Carrickabraghy Castle, at the head of Pollan Bay, is one of the most widely-recognized Ó Dochartaigh castles in Inishowen. It was strategically positioned atop a rocky outcrop defending the Ó Dochartaighs' remote Isle of Doagh in the far north of Inishowen. The Isle of Doagh is a promontory surrounded by the sea and was, in historic eras, cut off from the rest of Ó Dochartaigh territory by a bog-like region—only being accessible at low tide.
The area, today known as "the Castles", historically consisted of the central square keep that we see today, but was also surrounded by an oval bawn or defensive wall, divided by into an outer and inner ward. Along the bawn were seven round towers. Furthermore, to the south of the keep was a small tower which is believed to have been part of a church. Many of Carrickabraghy's walls were nearly four feet thick.
History of Carrickabraghy Castle
Carrickabraghy Castle was inhabited by the branch of the Ó Docharthaighs called "Breasalie". While most Ó Docharthaigh chieftains were from the southern Elagh-branch, it was from this northern family that Gerald Ó Docharthaigh ruled as Chieftain of the Ó Docharthaighs and Lord of Inishowen from 1526-1540. Design features of the Castle relating to technological developments date the original construction of the now-restored keep and tower, as well as nearby existing ruined remains, to about this era, which would suggest the Castle may have been built during Gerald's rule.
Carrickabraghy, or Carraig Bhrachaidhe, means "rock of Bhrachaidhe"—Bhrachaidhe being a personal name belonging to an ancestor of Clann Fheargusa. Over a dozen entries in the Annals between 835-1215 AD, mention the Lords of Carraig Bhrachaidhe, one of three early kingdoms within Inishowen, most of whom were from the Ó Maolfhabhaill (McFaul) family. This likely indicates the existence of earlier fortifications at the site, prior to the Ó Docharthaigh construction.
Gerald's son, Felim the Bresalaigh Ó Dochartaigh, lived in Carrickabraghy Castle during the late 1500s and the dawn of the 1600s. The Ó Dochartaigh Chieftain, Sean og Ó Dochartaigh, who was the Lord of Inishowen during English invasion period, stowed all his livestock and supplies on the Isle of Doagh under the keeping of his clansman Felim, as the English were unfamiliar with Doagh which, being more like an Island then, was only accessible at low tide.
In May 1601, shortly after the sudden death of Sean og Ó Dochartaigh, the sands of Pollan near Carrickabraghy Castle, was the site of a bloody battle between Hugh Roe Ó Donnell and Hugh Boy McDevitt to determine which Ó Dochartaigh would be the next Chieftain. The McDevitts won and Sean og's son, the young Cahir Ó Dogherty, was assured Chieftainship.
Sir Cahir Ó Dogherty assumed Chieftainship when he became of age and prospered well until 1607 after the Flight of the Earls to seek protection in the Spanish territories in Europe. The English became fearful that the Gaelic Earls would return with Spanish military forces and that Sir Cahir would be involved. In Autumn of 1607 when Sir Cahir and some men went to Kilmacrennan to cut timber for repairing a castle, English spies reported he was mobilizing for a rebellion. Hearing the suspicions and fearing his life Sir Cahir went into hiding at Carrickabraghy.
After the Ó Dogherty Rebellion in 1608, the castle is mentioned in the inquisition of 1621. Later records indicate it may have been uninhabited in 1665, though it appears very prominent and with great detail on Thomas Phillips’ Map dated 1693. The site was also marked on Senex’ 1712 Map of Ireland, but was in ruins by the time of the Ordinance Survey Memoirs in the 1830s.
Carriackabraghy Castle Today
Until recently Carrickabraghy Castle was not only in ruins, but dangerously close to collapsing. In order to preserve this important piece of our heritage, the Carrickabraghy Restoration Society was formed in 2010. The first phase of the conservation project was funded by a substantial grant from the National Rural Development LEADER Programme and over €30,000 in private funds from local fundraising and donations from all across the world. Historians, archaeologist, engineers, and masons were employed on the project, which included to immediately stabilize the remains, investigate the ruins, excavate the fallen stones from the soil for restoration, locate the foundations, use the stones to repair and rebuild sections of damaged and fallen walls, and to install interpretive signs. This first phase of the work was completed by December 2013. You can view photos of the amazing 2013 restoration at carrickabraghycastle.com/gallery.
Located in the Parish of Clonmany in Inishowen, Carrickabraghy Castle is one of the most well-known Ó Dochartaigh castles today and is visited by many tourists every year. The Carrickabraghy Restoration Society freely welcomes visitors from all over the world to Carrickabraghy Castle and hopes you will visit on your next trip. Funding is still needed for both maintenance as well as additional archaeological fieldwork to understand more about this important historic site. Visit their site, carrickabraghycastle.com, to learn more about the Castle and donate to support the restoration work! Also, be sure to like them on Facebook!
Click the thumbnails below to open the photos in a larger viewer!
Patricia Stratford from the Carrickabraghy Restoration Society talking about the Carrickabraghy Castle Restoration Project.
Patricia Stratford from the Carrickabraghy Restoration Society giving a talk on the history of the O’ Dohertys and Carrickabraghy Castle.
Other Resources to Check out
If you haven't already, make sure to visit carrickabraghycastle.com for all things relating to the Castle!
Be sure to reach out to the Carrickabraghy Restoration Society on Facebook with any questions about visiting.
The site is easily accessible by vehicle and is tourist friendly.