Ballinalacken Castle

Ballinalacken Castle


Location: Clare County Map

Constructed: 15th century

Official site


Description of Ballinalacken Castle

Ballinalacken Castle is located in the South-eastern part of Ireland in Clare County. For those who are not very familiar with counties of Ireland it is in light green on the map. Ballinalacken Castle stands on a limestone outcrop overlooking road from Lisdoonvarna to Fanore. The name of Ballinalacken Castle comes from Irish Baile na Leacan which means “land of the flagstones” apparently referring to dolmens in the area. The building it seems a great place for ghosts, especially on a gloomy foggy day. Today it lies on the lands that belong to Lord O’Brien yet it was another famous clan of O’Connors that founded first fortification in the 10th century. Only basement of the previous structure remains today since Lochlan MacCon O’Connor rebuilt it in the 14th century. In 1554 Ballinalacken Castle passed from the O’Connor clan to O’Briens with the surrounding lands. Unlike many other castle, Ballinalacken keeps most of its original structure without remodelling and even though the wood rotted away it is simple to imagine how Ballinalacken Castle looked like in the past.



The name refers to the name of the townland of Ballynalackan (Irish Baile na Leacan, dt: "homestead of the hillside").



The ruin stands in an area called the Burren, on a limestone outcrop above the roads from Lisdoonvarna to Fanore and Doolin. Below the castle ruins is the junction of the R477 and R479 trunk roads.



Given the elevated position of the site, it is likely that fortifications were built there before, but nothing of that remains today. Lachlan MacCon O'Connor is said to have had a fort built there at the end of the 14th century.

Today's Tower House is similar to Leamaneh Castle as both buildings were built over a longer period of time. The oldest part is the tall tower to the east, believed to date from the 15th century. In 1564 the O'Connors lost their lands and in 1584-1585 the castle was officially given to Sir Turlough O'Brien. In 1654, after the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and the subsequent reorganization by Cromwellian administration, Turlough O'Connor's son Daniel petitioned the English Commission to save the house from demolition. Either he or his son, Teigue, later had an annex built on Ballinalacken Castle. Teigue's son, Donough, in turn, called himself "of Ballinalacken". The house remained in the hands of the O'Briens of Ennistymon until the mid-18th century, when it passed to another branch of the family. The O'Briens of Ballinalacken trace their descent to Turlough Don who died in 1528, as well as to the Ennistymon branch of the O'Briens founded by Sir Donald O'Brien of Dough Castle who died in 1579. In 1641/42 the castle belonged to Daniel O'Brien of Dough Castle and in 1654 an officer of Cromwell's forces ordered that the castles of Ballinalacken and Dough were spared the razing of their fortifications. Through the Settlements Act 1667, a Captain Hamilton became the proprietor of the Tower House, but the O'Briens got it back. The O'Briens were one of the most powerful families in Ireland at the time and built several castles including Ballinalacken Castle. In 1837 the owner at the time planned to have it renovated.

The bungalow-style Ballinalacken Castle Hotel, with its curved frontage, was built in the 1840s as the home of Lords O'Brien. It was probably built by John O'Brien († 1855), MP and eldest son of James and Margaret O'Brien. Margaret was widowed in 1806 and married Cornelius O'Brien. John O'Brien was the father of Peter O'Brien, 1st Baron O'Brien. The house has an open fireplace cut from a single block of marble and a circular skylight. There are also original stained glass windows and a stone helmet jewel belonging to the O'Briens. In 1938 the house was converted into a guest house.



The Tower House is surrounded by an enclosure, entered through a corbeled and machicolated gate. Tower House itself appears to have been built in two sections which were later joined together. The east wing, which is narrower and one floor higher, has a gateway with a machicole above it. A porter's lodge faces the spiral staircase leading to three floors of bedrooms. These have small windows. From the top floor there is access to a wall gallery. The main wing has a finely carved Tudor style open fireplace (dated 1641). The machicolations in this part of the building contain several loopholes.