We are now publishing posts on the history of Kilbarron Castle and our work for its conservation on our website as well as Twitter and Facebook. So you may see some changes in the way you see our work on Facebook. We hope that you find these changes will make it easier to follow our work.
The next distinguished visitor who wrote about Kilbarron castle was the Reverend Henry Major who contributed an article on Kilbarron Parish for a publication called “A statistical account or Parochial survey of Ireland” by William Shaw Mason, a book with facts and observations from a selected number of parishes around Ireland.
The Reverend Henry Major was the Rector of Kilbarron Parish. His ancestors had come to the district in the early 18th Century. Henry Major was a lawyer who became an agent for the Conolly estate sometime before 1745.
In 1719 William (Speaker) Conolly, whose father was an innkeeper in Ballyshannon, bought the Ffolliott estate which comprised of most of the land in the parishes of Kilbarron and Inishmacsaint as well as part of the parish of Drumhome.
William Conolly was Speaker, the presiding officer, in the Irish House of Commons. Due to his modest background he never got a title even though he was one of the richest and most powerful men in Ireland in the 18th Century.
A native of Ballyshannon, Conolly’s chief residence was at Castletown House in Co Kildare but they kept a summer residence at Cliff House overlooking the Cliff falls on the Erne between Ballyshannon and Belleek.
Henry Major also became one of the major landholders in the area by the 1770s leasing the townland of Camlin Erwin, which would later become known as Camlin Major, the other part of the townland known as Camlin Tredennick.
The Reverend Henry Major, possibly a grandson of the elder Henry Major, was born in 1770 and on his tombstone in the graveyard of St Anne’s Church in Ballyshannon it further states that became “rector and vicar of the United Parishes of Killireran and Knockmoy in the diocese of Tuam and vicar of Kilbarron in the diocese of Raphoe.”and that he died in 1819.
The essay gives a very general view of life and times in the parish of Kilbarron. He states that there is about 1,051 families in the parish, allowing for six persons per family giving a total 6,306 persons. He remarks that “the lower orders are generally lively and docile; quick in apprehending the trades to which they are apprenticed to and friendly and well disposed. They generally speak English but Irish not unfrequently. In stature they are of a size usual in most other parts of the Island”.
The full essay by Reverend Henry Major can be read on Google Books.
In 1802 some twelve years before the account on the parish of Kilbarron by the Reverend Henry Major, Dr James McParlan published a “Statistical Survey of County Donegal”. He was employed by the Dublin Society (later the Royal Dublin Society) who asked him to carry out a survey of a number of Irish counties on their economy both urban and rural and to make suggestions on how to improve it.
The report on Donegal can be read online (Trove) and is a very interesting snapshot of life in the county at that time.
Front piece of the survey which can be read on the Trove website (National Library of Australia see
There is also attached a survey of Co Tyrone by McEvoy for Lord Jim Mountjoy
Doctor James McParlan, a medical doctor by profession, was interested in the health and wellbeing of the people and blamed the distillation of spirits as the chief ill of the lower classes. He complained that they used what barley they grew, not to feed themselves but to make their spirits (poteen).
The Dublin Society asked him to particularly report on the state of education and that of tithes. The latter was the tax collected from each landholding tenant, regardless of their religious persuasion for the support of the clergy of the Established Church. This tithe was deeply despised by all faiths but particularly by Presbyterians and other non-conformist sects, as well as Catholics, who had the added undertaking of supporting their own clergy and churches. In this, James reports that generally the tithe in Donegal is not onerous and says
“it is impossible however, that this could be otherwise, for the clergy of this county, to most of whom I have for some years had the honour of being known, are composed of gentlemen conspicuous for every species of virtue and of worth”
He reports on the state of agriculture in the county, remarking that in the area south of the Erne around Ballyshannon the Leitrim “loy” spade is used for most spadework. He reports that work had started near Belleek in building a canal bypassing the various falls and rapids on the Erne between Belleek and Ballyshannon. (This part of the canal bypassed the waterfall at Belleek was completed but the project was eventually abandoned) He writes about various ruins of castles in the county mentioning Donegal Castle, Doe Castle and Greencastle but the ne of particular interest to us is his remarks on Kilbarron Castle.
The map of Donegal published in the Statistical Survey of Co Donegal bt Dr James McParlan 1802 see
“Kilbarren Castle-two miles north-west of Ballyshannon, built by O’Skineens, on a precipice over the sea; it does not seem to have been strong or important; very few of only of the ruins remains”
This remark possibly confirms our belief that Kilbarron Castle was not a castle as such but a bardic school – stone buildings that were not churches or monasteries of any antiquity were invariably referred to as “castles”.
We are currently fundraising to help conserve the Hourglass Wall at the site of Kilbarron Castle. It formed the north facing wall of the banqueting hall of the castle. It was a later addition to the complex.
Our idea is to get a life size image of the restored wall and add every contributor’s name to a a stone in the picture.
The ruins of Kilbarron Castle perched on a rocky promontory jutting into Donegal Bay and surrounded by cliffs on three sides lapped by the Atlantic waves.
The route to the castle on the landward side leads to a narrow causeway over a deep ditch. It must have been a very defensible location but perhaps not too sheltered or comfortable whenever there was a raging Atlantic storm!
Kilbarron Castle Conservation Group held their 2019 AGM last night. Over a dozen people in attendance. Officers for the coming twelve months are Chairperson Fergus Cleary, Secretary M. Storey, Joint treasurers M. Reynolds and B. MacAwley. The group discussed future plans for 2019/20 and with the prospects of little funding available this year in the heritage sector how best to keep the project progressing and how best to engage the local community and the wider public who consistently have shown interest in the project to date. We have a few ideas and will bring these to fruition over the coming year.
To reiterate the comments made by the outgoing chairperson for 2018/19 “Finally I would like to express many thanks to everyone for their help and donations over the past year, the Creevy Co-Operative for the use of the Marine Facility for our meetings and events, and the committee and officers in 2018-2019 who gave of their time enthusiasm and expertise to advance the project over the last year. “
In 1843, just two years before the outbreak of the Irish Famine, “An Gorta Mór”, Mr and Mrs Samuel Carter Hall published a book about their experiences travelling around Ireland called “Ireland: Its Scenery, Characters &c” in three volumes, filled with factual history, their own observations and anecdotal stories from the people that they met on their journeys around the country. County Donegal featured large in Volume III of their book and in the southern part of the county they visited Donegal Castle, Lough Derg and the ruins of Termon McGrath castle near Pettigo.
In addition they visited the ruins of Kilbarron Castle and gave the following brief description.
“Our own route lay through the southern extremity of the county to Ballyshannon; but we diverged a few miles in order to examine the picturesque and venerable ruin of Kilbarron –an ancient fortalice of the O’Clerys, chiefs of the district”.
Interestingly they also include a lithograph of the ruins of Kilbarron Castle in their book along with many other sketches of places of interest around Ireland. The Kilbarron drawing is the work of J. H. Burgess and engraving by “Jackson”. The engraving shows the ruins to have been more extensive in 1843 with upstanding walls of all three buildings easily identified. This image has been very useful in determining what the castle originally looked like. The original drawing by J.H. Burgess is in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin.
Samuel Carter Hall was born in Geneva Barracks, Co Waterford. The son of a London born British army officer. In 1821 he went to London to study law but became a newspaper reporter instead, He married Anna Maria Fielding in 1824 who was born in Dublin in 1800 but went to live in England when she was fifteen years old. She published extensively under her married name Mrs S. C. Hall including “Sketches of an Irish character” in 1829. She also contributed articles to the Irish Penny Journal under her name Anne Marie Hall.
As a footnote it is interesting to note that Kilbarron Castle, Termon McGrath Castle and Donegal Castle were recommended as places of great antiquity and interest for the intrepid tourist of the 1840s! In the years since then, the first two of these although nominally protected by the state have been allowed to fall into ruin whilst the latter has been partially restored by the Board of Works in more recent years.