I left Doolin early, making my way toward the Burren. In the morning mist, I could see a tower in the distance. I found the entrance to Ballinalacken Castle near the intersection of R477 and R479, near Lisdoonvarna, Fanore and Doolin in Killilagh parish, County Clare, Ireland.

Ballinalacken Castle in the morning mist

Ballinalacken Castle in the morning mist

The Gaelic name for the castle is Baile na leachan or Beal Áth na Leacha.  Baile na leachan means “town of the stones” in Gaelic, perhaps flagstones or tombstones.  Beal Áth na Leacha means “ford of flagstones” in Gaelic.

Ballinalacken Castle is a tower house. No one is really sure when it was originally built, but probably around the 15th or early 16th century, likely on the remains of earlier fortifications.  In the late 14th century, Lochlan MacCon O’Connor reportedly built or rebuilt a fortress at the site.  But most of the history of this castle was with the O’Brien family.

In 1564 the O’Connors lost their territory and in 1584/5 the castle was formally ceded to Sir Turlough O’Brien.

The O’Briens of Thomond owned much land and many castles. Sir Turlough O’Brien was made High Sheriff of Clare in 1578. His brother, Domhnall, became Protestant Bishop elect of Killaloe. At one point, Sir Turlough owned over 2,000 acres and numerous castles, all around the Burren. When the area was under threat from the Spanish Armada, a Spanish fleet sent with an army to invade England, Sir Turlough O’Brien was given license to arrest and torture any Spaniards he found.

Ballinalacken Castle is a tower house.  It is surrounded by a bawn, a fortified court or enclosure of stone. The walls are used in this area to enclose cattle.

In early medieval Ireland
“Livestock, being the most valuable asset of a pastoral people as well as the easiest prey, had to be protected. It was therefore essential to enclose the area around the dwelling so that the cattle might be driven in at night or in time of trouble. These enclosures were the direct descendents of the ringforts and cashels, and were known as bawns. The bawn and its wall survive in use for centuries, and can still be seen attached to inhabited residences today…”

The Houses of Ireland (A Studio Book)
Brian de Breffny, Rosemary ffolliot, George Mott

Corbelled, Machicolated Gate on Ballinalacken Castle Tower

Corbelled, Machicolated Gate on Ballinalacken Castle Tower

You can see the corbelled, machicolated gate on the tower.  A corbel is a projection jutting out from the wall. The corbel supports a floor with a machicolate, an opening to pour stones or boiling water or oil onto attackers.

The facing porter’s lodge has circular stairs leading to three floors. The top floor has a wall walk. There is a chimney dated 1641. The lodge portion of the castle is also machicolated.

Ballinalacken Castle seems to have been built in two stages. The tower built first, then later joined to the porter’s lodge.

Ballinalacken Castle tower house resembles nearby Leamaneh Castle. Leamaneh Castle is 5-story tower house, also built around the 15th or early 16th century, probably around 1480-90. It is supposed to have been built by one of the last of the High Kings of Ireland, Toirdelbhach Donn MacTadhg Ó Briain, King of Thomond of the O’Brien family. Leamaneh Castle is also in ruins. It is between Corofin and Kilfenora, County Clare, Ireland.

Ballinalacken Castle remained in the O’Brien family through centuries of wars and upheavals, possession passing to a different branch of the family in the middle of the 18th century. It was briefly owned by a Captain Hamilton through the 1667 Act of Settlement, but was soon back in O’Brien hands.

In the 1840s a house was built nearby, probably by Lord John O’Brien. Ballinalacken Castle and Ballinalacken House were purchased from the O’Briens by the O’Callaghan family in 1939. Ballinalacken House is a guest house. You can still stay there.

Ballinalacken Castle from Doolin Harbour, Ireland

Ballinalacken Castle from Doolin Harbour, Ireland


Ballinalacken Castle from Doolin Harbour, Ireland

Ballinalacken Castle from Doolin Harbour, Ireland

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