Burt Castle, County Donegal

Illustrated Dublin Journal, Volume 1, Number 19
January 11, 1862

THE ruins of Burt Castle are situated on an eminence distinguished as the Castlehill, on the southern shore of Lough Swilly. It was a quadrangular structure, with circular towers at its alternate angles, and was evidently a place of some strength, as there are many embrasures for cannon, and the walls are from four to five feet in thickness, while the merlons of blue purbeck stone are perforated for musketry.

You enter, by a ruined archway, what was once the great hall—once, perhaps, the scene of feudal splendour, garnished with the trophies of warfare or the chase, and resounding with the revelry of wine and wassail. The vaulted ceiling, of this, and all other apartments immediately above it, have fallen in, rendering the chambers of the northern tower inaccessible, except by means of ladders. Turning to the left, you ascend by a spiral stone stair, at each window of which there is a circular room lighted by a few embrasures, and vaulted with stone, for no wood has ever been used in any part of the building.

From the top the prospect is uncommonly grand and expansive, extending over a space of not less than fifty miles by thirty-seven. Within the circuit of five miles from its base, stood the ruins of several religious edifices, besides another castle at Rathmelton, one at Drumbuoy, and one at Castleforward; but the castles at Inch and Ailagh, with Burt Castle, were border fortresses of “The O'Doherty,” the strength of which availed more than the justice of the tenure, in preserving their patrimonial territories to the chieftains of that noble house. Of these, Ailagh, situated within three miles of Derry, was by far the most ancient and important.

Burt Castle was most probably erected during the commotions that ensued during the vice-royalty of Kildare, in the reign of Henry VIII. A medallion of that date, with the armorial bearings of “The O'Doherty,” and a coin dated from the accession of Edward VI., have been found in its vicinage.

In the year 1318 we find the chieftain of Ennishowen affianced to the daughter of the grand northern dynasty, O'Neill, as a reward for his services during the invasion of Ireland by Edward Bruce. Again we find the name of O'Doherty in the list of those chieftains who perished in the battle of Knoctore, in 1492. Thenceforward there is little mention of that family, till Sir John began, in the reign of Eward VI., to offer a resistance to the measures of the English government, as determined as it was unavailing; and dying, he bequeathed his estates and his misfortunes to his son and successor, Sir Cahir, who saw the impending ruin of his house, and vainly laboured to avert its fall. His estates were confiscated in 1608, and he went down, after a fearful and unequal contest, like a stately bark foundering amid whirlpools and quicksands; and many a tear bewailed his doom, but not one hand recorded his expiring struggle. Of the particulars of his death there are many conflicting narratives.