Aughnanure Castle is one of well over 200 Tower Houses in County Galway built by large, wealthy, land owning families, mainly of Gaelic but some of Old English (Anglo-Norman) stock.Tower Houses are fortified residences and were places of power and control over the surrounding lands.

The name Aughnanure comes from the Gaelic Achadh na nIubhar - the field of yews. There is a yew tree of several hundred years stands at the entrance.

Situated on the banks of the Drimneed River, which flows into the western side of Lough Corrib, 3km from Oughterard, the site was well chosen, as the river flows gently beneath the low cliff on which the castle was built, allowed boats bringing supplies to come right up to the gate of the fortifications.

The O'Flahertys had been temporarily expelled from their ancestral lands west of Lough Corrib in Connemara by the Norman family of De Burgos in 1256 and the original castle at Aughnanure may have been built by Walter de Burgo, first Earl of Ulster. However the expulsion of the O'Flahertys was only temporary and before the close of the 13th century and for the next three centuries, they were masters of the entire territory of Iar-Connacht (West Connacht) extending from the west bank of Lough Corrib to the sea. Aughnanure became their strongest bastion against their neighbours to the south and east, particularly the citizens of Galway who controlled access from the ocean to Lough Corrib In the 13th century, the land around the mouth of the Galway River was wrenched from the O'Flahertys by the Anglo-Normans who developed the town  of Galway there.This remained in Anglo-Norman control throughout the later Middle Ages.

The O'Flahertys never forgot or forgave the degredation and used both land and water to harry Galway's citizens who regarded them as 'mountainous and wild people' by whom 'they were sometimes robbed and threatened.'

In 1537, Lord Grey, King Henry VIII's Lord Deputy in Ireland, arrived in Galway to compel the Irish chieftains to acknowledge the supremacy of the English monarch. While Grey remained in the town, the surrounding Irish chieftains, O'Flaherty, O'Madden and Mac Yeoris (or Bermingham) came in and made their submissions but did not give hostages. However, the citizens of Galway still felt threatened and the city's burghers erected a plaque over the western entrance to the town which read:

"From the ferocious O'Flahertys , oh Lord deliver us"

Later History

The most distinguished of the descendants of Morogh was Colonel Morogh O'Flaherty, also nicknamed na d-Tuadh, who played a determined part on the side of the Irish in the turmoil of the 17th century. In 1618, Aughnanure was granted to Hugh O'Flaherty by King James I but, by the middle of that century, it was occupied by the Marquis of Clanrickarde, who is known to have written a number of letters from the castle in his campaign against the Cromwellian forces at that time. By 1687, the Earl of Clanrickarde allows the castle back into O'Flaherty hands for an annual rent of £76 and in 1719, it was tranferred entirely to Bryan O'Flaherty, who took out a mortgage on it for £1,600, borrowing money from Lord Saint George who subsequently foreclosed on the mortgage and took possession of the castle.

However, this see-saw change of ownership later turned out once more to the advantage of the O'Flaherties, and it was Peter O'Flaherty from whom the Commissioners of Public Works obtained the castle in 1952 before declaring it a National Monument and undertaking restoration of the parapet, chimney and roof in 1963.

Aughnanure Castle is now managed by Dúchas The Heritage Service of the Department of the Environment and Local Government.

The Castle

The castle, which stands on what is a rocky peninsula, is a particularly well preserved example of an Irish Tower house and has been described as "the finest fortified dwelling upon any part of the shores of Lough Corrib".  Though the 

castle did finally succumb to superior cannon power, the O'Flahertys knew how to protect themselves. The great rectangular Tower House is protected inside by two walls or enclosures. The inner enclosure is wedge-shaped with walls perched with gun-loops. The remains of a gatehouse and drawbridge are at the northwestern corner. On the northern side, the Drimneed River adds a natural defence line. the outer ward consisting of a large irregular enclosuer protected by a much more extensive outer bawn wall, which had five wall towers at intervals along its length, to provide a greater variety of angles from which to shoot at attackers.

Watchtower

Much of the masonry of the inner bawn wall has been demolished, but a small circular watchtower at the southeastern corner which has a very fine corbelled dome and a conical stone roof, indicates the original location of its outermost corner. A gallery encircling the top of the tower provided the sentry on duty with a complete view of the whole courtyard and its surrounding external walls while the gunports in the curving walls are a stark reminder of a once defensive intent.

The Tower-house, with battlements in the Irish style, is sited almost centrally within the inner courtyard. It is certainly one of Connacht's tallest, rising to a total of six storys above a battered or sloping base. The decorative doorway is on th eastern side away from the entrance gate to the inner bawn. High above the doorway is a machicolation, a projecting piece of masonry, from which arrows could be fired or stones dropped on intruders. Other projections, known as bartizans, where placed at third floor level, on the corners of the east wall. These were provided with gun loops for muskets.

Inside the doorway there is a guard's cubicle to the right and a stone spiral stairs rising to the upper apartments to the left. Just inside the entrance a "murder hole" allowed defenders to drop stones on any enemy who managed to enter the castle. The ground floor was used as a storeroom and for servants who would have slept in some of the low rooms sandwiched horizontally between the larger rooms. Othe rooms would have similarly been used by family members whose days were spent in the large room on the third floor, where a blazing fire in the grand fireplace, send smoke up through the chimney which rises high above the restored hipped roof.

The uppermost floor, with its wide mullioned windows is probably where the chieftain would have held court. It is now covered with a well-crafted oak roof with timbers joined by wooden dowels. The opening in the garderobe floor at this level is the only entrance to a secret chamber. This was in the haunch of the vault betwwen the floors where prisoners could be incarcerated. The battlements were reached via the stairway door in the top floor and the wall walk provided a fine field of view for the defenders of lake and surrounding countryside.

Near the south-eastern corner of the outer bawn, stand the remains of the east wall of the once thatched Banqueting Hall. The remainder of the hall fell with the collapse of the natural arch over the river on which the Banqueting Hall had been built. The one remaining wall contains two windows beautifully decorated inside and out with stone carvings. The soffit of one of them bears some carvings of grapes, suggesting that wine was enjoyed there by the O'Flahertys, and particularly by Morogh, who may have imported it from France and Spain through the city of Galway.

There is a legend that unpopular guests were sometimes disposed of through a trap door into the subterranean river which ran under the hall.

The Castle also has associations with Grace O' Malley also known as Grainuale or the Pirate Queen,as she married one of the O'Flahertys, Donal of the Battles.

 

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