Visitors to Kilbarron Castle Part 3 (1802)

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.

Main building of the Royal Dublin Society who sponsored the Statistical Survey of Co Donegal by Dr James McParlan

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”.

A Victorian Travellers Guide to Ireland, 1843

Termon MacGrath Castle near Pettigo, Co.Donegal

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.

Lithograph of Kilbarron Castle from the original sketch by J. H. Burgess in the travel book called Ireland Its Scenery and Characters by Mr. & Mrs. J.C. Hall 1843.

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.

Samuel Carter Hall and Anne Maria 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 further into ruin whilst the latter has been partially restored by the Board of Works in more recent years.

A view of Donegal Castle in 1920.
The present view of Donegal Castle which has been extensively restored in the last thirty years. It is now a major tourist destination due to the work undertaken.