O’Doherty’s Keep: medieval castle in Donegal finds new owner ahead of planned auction

O’Doherty’s Keep, originally known as “Buncrana Castle”, a 14th or 15th century tower house.
O’Doherty’s Keep, originally known as “Buncrana Castle”.

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A private sale before the proposed auction due to take place on 7 September has sealed the future of O’Doherty’s Keep in Buncrana.

O’Doherty’s Keep, on the edge of the popular tourist town of Buncrana in Co. Donegal, hit the market in July with a reserve price of €175,000. In a surprise move, the lot was withdrawn on the morning of 7 September, just hours before the public online auction was set to take place.

The late medieval castle (more correctly termed a “tower house”) has been sold to a private buyer from Derry for an undisclosed amount.

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Dara Furey of Furey Auctioneers, who handled the sale, confirmed that all concerned are happy with the outcome.

But the sale has left some locals disappointed, as they had hoped to see it bought by Donegal County Council, preserved and transformed into a visitor attraction.

Local councillor Jack Murray, who had been campaigning widely for the building to be brought into State ownership, told Irish Heritage News that he was “very disappointed” and added:

“Though I wish the new owner well, I really believe that this was a badly missed opportunity and that the right thing to do was to bring such a building – steeped in history – into public ownership so as to allow the people of this community a say on its future. It was an opportunity that may not arise for another generation, if at all.

This at a time when we’ve had another debacle regarding public access to Grianán of Aileach – another treasured historic monument in Inishowen; it sends out a very bad message as to the value that State agencies place on our history.

Along with others, I will continue to fight, in the public interest, for our historic sites to be protected and promoted. It’s about time though, that State agencies joined the fight to reclaim our priceless heritage.”

A few days prior to the sale, Mr Furey explained to Highland Radio that there had already been some interest, primarily from O’Doherty descendants abroad but also from Donegal County Council. However, Mr Furey expressed scepticism about the council’s ability to secure the necessary funds.

He added that all prospective buyers would go through an interview process to ensure they were suitable candidates to own such a historically important building.

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Erected in the 14th or 15th century, O’Doherty’s Keep is a tower house which originally bore the name “Buncrana Castle”. Its most famous occupant was Cahir O’Doherty, who led a revolt against the Crown forces in 1608 – the castle was burnt in retaliation. (Click here to read a full history of O’Doherty’s Keep.)

>>> READ MORE: The full story of O’Doherty’s Keep, a medieval tower house in Buncrana

In the wake of the rebellion, the castle and associated lands were granted to Arthur Chichester, Lord Deputy of Ireland; he subsequently leased the property to Captain Henry Vaughan, who undertook its repair.

Eventually, the castle – then in ruins – came back into the ownership of the O’Dohertys when it was purchased by local man Ronald H.C. O’Doherty in 1969.

Following his death a few years ago, the castle passed to the next generation of the family, who embarked on a conservation-led restoration project beginning in 2017. Feasibility studies and conservation plans were drawn up, and approval was secured from the National Monuments Service, along with endorsements from key organizations. In total, €150,000 was invested into the project.

However, an estimated half a million euros would be needed, in addition to the funds already expended, to bring the plans fully to fruition.

With all possible funding opportunities exhausted and owing to health concerns, the owners reluctantly found themselves in the position of having to list the castle for sale earlier this summer.

Their hope was that the future custodians would approach its conservation with the utmost care and respect. Indeed, the National Monuments Acts, which govern its protection, should guarantee this outcome.

O’Doherty’s Keep is a national monument (no. 435) in State guardianship under the protection of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. All future alterations are, therefore, subject to ministerial approval.

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