Dunlough Castle, also known as Three Castle Head, is undoubtedly one of the most captivating and spectacular castle ruins in Ireland. The castle consists of three towers connected by a rampart wall around 7metres in height. Dunlough known in Irish as Dun a Locha, the fort of the lake, was built in 1207 by Donagh O’Mahony and even to this day it is easy to see why the fort was practically impenetrable. The wall runs from the edge of 100 metre cliffs, on the western headland above Mizen Head, and links each of the three towers connecting them to the lake continuing around the north side of the lake and down the northern face of the peninsula. The castle and its walls are constructed without cement or lime, just a mixture of local “blue till” and dry stone masonry. The stones of the area are relatively flat and regular in shape so did not need to be cut after they were quarried. Around 40 acres of land lie behind the walls of the castle, this was known as the ‘island’ and it rises sharply behind the castle, again providing excellent defensive capabilities for both land and sea attacks.
Donagh O’Mahony was an adventurer and a traveller on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, renowned for his generosity Donagh built this castle shortly after the Anglo-Norman invasion, it is believed it is built on the site of an earlier promontory fort. Due to its remoteness it is not believed that Dunlough was ever attacked, and the O’Mahony family remained there for over 400 years until the castle was confiscated by the British crown in 1627.
Perhaps due to the haunting atmosphere of the place Dunlough has many legends attached to it. The last family to reside in the castle was said to be the O’Donohue’s, all of whom died tragically of murder or suicide. Local folklore tells of a drop of blood dropping daily from the tower into the lake. There have also been reports of an enchanted white “lady of the Lake”, and if one sees her they will die imminently. Other stories tell of gold hidden in the lake that has never been found, and also buried treasure below the castles that if discovered would only bring bad luck to its finders.
The castle is situated on private land which the public have thankfully been allowed to access, with a suggested 3euro donation, the walk from the car-park is around half an hour and is certainly worth it. I cannot recommend a visit to Dunlough enough, its atmosphere, its beauty and its desolation makes one feel like you really are at the end of the earth.
GPS: 51.48269, -9.82931