February talk: Carrickabraghy

On March 8, 2013 by admin

The guest speaker for our talk on Thursday, 28th February 2013 was Marius Ó hEarcáin from the Carrickabraghy Restoration Society – a project that has received great support within and outside Inishowen for its determination to prevent any further loss of our heritage and all aspects of its wealth.

The idea to preserve the castle on the Isle of Doagh rose from the experience of the Mc Glinchey Summer School, which took place annually from 1998 to 2007, tirelessly promoting and preserving the local culture and traditions of Inishowen. The summer school was named after a local Clonmany man, Charles Mc Glinchey, who’s stories and memories had been written down 50 years earlier by Patrick Kavanagh, the schoolmaster of Gaddyduff National School. After the manuscript had been laying forgotten for some years, it was re-discovered by the son of the late Patrick Kavanagh, Desmond, who was advised by Seamus Heaney to give it to Brian Friel to edit the manuscript in to a book. It was subsequently published in 1986 under the title “The last of the Name” and has been one of the most wonderful books coming out of Inishowen for some time and an inspiration, as a result, for many. One of them was the first summer school in Clonmany, two years later. After a very successful decade of the Mc Glinchey Summer School, its ideas and aspirations were continued with a new and much needed project to preserve the ruin of Carrickabraghy Castle. Its progressing and sad dilapidation had been observed for many years and gave rise to ever growing concern for the future of the castle, which would be lost for generations to come, if its demise could not be stopped.
The castle itself is located on the beautiful Isle of Doagh, brazing out against the waves and vigour of the great Atlantic from its commanding position on the top of a rock outcrop, the line between land and sea, facing it all. Hence its name, Brachaidhe’s rock. Carraic Brachaidhe also has been the name for the western territory in the ancient division of Inishowen under the then rulership of the Maelfabhails, now anglicised  Mac Fall, who built an older castle on the spot. This family was part of the Cenél Fergusa branch of Cenél Éogain.  Both, Carraic Brachaidhe, i.e. the king of Carraic Brachaidhe and as such to some extent the Maelfabhails, are frequently mentioned from the midst of the 9th century in the Annals of Ulster and the Annals of the Four Masters. In the 12th century the powers to be changed and the O’Doherty’s became the new rulers of Inishowen, belonging to Cenél Conaill. Subsequently they fortified their newly gained position with the erection of several castles at Elagh, Burt, Inch, Buncrana and Carrickabraghy. Alterations and extensions of the castle were undertaken by the Isle of Doagh branch of the O’ Doherty’s between 1526 and 1540, the remains of which are now in the process of being preserved. The castle was occupied just before the Ulster Plantation in 1600 by Phelim O’Doherty. Sixty years later is was reported to be unoccupied for the first time in many centuries, leaving it to the merciless condition of the Atlantic coast.
The final year of the Mc Glinchey Summer School featured “Carrickabraghy – A Window into our Past”, marking the start of the first conservation project in Inishowen. A working group was formed, consisting of members of the summer school, to undertake the difficult process of such enterprise.
The ownership of the castle was established and ‘initial reports commissioned from an engineer, an archaeologist and a conservation architect, indicating that remedial work is urgently needed in order to avoid complete collapse of the remaining structure’. Four drawings by Captain William Smith from the Royal Engineers were also discovered in the collections of Trinity College Dublin, made at the beginning of the eighteen hundreds during the fortification of Lough Swilly in the period of the Napoleonic War and photos were taken of the ruin from the same position as seen by Captain William Smith 200 years earlier. An application was then sent to the Heritage Council for 35,000 Euros to ‘stabilise and preserve the castle as a ruin’. Five thousand Euros were granted and used, as had been recommended,
to carry out rectified photography of every single stone and its position within the building, so it could be reconstructed in the very possible event of a collapse.

As the opportunity arose to receive funding from the LEADER Programme the Inishowen Development Partnership was approached and an application was made for a further grant towards the objectives of the project. Needles to say, filling out the book-sized application form alone is a very daunting and time consuming task, not lightly to be undertaken. Although the application was approved with enthusiasm, granting the costs for 75% of the whole project, changes made in the legislation and the resulting cuts put an end to the hopes of preservation works to begin before any further and more severe damage to the castle would occur. The group was now left with no other option than to pursue the avenue of e-tendering, causing further delay and additional costs as the contractor, granted the work, found himself in a state of insolvency.

Finally in June of last year a site meeting took place with the new contractor and the officials from the department. A preliminary archaeological investigation was then carried out in September.  The castle has now been stabilised, supporting the remaining structure to survive intact the onslaught of an Inishowen winter and the area has been fenced in since. The conservation is expected to continue in spring of this year and should be finished within six months, but as always, depending on weather permitting.
And what wonderful sight will be there once more for the beholder, locals and visitors alike, when one of the long suffering remainders of Inishowen’s past will stand proud, safe and secure and free from the decay of time.
The sheer stamina of the Carrickabraghy Conservation Project has created the greatest respect for this seemingly insurmountable challenge and hope for the fading grandeur of Inishowen’s heritage. And in the tradition of the Mc Glinchey Summer School it may become as well an inspiration to us all.
Humbled and encouraged we would like to thank Marius Ó hEarcáin for providing an inside and update on the project, which is hoped to become one day the rule rather than the exception.

For further reading and information, please visit

Carrickabraghy Castle
McGlinchey Summer School
Clonmany: The Last of the Name

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