Clifden Castle is a ruined Gothic Revival style manor house situated along the epic Sky Road in Connemara. It was built circa 1818 for John D’Arcy the founder of Clifden who was born in 1785. The castle and grounds housed the large D’Arcy family and the land surrounding it was amongst some of the land drained and reclaimed by D’Arcy in the Clifden area. John D’Arcy died in 1839 and his oldest son named Hyacinth inherited the estate which covered over 17,000 acres. Unfortunately for Hyacinth he did not have the ability to run the estate as well as his father, this was further exacerbated by the beginning of the Irish Famine in 1845. Most of the tenants were no longer able to pay rent, many emigrated, and on 21st September 1846 his tenants gathered on his front lawn begging for work or food such was their destitution. The D’Arcy estate went bankrupt and all the lands including the castle were put up for sale in 1850. The castle, most of the town of Clifden, and it surrounding lands were purchased by two brothers from Bath, England, Thomas and Charles Eyre. The Eyre’s used it as a holiday home and added a new roof in the 1850s, Thomas bought Charles’ portion and in 1864 he gifted the castle and estate to his nephew John Joseph Eyre. The Eyres were absentee landlords but still used the castle intermittently until John Josephs death in 1894. After his death a trust was set up to administer the estate and its running left to agents.
The Castle soon fell into repair and was meant to be purchased in 1913 by the Congested Districts Board/Land Commission for 2,100 pounds and in turn sold to numerous former tenants but this was never fully signed off on. The former tenants set about using the land including that surrounding the castle but in 1917 a local butcher J.B. Joyce purchased the castle and the lands causing a huge amount of controversy. The people of Clifden turned against Joyce and farmers drove his cattle from his land and put their own in place. The local Catholic priest, Canon Patrick McAlpine led a sometimes violent campaign against Joyce, stating that he, “had passed the graves of grabbers and within six months he would pass the grave of the Clifden Grabber and there would be six feet of clay over him”. Eventually in 1920 a Sinn Féin arbitration court came to an agreement that Joyce should sell the land. The land was divided up amongst the tenants and the ownership of the castle was collectively owned by them, this was when the roof, windows, timber and lead were stripped away and the castle fell into ruin.
It must be said Clifden Castle is a striking structure and the winding walk to it, dotted with mock ‘standing stone’s erected by D’Arcy in honour of his children which line each side of the road is tranquil. The day of our visit we bumped into a local whose family were some of the original tenants of the land via the commission, he was a great source of information and spoke of how the D’Arcy family had given much food and supplies away during the famine which only further worsened their pre-existing financial problems. There is a small place to park at the top of the drive and the walk down to it shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes, well worth a stop when driving the Sky Road.
GPS: 53.49164, -10.05659