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CULTURE


Whoever claimed a man’s home is his castle clearly never laid eyes on the forbidding fortress in Donegal Town


T


here’s nothing homely about this austere pile, standing guard over a bend in the Eske River. Its


stout buttresses soar upward, piercing the sky with sharply pointed gables and protruding bartizan turrets. If walls could talk, these menacing stones would surely cry: ‘KEEP OUT!’ Undeterred by the inhospitable


facade, I step inside the tower house’s gloomy basement but receive no better welcome. Three-metre-thick walls enclose around bare cobblestones that spike underfoot. Only a narrow shaſt of light creeps in through slit windows where, before the advent of glass, pigs’ bladders were stretched to keep out the draſt. By the time I reach the spiral staircase, I swear I hear the clash of swords echoing from above. “This is the Trip Stairwell,” my guide Anne explains. “The steps are intentionally uneven to make invaders stumble and fall. Mind how you go now!” Such a defensive character comes as


no surprise when considering Donegal Castle’s beleaguered past. Back in the 10th century, it’s thought rampaging


Vikings established a garrison here, a handy base for pillage and plunder. Though their fortifications leſt little trace, their legacy lives on; Donegal is said to derive from the Irish Dún na nGall meaning ‘Fort of Foreigners’. In 1497, new fortifications were


erected by the powerful O’Donnell clan and Donegal Castle became one of the greatest in Ireland. My head spins as Anne recounts the clan’s lengthy rule, fraught with warfare and rebellion, and ending with defeat against the English, letting the castle fall to English soldier, Captain Brooke, by the 1600s. Evidence of the Englishman’s taste


lies upstairs in the banqueting hall, a far more gracious sight with its rich wall tapestries, taxidermy and ornately carved fireplace inscribed with the coat of arms of the English monarchy. “Aſter Brooke, the castle was leſt in ruins for 300 years,” Anne explains. Only more recently have efforts been made to restore its former glory, in keeping with the period style. “It’s reproduced furniture here. Irish history is one war


�nguard


aſter another. Heritage pays the price,” she laments. This may be true but, with careful


restoration and passionate storytelling, I’ve certainly surrendered to the derring- do of this castle’s riveting past. Through the upper windows, I spy Donegal’s quiet streets below and I’m ready to return to their shops, pubs, teahouses and more peaceful ways of the present.


Rock steady Ireland’s oldest rock on


Inishtrahull island is formed of gneiss estimated to be 1.78 billion years old. Geologists believe it was


part of Greenland but broke away due to tectonic shifts. Gnarled and crooked, the island certainly looks its age


culture vultures


TOP FOUR FOR


1. DONEGAL CRAFT VILLAGE Forget naff giſt shops and mosey around this vibrant jumble of open- door studios where local craſtsmen flaunt their traditional wares. While souvenir aficionados are well served by bespoke lines, the village is a cultural eye-opener, allowing visitors to meet and greet sculptors, glassblowers, jewellery makers, weavers and painters in mid-creative flow. Many are eager to share their stories or offer hands-on workshops, while an onsite cafe makes a lovely pit stop for a homemade lunch. donegalcraſtvillage.com


8 natgeotraveller.co.uk


2. GRIANÁN OF AILEACH This imposing ring fort encircles an Inishowen hillock and commands views of loughs and three counties. Built upon a pre-Celtic sacred site, it became the regal residence of northern Irish kings from the sixth to the 12th century.


3. GLENVEAGH CASTLE This castellated manor was the summer bolthole for an eccentric socialite and his glitterati friends. Furnishings are suitably flamboyant: mounted antlers, tartan upholstery and exotic Japanese shrubbery. glenveaghnationalpark.ie


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