegal."

Donegal Castle remained in ruins for over two centuries. Very recently the original 15th century castle keep, built by the elder Hugh O'Donnell, was renovated by the OPW. It is now open to the public and daily guided tours are available on the hour.
Inside the Great Hall
Renovated Donegal Castle

This poem, written by James Clarence Mangan (1803-1849) expresses both the great loss and the great passion people felt for this symbol of strength of Ireland, of Donegal, and for the O'Donnell clan.

Interior of Wing Addition

The Ruins of Donegal Castle

O MOURNFUL, O forsaken pile,
What desolation dost thou dree!
How tarnished is the beauty that was thine erewhile, 
Thou mansion of chaste melody!
Demolished lie thy towers and halls;
A dark, unsightly, earthen mound
Defaces the pure whiteness of thy shining walls,
And solitude doth gird thee round.

Fair fort! thine hour has come at length,
Thine older glory has gone by.
Lo! far beyond thy noble battlements of strength,
Thy corner-stones all scattered lie!

Where now, O rival of the gold
Emania, be thy wine-cups all?   
Alas! for these thou now hast nothing but the cold, 
Cold stream that from the heavens doth fall!

Thy clay-choked gateways none can trace, 
Thou fortress of the once bright doors!
The limestones of thy summit now bestrew thy base,
Bestrew the outside of thy floors.

Exterior of Wing Addition

Above thy shattered window-sills
The music that to-day breaks forth
Is but the music of the wild winds from the hills,
The wild winds of the stormy North!

What spell o’ercame thee, mighty fort,
What fatal fit of slumber strange,
O palace of the wine! O many-gated court!
That thou shouldst undergo this change?
Fireplace with Brooke Crest

Thou wert, O bright-walled, beaming one,
Thou cradle of high deeds and bold,
The Tara of Assemblies to the sons of Con, 
Clan-Connell’s Council-hall of old!

Thou wert a new Emania, thou!
A northern Cruachan in thy might,— 
A dome like that which stands by Boyne’s broad water now, 
Thou Erin’s Rome of all delight!   

In thee were Ulster’s tributes stored, 
And lavished like the flowers in May;
And into thee were Connaught’s thousand treasures poured,
Deserted though thou art to-day!  
How often from thy turrets high,
Thy purple turrets, have we seen 
Long lines of glittering ships, when summer-time drew nigh,
With masts and sails of snow-white sheen!

How often seen, when gazing round
From thy tall towers, the hunting trains  
The blood-enlivening chase, the horseman and the hound, 
Thou fastness of a hundred plains!
Entry Gate to Donegal Castle
How often to thy banquets bright
We have seen the strong-armed Gaels repair,
And when the feast was over, once again unite
For battle, in thy bass-court fair!
Alas for thee, thou fort forlorn!
Alas for thy low, lost estate!
It is my woe of woes, this melancholy morn,
To see thee left thus desolate!

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