Ballymote Castle is a late 13th or early 14th Century enclosure castle. When it was built it was one of the strongest castles in Connaught and today it remains as an impressive ruin on the edge of Ballymote village.
Ballymote Castle was originally constructed by Richard de Burgo, the Red Earl of Ulster. He was the 2nd Earl of Ulster and 3rd Baron of Connaught and one of the most powerful Anglo-Normal nobles of the time.
The Red Earl had pursued aggressive expansionist policies in County Sligo and he needed a strong keep to defend his new territories. He was also a friend of King Edward I of England and it's probably no coincidence that Ballymote Castle shows some similarities to Edward's imposing fortress at Beaumaris in Wales.
The enclosing walls at Ballymote are about 3 metres thick. Its gatehouse, situated in the north wall, had twin D-shaped towers which are now sadly ruinous. The castle never had a keep and there is no trace left of any buildings that may have been in the central courtyard.
The thick walls have a passageway running through them that allowed access to the towers and parapet at different heights. The enclosure is more or less square and there are round towers at each of the four corners. In addition the east and west walls each have an addition round tower in their middle.
To complete the symmetry it seems that a tower and postern gate was planned for the south wall, but it was never completed, possibly due to the castle's capture by the O'Connors in 1317.
Ballymote needed to be a strong castle. It was to be at the centre of local conflicts for centuries after its construction.
Ballymote was captured by the O'Connors of Sligo in 1317 and taken again in 1347. By 1381 it was in the hands of the McDonagh clan. It appears that the castle passed back and forth between the two clans a few times in the 14th and 15th Centuries, but neither seems to have actually lived in it after 1320 or so.
By 1584 Ballymote Castle had come into the possession of the English Crown. It was taken by the Governor of Connaught Richard Bingham. Bingham's tenure was not an easy one and by 1586 Connaught was in full revolt.
In 1588 Ballymote was attacked by the O'Dowds, O'Connors and O'Hartes.
By 1600 the castle was in the hands of Red Hugh O'Donnell and it is thought that it was from here that he rode to the fateful defeat at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601.
Ballymote continued passing back and forth between the English forces of King James II and local clans, even though it was already in a poor state of repair when the O'Donnells gave it up in 1602.
During the Williamite invasion of Ireland in the late 17th Century Ballymote was held by Captain Terence MacDonagh. It was captured by Arthur Forbes, 1st Earl Forbes on behalf of King William III and it was subsequently slighted and allowed to fall into ruin.
Today the castle is in the hands of the Office of Public Works. It backs on to Ballymote Town Park and is accessible through the grounds of Ballymote Community Nursing Unit.
There are no facilities available at the castle itself however it is in the village of Ballymote and there are nearby cafes and car parking.
Access to the keep is possible. A key is available, in exchange for a small deposit, from the Enterprise Centre on Grattan Street. The centre also has an information leaflet about the castle. Contact the centre directly on +353 (0)71 918 3992 for further details of opening times.
Status: Historic Monument
Owner: Office of Public Works
Tel: (Enterprise Centre) +353 (0)71 918 3992
Opening Times: Daily Monday to Friday 9am-5pm and some weekends
Ballymote Castle gatehouse and north wall
Interior courtyard view