Clare Island possesses a certain brooding beauty. The history of the island is entwined with that of the O’Malley family, who were lords of Umhall, a region that broadly encompassed the lands around Clew Bay. The earliest reference to the family comes from the Annals of the Four Masters, that recorded the slaying of ‘Donal and Murtough, two sons of Murray O’Malley…in Cliara’ in the year 1235. ‘Cliara’ was the ancient name for Clare Island. The O’Malleys were feared and respected as a seafaring power. The most famous member of the family is of course Gráinne Ní Mháille, the ‘Irish Pirate Queen’ who is the subject of many stories and legends.
Granuaile’s Castle – The Tower House
Granuaile’s Castle is a tower house near the harbour, that is believed to have been built by the O’Malley family in the middle of the 16th century, though the exact date is uncertain due to later alterations removing most of the evidence. The earliest record of its existence occurs in a list of O’Malley castles dating from 1574. The Ordnance Survey reported in 1838 that ‘the castle remained in good repair until about the year 1750 when it was allowed to decay and remained in ruin. It was then converted into a police barracks in the 1820s, and it is labelled on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey maps as ‘Grania Wael’s Castle & Police Barracks’
The structure is rather squat looking, though it stands three storeys high. It has distinctive and decorative slate flashing on the bartizans, that was presumably added in the 19th century. The positioning of the tower-house ensured the sheltered harbour was well protected.
The story of Clare Island Abbey continues below the gallery.