Imagine my delight when, on a coach tour through the rainy Irish countryside outside of the city of Galway in August 2019, what looked like a striking and majestic medieval Castle sprang into view – the tour guide told us it was ‘Dunguaire Castle’ (pronounced ‘done-wire’).
Surrounded on three sides by the waters of Galway Bay, Dunguaire Castle stands dramatically on a small rocky outcrop. Not surprisingly, it is one of the most photographed castles in all of Ireland. My snapshot above is not unique, but this one’s mine!
Only 10 minutes’ walk from the coastal village of Kinvarra and 30 kilometres from Galway City, the castle is named after King Guaire, the legendary king of Connacht. Dún means ‘fort’ in Irish. Dunguaire is more correctly a ‘tower house’ of which some 2000 examples, in various conditions, are scattered around Ireland.
Its outstanding features include a 23 metre high keep, joined to an outer curtain wall and protecting a courtyard that housed animals. A smaller tower is located near to the entrance to the courtyard. This 16th century tower house, with its simple, but striking architecture, houses an impressive banquet hall.
The O’Hynes clan are credited with having built Dunguaire as a stronghold in 1520. Later, the castle passed into the hands of the Martyns, one of the 14 tribes of Galway. Richard Martyn, Mayor of Galway, lived here until 1642. The family remained at Dunguaire until 1924 when Oliver St. John Gogarty, a famous literary figure and surgeon bought and repaired Dunguaire. The new owner’s interest coincided with a period of Celtic revival in Irish literature. It became an important meeting place for famous writers such as of WB Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and JM Synge.
The Shannon Group took over the ownership and management of the castle from the last private owner, Christobel Lady Amptill. The Shannon Group also manage other attractions in Ireland, such as The GPO Museum in Dublin and Bunratty Castle near Shannon Airport. At Bunratty, they created the concept of medieval banquets, to encourage transatlantic passengers using Shannon Airport, to spend some time exploring the area and be entertained, before flying to their onward destination.
Today, restored Dunguaire Castle gives an insight into the lifestyle of the people who might have lived there from the 16th century. Between April and October, it is open to the public for visits and tours. During the summer evenings, Dunguaire Castle serves food and wine on solid oak tables and provides great entertainment in their own version of Bunratty Castle’s banquet. The candlelit banquet hall with its thick walls is the perfect setting for a lovely evening’s entertainment of music and storytelling. A banquet perhaps fit for a king; King Guaire, the ancient King of Connaught.
I didn’t get to enjoy a banquet fit for a King on my first visit, but it’s on my list of when I’m next back at Dunguaire Castle!