An Aristocracy of Bloods
Fàilte! It’s the country house that never quite was. No Wonder Mark Bence-Jones gives it short shrift in his 1988 Guide to Irish Country Houses: “A 19th century castle with a long two storey battlemented front, having a central polygon tower with a pointed Gothic doorway and a pointed window over, and a round tower at each end, five bays on either side of the centre.” Dungiven Castle has spent most of its life as a ruin albeit a picturesque one at that. It has forever resembled a rather grand stable block too. Despite a chequered past, this historic structure has proved itself to be truly sustainable forever being resurrecting as an architectural phoenix. Not many buildings have been a country house for a few years, a ruin for a few centuries, an army barracks, a dance hall, a hotel then an Irish language school. Sláinte!
The word “castle” is surely the most flexible in the architectural lexicon of Ireland. Doe Castle in Creeslough County Donegal is the real McCoy or at least the real MacSweeney: all medieval keep and working battlements. Keeps with Georgian houses would later become a genre. Ballymore Castle in Laurencetown County Galway is an example of a medieval tower house with an 1800s two storey house hugging it. Dungiven Castle belongs to an early 19th century Georgian gothic toy fort tradition which includes Carrowdore Castle in County Down (or at least the original one not the postmodern replacement) of 1818.
The other certainty is that an Irish castle is never quite what it seems. Dungiven Castle may have been built by Anglo Irish landowner Robert Ogilby between 1836 and 1839 but of course it goes back much much further. He died before its completion which explains an unusually speedy transition to ruinous status. The first castle was built by the O’Cahan family. It included a keep with round towers fitted with gun ports and earthworks defences. During the Flight of the Earls in 1607 the Clan Chief, Sir Donnell O’Cahan, was implicated in treason and had his lands and titles confiscated, including Dungiven Castle. Some time after the Plantation of Ulster, Robert Ogilby plonked his castle on top of the ruins of his predecessor’s.