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Castles Of Ireland- Aughnanure Castle

Aughnanure Castle is located just outside the town of Oughterard in County Galway, Ireland. This page is dedicated to the castle's fascinating history and features.

Aughnanure Castle, Oughterrard, County Galway, is one of the best medieval castles in Ireland.

The O’Flahertys

The O’Flahertys were driven out of the lands that were to be developed into the town of Galway by the incoming Normans during the 13th century. The O’Flaherty’s were a proud and fierce clan who never forgot the insult.

Mullioned window at Aughnanure Castle, Oughterrard, County Galway, one of the best medieval castles in Ireland.

They remained in conflict with the city as well as with rural Norman families until well into the 16th century. They were known to the largely English speaking Galwegians as ‘mountainous and wild people’ who came to rob and threaten them.

Aughnanure Castle located some 15 miles from Galway town became their strongest bastion against the Normans in the south and east and against the town of Galway who controlled sea traffic into Lough Corrib.

One Of The Most Unique Castles Of Ireland

Aughnanure is a very unique sort of a castle.
If you have visited some of the Anglo-Norman castles of Ireland such as Claregalway Castle, Annaghdown Castle, or English Plantation castles such as Parke’s Castle, you will have observed the straight lines and neat orderly finishes applied there which to my mind reflect how Anglo- Norman and later English society was very ordered and structured.

Internal door at Aughnanure Castle, Oughterrard, County Galway, one of the best medieval castles in Ireland.

To the attentive eye, Aughnanure shows how the life style of Gaelic tribes varied greatly to that of the Anglo- Normans. Aughnanure was, after all the rough and ready abode of the wild O’Flaherty clan who dominated much of West County Galway and Mayo tormenting and terrifying  the citizens of the town who erected a plaque over the western town gate which read: “This Gate was  erected to protect us from the ferocious O’Flahertys”.

This Gaelic castle however, has a much more rustic and rough finish. Gaelic chieftains, even as late as the 16th century, were still living lives close to those of their ancient ancestors who loved nature and lived in harmony with it.

Many Gaelic castle owners would not permanently reside at the castle but would prefer to be out in nature during the summer months where they might hunt or follow their cattle and celebrate outdoor feasts staying in temporary huts or residential halls erected quickly for that purpose, or even in age old stone forts built by their ancestors.

The Harbour

The O’ Flaherties were sea faring, trading with faraway places such as Spain and France as witnessed by the remaining stone carvings in the window frames of the banqueting hall. To suit their needs they incorporated a small harbour into the castle.

Former port at Aughnanure Castle, Oughterrard, County Galway, one of the best medieval castles in Ireland.

They created a break in the bawn wall for a small water inlet where they could dock their boats. The photo above shows the castle as seen from the former port.

The  river was drained in the 1950ies lowering the water levels. Back in the day the castle was surrounded by water on three sides, and the water was quite fierce and wide and difficult to cross. Therefore, their safety was not really compromised by the gap in the defensive wall.

A Secret Chamber

A secret chamber was found at Aughnanure Castle. It is located in the main keep where a hole in the  the floor of the garderobe is the only entrance to it. Although very small, this chamber was probably designed as an oubliette.

Defensive stairway at Aughnanure Castle, Oughterrard, County Galway, one of the best medieval castles in Ireland.

A Secret Trap Door

One of the wildest features at Aughnanure Castle was a trap door in the floor of the banqueting hall which allowed for a surprise attack and instant disposal of unwanted visitors into the fast flowing river below.

Use of this gruesome facility was indeed practised and is documented historically. During the 16th century, the son of an Anglo- Norman lord was sent to the O’Flaherties to demand and collect payment due to the ‘overlord’. The O’Flaherties drowned him through this trap door, then cut off his head and sent it back to the father in a bag. (Oh, the medieval niceties!)

The Defeat Of Aughnanure Castle

By the 16th century, most Irish chieftains had submitted to the Crown, and most of the country was conquered. In the West of Ireland however, remote and difficult to access places remained and often gave Gaelic chieftains the upper hand. There were no proper maps which made matter worse. Artillery was cumbersome to transport.

It was these circumstances which granted castles like Aughnanure an extended lease of life. In reality, the means to overcome their defences had long been invented, and they became easier and easier to access, too, especially with the help of rivals who had sided with the English.

Aughnanure Castle, Oughterrard, County Galway, is one of the best medieval castles in Ireland.

Annaghdown Castle,
County Galway

Related Pages

The O’Flaherty’s were eventually defeated by the English at Aughnanure in 1572 with the use of heavy artillery. They were planning a rebellion, but were betrayed by one of their own kinsmen who had changed sides over to the English three years earlier, Morogh na dTuadh (‘of the battle axes’). 

He was a minor member of the O’Flaherty clan, but the English granted the castle to him subsequently. Much of the Tudor colonialization of Ireland was won in this way where one part of a clan was set up against another by using ‘pardons’ by the Queen or a strategically used policy of ‘surrender and re-grant’ which caused much such chaos.

Aughnanure Castle makes for a great castle visit for the whole family and if you haven't been yet, we say, go!

If you love castles, take our medieval castle quiz and learn as you go!

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