Clough Oughter Castle, Killeshandra, Co. Cavan

Clough Oughter Castle is part of the Marble Arch Geopark, and is situated beside the picturesque Killykeen Forest Park which is noted for its easily accessible nature walks, and for its wildlife and bird habitats as well as a massive diversity of flora and fauna.

The castle itself sits on a Crannog (man made island) and so is only accessible by boat or canoe. (Canoes can be rented from Cavan Canoe Centre who also offer  guided daytrips to the castle by Canadian Canoe).  From land the castle can be viewed from several easily accessible locations

The Lough Oughter Lake system, which is a part of the River Erne that flows through Belturbet  is an area of diverse wildlife and is an area legally protected in terms of conservation. Huge populations of Whooping Swans, Herons, Glebes, and other birds use the lake system, and because the lake system is unsuitable for larger boats, it is a quiet ecofriendly place to escape to nature.
The lake system is huge and it would take days if not weeks to explore by canoe or small boat, which makes this a paradise in the making for ecotourism or for anyone seeking a retreat to nature.  This is the wonderfully Irish, and truly unique setting for one of Cavan’s most famous landmarks, Clough Oughter Castle.

History of Clough Oughter

Clough is the Gaelic word for stone, so literally this is Castle of Stone. The island was made by man, and the castle which sits upon it was also made by man and one can only speculate as to what a marvellous feat of engineering it took to accomplish such a build.

The castle would have been part of the historical kingdom of Breifne, and specifically a part of  East Breifne, (Roughly speaking the same borders as modern day Cavan).  It is likely that the Crannog itself came sometime before the castle, and in the latter part of the 12th century, it was under the control of the O’Rourke clan, but with the invasion of the Anglo Normans, the crannog came to be controlled by the Anglo-Norman  William Gorm De Lacy. No concrete dates exist for the construction of the castle, but architectural elements from the lower two storeys suggest it was begun during the early 13th century.

In 1233, the O’Reilly clan gained possession of the castle. They seem to have retained the castle for centuries throughout ongoing conflicts with the O’Rourkes, and indeed with members of their own clan. Philip O’Reilly was imprisoned here in the 1360’s with “no allowance save a sheaf of oats for day and night and a cup of water, so that he was compelled to drink his own urine”.

After the Ulster Plantation, the castle was given to servitor Hugh Culme. Philip O’Reilly who was a Cavan MP and leader of the rebel forces during the Rebellion of 1641  seized control of the castle and kept it as an island fortress for the next decade. During this period it was mainly used as a prison. Its most notable prisoner would have been the Anglican Bishop of Kilmore, William Bedell, who was held here and is said to have died because of the harsh winter conditions in the prison.

Clough Oughter castle became the last remaining stronghold for the rebels during the Cromwell era, but sometime in March of 1653 the castle fell to Cromwells canons. The castle walls were breached by the canon and the castle was never rebuilt after this point.

Visitors will be astounded to note the thickness of the walls which can now be seen because of the canon bombardment. The island and the castle have received considerable refurbishments since 1987, making it safe to visit, and well worth the visit.

For more information Contact Discover Belturbet. Trail maps and tourist information are available from the Railway Station in Belturbet along with information on locally run tours.

Click here for more information on Cavan’s Marble Arch Geopark