Thursday, September 15, 2016

Guest Blog: Donegal Castle

This is our academic blog post on Donegal Castle. This blog contains the adventures of Brad, Meghann, Elizabeth, and Eva.

Meghann and Elizabeth had fun exploring the castle after the tour was done and snapped a few pictures for fun.


Medieval Ireland was a dark and bloody place. The Irish built fortresses of defense against their enemies. Unlike the castles in England which were seats of power and villages, Irish castles consisted mainly of a utilitarian tower and wall to retreat to in times of strife.
The lower levels of the Donegal Castle
Steep, spiral stairs

A model of the original castle
Donegal castle, like most of Ireland's other castles, was built to last. The walls are three meters thick to resist the thunder of battering rams and catapults. The castle has a barrel vaulted ceiling. It was built by placing rocks on a wooden triangular support and packing the cracks between the rocks with mortar. The mortar was made out of horse hair, animal blood, egg yolk, sand, and crushed shells. The lower level is very dark since the only windows are narrow slits for the archers to shoot out of. On the interior, the wall around these windows angled back to give the defenders an advantage. This is called an embrasure. The opening itself was covered with stretched pig intestines since there was no glass at that time. The stairs to get to the upper levels of the tower are tight spiral stairs turning in a clockwise direction. Since most swordsmen are right handed, this gives the defenders an advantage. The defenders are free to strike from above, but the attacker has the hassle of his sword arm being trapped against the wall. The stone of the steps are purposefully arranged to have varying heights and widths to distract and trip any attackers.

Barrel Vaulted Ceiling

Life at that time was hard and focused strictly on survival. The people had little comforts. The lower level of the tower were the storehouses and kitchens where only servants entered. Only the chieftains had boots to protect their feet from the hard slap of bare feet against cold cobblestones. So the servants spread straw on the floor to protect their bare feet.
Model of the castle after the English added onto it.

What the Castle looks like now.

The ruins of the building that the English added onto the castle.

The castle was built in 1474 for the purpose of defense. This is still noticeable on the lower level which is the original structure. The O’Donnell family is the Irish chieftain family which originally built Donegal Castle.When they led a rebellion against the British, they were defeated and the castle was taken by the Brooke family. The Brooke family then added a second level to the castle and a whole new building. The first level is much darker with sloped entrances, symbolizing its defensive structure. The second level, on the other hand, is much brighter with decorative carvings and wood floors. This was where the family dined. The third level was their living quarters.

The fireplace for the women.

Dinner table and fireplace.

When first built, there were very few windows because it wasn't safe to have large openings that enemies could shoot you through, but once English gained control, they added lots of large windows. From the outside, you can see many tall points that make it look like a castle we imagine in our heads. However, when first built it was much flatter and those points were added later by the English. The castle has fireplaces for heat during that time, but more were added by the English. In the large dining hall in the upper castle, there were two large fireplaces. One fireplace was for men to dine and talk about the politics of the day while their wives could sit by the other and sew.

Donegal Castle holds a lot of history and unique characteristics that reflect the time of both families during their reign. For the most part, the castle still looks like it first did when the families lived there.  It was also interesting to consider the differences between castles in Ireland and  those in England. The castles in England and Scotland had enormous structures and walls. In Ireland, while great, the castles are far smaller. Our guide explained that since the kings in Ireland were fighting each other constantly, they built strong towers to protect their property. Irish Castles were made to protect property while the castles in England and Scotland, although they were powerful fortresses, they were made to hold entire communities.

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