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Northburgh Castle

The impressive ruins of Northburgh Castle sit in the heart of the scenic fishing village of Greencastle on the eastern coast of the Inishowen Peninsula.

Northburgh Castle was built in 1305 by the powerful Anglo-Norman Richard de Burgo, 2nd Earl of Ulster, also known as The Red Earl. At the time he had much of Ireland under his control except for the Inishowen Peninsula and Tir Connail. These remained the territory of the O’Donnell’s and the O’Doherty’s thanks in large part to help they received from Scotland.

The Earl built Northburgh right at the mouth of Lough Foyle for two main reasons. The first was to guard the entrance to the Lough from potential invasion from Scotland and the second was to subdue the O’Donnells and reduce their influence in the north-west.

Scottish Invasion

Richard de Burgo was right to worry about Scottish invasion. In 1315, not long after his victory at the Battle of Bannockburn, Robert I of Scotland sent his brother Edward to win the crown of Ireland. Edward captured Northburgh Castle in 1316.

Edward Bruce held the castle for two years until his death in 1318 at which point Richard de Burgo reclaimed the castle.

When Richard retired, his earldom and the castle passed to his grandson William, 3rd Earl of Ulster, also known as the Brown Earl. Richard’s cousin, Walter was appointed as one of the guardians of the late Earl’s lands. However, he aggrandised himself as Lord of Connacht.

In 1330 this led to open warfare between William and Walter. In November 1331 Walter and his two brothers were captured and imprisoned in Northburgh Castle. Walter was subsequently cruelly starved to death in the castle dungeons. Local folklore has it that the skeleton on the nearby City of Derry's coat of arms is a depiction of Walter, however historical studies have concluded that it's unlikely.

Greencastle's Downfall

This family feud began the downfall of the Earldom of Ulster under the de Burgo family. William was murdered at Carrickfergus by Walter’s sister and the area descended into a number of factions.

The O’Donnells established themselves as Lords of Inishowen early in the 15th Century and the allowed their dependants the O’Doherty’s to occupy Northburgh.

In 1541 the castle was in the hands of Sean Mor O’Doherty. He submitted to King Henry VIII of England and was given the title Sir John Mor O’Doherty. In 1555 his brother-in-law, Calvach, fell out with his father-in-law and attacked Northburgh with the help of Scottish forces and the famous Gonna Cam (The Crooked Gun).

Northburgh Castle was left more or less in the state we see it today. Around the time of the Ulster Plantation in the 1600s the castle came under the control of the Lord Deputy of Ireland. He made a small number of repairs and garrisoned English troops here for a time, but by 1700 it was completely ruined.

The castle remains in the care of the Government of Ireland. It is accessible to the public both from the town and from the shore. There are no visitor facilities here, though maps and information boards are present around the village and along the shore walk.

Status: Ruin
Owner: Government of Ireland
Opening Times: Open access from the village and shore.

Northburgh Castle from the shore
Northburgh Castle from the shore

Looking on to Lough Foyle from the castle
Looking on to Lough Foyle from the castle

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