Clifden Castle: The Complete Guide

A beautiful manor abandoned in the Irish countryside

Clifden Castle in Ireland

Bert Kaufmann/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

History

Clifden Castle is a ruined manor house that was once the stately home of John D’Arcy. D’Arcy founded the nearby town of Clifden and built the castle for his family in the early 1800s. The wealthy landowner had the castle designed in a Gothic Revival style, complete with mock turrets. The land surrounding the castle was leased to poor tenants, and the rents helped to pay for the D’Arcy family to live in Clifden Castle for two generations.

John D’Arcy left the castle to his oldest son when he died in 1839. Unfortunately, John had taken out a mortgage on the property a few years earlier and his heir Hyacinth D’Arcy did not have the same skill for estate management that his father once had.

When the potato crop failed and famine struck in 1845, the family’s dwindling income from renting the land became almost nonexistent. The starving tenants staged a group protest in front of the castle in 1846 to demand food. By 1850, the D’Arcy family was bankrupt and Clifden Castle was sold to the Eyre family.

The Eyres used the castle as a vacation home until the head of the family died in 1894. With no one coming to even visit the property, Clifden Castle soon fell into disrepair. The farmland around the manor continued to be leased out but no one has lived in the castle since the end of the 19th-century.

A local butcher bought the castle and the land in 1917, but the farmers who leased the rolling countryside around the ruins soon brought suit against the new owner for what they believed was an illegal sale of land that was rightly theirs. A cooperative of farmers was formed in 1921 to take joint ownership of the estate and it has been owned by a group ever since.

The castle is still owned by the Clifden Cooperative but has been abandoned to the elements.

What to See

The dispute for ownership of Clifden Castle was more about the farmland on the estate than about the beautiful stone home. For that reason, the castle is now a ruin without a roof to protect it from the elements.

The interior furnishings were auctioned off long ago, and someone eventually stripped the building of any remaining valuable timber and glass. Most of the exterior walls are still standing, which give a good idea of what the manor would have looked like in the 19th century.

One notable feature is the series of standing stones, which John D’Arcy had placed leading up to home to mimic the thousands of stone pillars which were erected around Ireland thousands of years ago. Many of these large stones have markings that date back to the bronze age but the Clifden stones more likely date back only to the 18th century.

The walk towards the ruin offers a glimpse of the Connemara countryside and there are likely to be cows and sheep grazing nearby. The castle itself faces Clifden Bay, which makes for a picturesque photo opportunity.

How to Visit

Clifden Castle is located just outside of the town of Clifden in the Connemara region of County Galway. The castle is ultimately only reachable on foot after a walk down a dirt track. Leaving Clifden drive just over a mile (2 kilometers) until you see the arched gateway. Parking is limited but can be found along the road. Walk back to the gateway and follow the unpaved path which leads downhill until rewarded with a view of the ruins and sparkling Clifden Bay.

The castle is technically on private property but the walkway is open for visits. There are no guided tours or opening hours, so the castle can be visited at will. However, take care because the walls are in a questionable state of repair. It is possible to walk through the ruins but not advisable for safety reasons.

What Else to Do Nearby

The Station House Museum, which is undergoing renovations through October 2018, is a small museum dedicated to the history of the railroad in the area. Located inside a small building that was once the local station house, also introduces visitors to the role of the pony and the transatlantic wireless messages that first transmitted nearby.

Take a walk through the bogland to find Derrigimlagh Discovery Point to find the spot where Guglielmo Marconi built the radio towers which sent the first wireless message across the Atlantic Ocean in 1907. It was also the site of the crash landing of aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown upon completing the first ever transatlantic flight in 1919.

If you arrive in Clifden in August, stop by the Connemara Pony Festival – a historic horse show that was established nearly 100 years ago to preserve and protect the local breed of pony. Other pony shows and parades also take place in spring and around Christmas. A full listing of events can be found through the breeder’s society.

Omey Island, which lies to the north of Clifden, is a charming rural island that can be reached at low tide. There you will find a small medieval church and a holy spot known as Saint Feichin’s well.