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Strange but True: Ancient Irish castle is now an unusual golf course hazard

Bojan Ivanov

A lonely half ruined structure placed between some vast green valley and the endless blue sky is not an unusual image. Such forgotten man-made objects “stuck” literally in the middle of nowhere can be seen all around the world. These captivating architectural pieces admirably blend with the surrounding magnificence of nature, and that connection creates genuine pieces of art.

Areas like this are not only unknowingly used by wandering souls for divine inspiration and day dreaming, but they silently speak a lot of stories too. Usually those stories are epic ones, especially when the abandoned ruin is a medieval castle.

The surviving wall of the tower house/ Author: Bob Jones – CC BY-SA 2.0

The surviving wall of the tower house/ Author: Bob Jones – CC BY-SA 2.0

Dough Castle (or what’s left of it), situated just north of the residential area of the small town of Lahinch in County Clare, Ireland, more or less possesses the above mentioned attributes. It was initially constructed in 1306 by the O’Connor Clan, Lords of Corcomroe, as their main castle. In those days it was known as Dumhach Ui Chonchuir, which means O’Connor’s Sandbank.

A shocking event occurred in the castle in 1471, which later happened to be in some way essential for the town of Lahinch: the chieftain was murdered by his nephews and his body was buried at the end of today’s main street of Lahinach. A cairn was built in his honor and actually this gave the official Irish name of the town: Leacht Ui Chonchuir (O’Connor’s cairn/ grave). But Lahinch is not associated with the old Irish name; it is the anglicized form of Leath Inse, which means peninsula.

A lonely remainder of the past/ Author: Chairego apc – CC BY-SA 4.0

A lonely remainder of the past/ Author: Chairego apc – CC BY-SA 4.0

The castle later belonged to the O’Brien Clan, who overthrew the O’Connors during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. By the end of the 16th century it became one of their most important fortifications, but today there is nothing left of the original 14th century structure.

Now the ruin is part of a golf club/ Author: Tim Murphy – CC BY-SA 2.0

Now the ruin is part of a golf club/ Author: Tim Murphy – CC BY-SA 2.0

It survived a campaign ordered by the English Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell in 1654 to destroy all of the Irish castles in Connaught and Clare only because Col. Stubber, one of the officers in Cromwell’s army, decided to honor an event that happened 13 years earlier.

During the Irish uprising of 1641, David O’Brien had protected the English settlers whose life was put in danger. Col. Stubber made sure Dough Castle was left untouched and undamaged. According a document from 1675, which gives a detailed image of the castle, it was still in one piece. The tall fortified tower had an adjoining 2 story residential building attached on one of its sides.

The castle collapsed because of the unstable ground/ Author: Joseph Mischyshyn – CC BY-SA 2.0

The castle collapsed because of the unstable ground/ Author: Joseph Mischyshyn – CC BY-SA 2.0

Even though at first the ruin gives an impression that in the distant past and during the region’s turbulent days it was heavily destroyed in battle, the reason behind its collapse is quite different.

The stronghold was built on the banks of the River Inagh, just above the meeting point of the Inagh and Dealagh rivers. The site since ancient times was recognized as strategically important because it provided perfect control over both water and land routes. But the sad truth is that the hill on which the castle was erected is predominately formed of sand.

It lies on the banks of the river Inagh/ Author: Eirian Evans – CC BY-SA 2.0

It lies on the banks of the river Inagh/ Author: Eirian Evans – CC BY-SA 2.0

This “small” detail was fatal for the castle’s destiny. Throughout the years, mostly during the 19th century, the castle has crumbled several times because of the unstable ground. The persistent stubbornness of its owners to resurrect the castle again and again on the same spot hasn’t saved it from the inevitable and almost total disintegration. However, the local stories of the castle’s demise are probably more interesting and certainly more spooky; they tell how the castle was reduced in size by mysterious forces.

According folk lore, it is believed that the nearby sandbanks are the territory of the King of the Sidhe (fairies), Donn Dumhach, who is also known as the Lord of the Dead. The sand hill, which is placed close to the town’s bridge, is believed to be haunted by various spirits who presumably turned from protectors of the castle to its destroyers after some upset.

The reflection of the castle in the river’s water/ Author: Eirian Evans – CC BY-SA 2.0

The reflection of the castle in the river’s water/ Author: Eirian Evans – CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1927 the remains of the castle became included in the newly founded Lahinch Golf Club as the club’s 7th hole. Now only one wall from the tower house, which is approximately four stories high, still stands. A few stones can be seen scattered around too. Despite its ruined state it is one of the most famous landmarks in North Clare and along Ireland’s western coastline.