Gailey Castle, Roscommon, Ireland

Gailey Castle is a 14th century tower house situated on the western shore of Gailey Bay, an inlet of Lough Ree. The castle was built in 1340 by William Buí O’Kelly, and housed the O’Kelly Clan who at the time were one of the leading families in South Roscommon and East Galway. At that time the castle was on the boundary of the area they controlled named Uí Máine/Hymany, all the remains of this once powerful stronghold is the ivy covered east corner and part of the south east wall. The castle became known as the home of the first Fleadh Ceol (music festival) in Ireland held in 1351. William Buí O’Kelly was concerned that the Gaelic way of life and culture was under threat and invited all the poets, brehons, bards, harpers and jesters of Ireland to the castle over the Christmas Period. Its said that the festivities continued until February 1st (St Brigids Day), the phrase ‘Fáilte Uí Cheallaigh’, the Welcome of the O’Kellys, stems from this event, meaning a great welcome! The Annals of Clonmacnoise mention a poem written at the time celebrating the fleadh, titled ‘Filidh Éireann go haointeach’ (The Poets of Ireland to one House).

The O’Kellys/Ceallaighs retained control of the castle over the next three centuries but the Cormwellian Invasion of Ireland led to tragic consequences. In 1651 Charles Coote laid siege to Gailey Castle, the O’Kellys resisted and fought back but for this they were taken to a local village known as ‘An Creagán’, meaning ‘stony hill’ and hanged en-masse on a hill just north of the settlement. This hill is now known as Hangman’s Hill, the name of the village was changed to ‘Cnoc an Chrochaire’ (Hangman’s Hill) now known as Knockcroghery, a place once known for its clay pipes and the destruction and burning of it by the Black and Tans in 1921.

As noted earlier the castle is in a very poor state however the views across Lough Ree and Gailey Bay give an insight into how fantastic a place it must have been to experience the first Fleadh Ceol in Irish History! 

GPS: 53.57815, -8.06578

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