Doe Castle
      By Tomás Mac Suibhne, B.Sc. Arch., Dip. A. Arch., R.I.B.A.
      The current Mac Sweeney Doe.

Harold Leask, M. Arch., M.R.I.A.I., D. Litt. Inspector of National Monuments in Ireland defined the meaning of castle as "a fortress of mortared stone erected by a king or noble to guard a strategic position, or to overawe a district, and serve as a residence for the owner or his deputy and retainers".

Doe Castle, ancient seat of the Mac Sweeney Chiefs of Doe, is beautifully situated on an inlet of Sheephaven Bay in north-west Donegal. The castle stands on a small peninsula called Cannon Point and is protected on three sides by the sea and on the fourth side by a trench hewn from solid rock.  Admirably sited for defence, the castle consists of a strong sixteenth century central keep 55 feet/16.8 m high, surrounded by a sixteenth century bawn wall topped with seventeenth century battlements and wall walk. The internal dimensions of the keep are quite small, measuring 14-feet/4.3 m by 16-feet/4.9 m. Accordingly, the keep would not accommodate the fifty retainers usually attached to a Chiefly household.

"Descendants of Mac Sweeney Doe", New York and Ireland at Doe Castle, Sept. 2002, remembering their ancestor Dan Mór Sweeney of Derryveagh, grandson of Eamon Rua Mac Sweeney, Head of the House of Doe, 1834/ c.1855. Cf. Event 2002,

The O Donnell overlords of Tyrconnell built Donegal Castle in 1474. The Mac Sweeney Chiefly  Family of Doe built Doe Castle about fifty years later.  In 1915 an architectural historian reported to the Royal Society of Antiquaries (Ireland) that Doe Castle "still has the main characteristics of a sixteenth century fortress ... central tower with battlements, enclosure and bawn". Eminent architects and architectural historians, e.g., Dr. Harold Leask, Dr. Peter Harbison and Alisdair Rowan confidently affirm that Doe Castle was built in the early sixteenth century. The information board placed at the entrance to Doe Castle by "Dúchas" (Irish Government Heritage Service) also verifies that Doe Castle was built in the "early 16th century" - by the Mac Sweeney Chiefly Family of Doe.

Dúchas (Irish Government Heritage Service) information board erected at the entrance to Doe Castle.

It is interesting that Doe Castle was constructed on the foreshore of the nearest estuary to Glenveagh National Park - close to the townland of Glenveagh (in the glen of Glenveagh) where the 1st Chief of Doe, Donnchadh Mór (son of Murchadh Óg, 2nd Chief of Fanad) and his lineal successors Eoghan Connachtach, Toirdhealbhach Óg, Niall and Domhnall lived for almost two hundred years. Tradition holds that Doe Castle was erected when Domhnall was "Mac Sweeney Doe".  Domhnall was the great-grandfather of Murrough Mall, Chief of Doe, 1554 - 1570, -  highly acclaimed in the Annals of the Four Masters as "an unquenchable fire ... a mighty champion ...eminent among all others for valour".   His brother, Eoghan Óg, Chief of Doe 1570 - 1596, gave refuge and assistance to the shipwrecked survivors of the Spanish Armada, 1588, and was likewise greatly lauded in the Annals.  His nephew, Maolmhuire, Chief of Doe, 1596 - 1630, a younger son of Murrough Mall, succeeded Eoghan Óg.  Cf. "Home Page" on this web site.

Maolmhuire married Mary O Donnell, a sister of Red Hugh O Donnell, but they had no children and the marriage was disolved c 1593.  A letter dated November 1599, signed by Maolmhuire, shows that he married again and had a young family.  Accordingly, the story about Maolmhuire's daughter, Eileen, leaping to her death from the top of Doe Castle, because her father had murdered her lover, Turlough O Boyle, is untrue for the following reasons:
(a) Maolmhuire only lived in Doe Castle for two years, i.e., from 1596 to 1598, and in 1598 his oldest child was less than six years old;
(b)  Pynner's Survey of 1617 records that Turlough O Boyle's father received a grant of land at the Plantation of Ulster, 1609, and that he was a child when he received the grant. Therefore, Turlough O Boyle was not born when Eileen Mac Sweeney is said to have leaped to her death;
(c)  Maolmhuire died before the Rebellion of 1641 and Turlough O Boyle died at the Battle of Scarriffhollis, 1650. Donegal History and Society, Geographic Publications 1995, ref. Gaelic Families of Donegal by Fergus Gillespie Chief Herald of Ireland, page 791.

State documents record that in 1598 Maolmhuire went over to the English accusing Red Hugh of making advances towards his wife. In July 1599 he was knighted by the ill-fated Earl of Essex.  In May 1600, Maolmhuire (now Sir Myles Mac Sweeney Doe) arrived in Lough Foyle with an English invasion fleet commanded by Sir Henry Dowcra.  Two months later, Red Hugh O Donnell in collusion with Maolmhuire swooped and captured 160 English cavalry horses, i.e., 80% of Dowcra's total cavalry.  Maolmhuire was arrested and placed aboard an English ship to be taken to Dublin for trial and for what seemed like a certain hanging. However, he escaped by jumping overboard "in tempestuous weather" and swiming to freedom on the east side of the Foyle "before any man or boat sent after him could overtake him".  Many authorities, e.g., Historia Catholicae Hibernica, Pacata Hibernica and State papers confirm that Maolmhuire was the only Mac Sweeney Chief from Tyrconnell to accompany Red Hugh O Donnell to the battle of Kinsale 1601.
Cf. "Miles Swim to Freedom" on

In April 1603, Sir Henry Dowcra, governor of the English garrison at Derry, reported that he had taken Doe Castle and was "possessed of the country of Tyrconnell for the king".  Maolmhuire, Chief of Doe, surrendered to the English and received a pardon in October 1603, but in 1608 he was arraigned for treason.  In autumn of that year Domhnall, Chief of Fanad and Donnchadh, Chief of Banagh were members of the "Lifford Jury", summoned by the English, to establish and declare that the whole of Tyrconnell/ Donegal had fallen to the Crown, because of the Flight of the Earls (1607) and the Attainder of Rory O Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell, thereby clearing the way for the Plantation.

Two thousand acres of land at Dunfanaghy belonging to Maolmhuire, Chief of Doe, were returned to him for his lifetime only at the Plantation of Ulster c. 1610. He was in trouble again in 1615 when the English discovered documents implicating him (and his oldest son Donnchadh Mór) in a failed attempt to rescue Con O Neill from Dungannon Castle.  Seven years old Con had been left behind in 1607 when his father, Hugh O Neill, Earl of Tyrone, fled to the continent with Rory O Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell.  It was not until 1630 that Maolmhuire's land at Dunfanaghy was granted to him "and his heirs and assigns for ever".  He died soon afterwards and his land was confiscated.  Maolmhuire was the last Mac Sweeney Chief to occupy Doe Castle.

Doe Castle changed hands many times during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  The Mac Sweeneys quit the castle in the spring of 1603.  Later that year Rory O Donnell became Earl of Tyrconnell and received a royal warrant giving him custody of Doe Castle.  In 1606 the Mac Sweeneys seized the castle and expelled Rory's men.  In 1607 Rory laid siege to it and took it from the Mac Sweeneys. Captain Basil Brooke became custodian of Doe Castle in 1607 and allies of Sir Cahir O Doherty seized and held it for a while in 1608. Sir Richard Bingley occupied it in 1611, Sir John Davies possessed in 1614, John Sandford in 1614, his son Toby in 1630, Mullrooney O Carroll (married to Sandford's daughter) in 1641.

The Mac Sweeneys held Doe Castle in July 1642 when the frigate St. Francis sailed into Sheephaven Bay and dropped anchor in the channel near the castle.  On board were General Eoghan Roe O Neill and 100 Irish veterans of the Spanish wars who came to join the rebellion against English rule. In 1650 Cromwellian forces from Derry landed by sea capturing the castle and the notorious Robert Cunnyngham was appointed Constable.  In 1666 during a period of peace the English garrison occupying Doe Castle sought permission to be allowed "to settle down with their families and plant".

In 1684, the English, fearful of the Mac Sweeneys, placed a garrison in Doe Castle commanded by Major Gustavus Hamilton. In 1689 a Williamite force, commanded by William Babbington, occupied the castle but abandoned it and retreated to Derry when the army of James II advanced into Ulster. The Mac Sweeney Chiefly family of Doe reoccupied their castle for the last time in 1689.  His first cousin and Chief, Donnchadh Óg, directed Donnchadh Fhergal Mac Sweeney to fortify and hold the castle while he and his uncle Edmund joined the army of James II.  Donnchadh Óg and Edmund fought as officers in The Infantry Regiment  of the Marine at Derry 1689, at the Boyne 1690, and at Limerick 1691. They were outlawed 1691 and went to France never to return. According to Tarlagh Mac Sweeney (an Píobaire Mór), Donnchadh Fhergal  was the last member of the Chiefly family of Doe to occupy Doe Castle and was the great-grandfather of the dispossessed Eamon Rua Mac Sweeney Doe whom the eminent historian and genealogist, Dr. John O Donovan, met in Donegal in 1835 verified  as "Mac Sweeney Doe, Lord of Tua Tory".
Cf. (a)  Dr. John O Donovan's "Donegal Survey Letters", Dunfanaghy, Sept. 5, 1835,  (b) Dr. John O Donovan's  letter of the same date to Eugene O Cleary, scholar, scribe and professor of Archaeology at the Catholic University,
(c) Dr. John O Donovan's  letter of Sept. 14, 1835, to Owen Connellon, editor/ translator of the Annals and Irish historiographer to King George IV and King William IV,
(d) footnote in Dr. John O Donovan's translation of the "Annals of the Four Masters" under the year 1603.

Following the capitulation at Limerick 1691 the surviving members of the Chiefly family of Doe chose to walk the roads of Donegal rather than accept menial employment or rent portions of their own land from the new rulers of Ireland.  It has been argued that the Chiefly family of Doe did not surrender until Catholic Emancipation 1829 when sons of Eamon Rua Mac Sweeney, Head of the House of Doe, finally rented land in Derryveagh - part of the Glenveagh Estate which prior to the Plantation had been the property of their direct ancestor Maolmhuire/ Sir Miles Mac Sweeney, Chief of Doe 1596 to 1630.
Cf. Peter Berresford Ellis, "Erin's Blood Royal", pub. Palgrave, 2002, p.  289.
Cf. Sweeney Clan Association Publication, 1997, "The Sweeneys, Fanad, Doe, Banagh", p. 105.

In 1761 the Court of Chancery confirmed George Vaughan of Buncrana to be the owner of Doe Castle.  Towards the end of the 18th century General George Vaughan Hart (grandson of George Vaughan) acquired the castle and began to renovate it.  He repaired the bawn wall and placed on the seaward section a number of cannon captured at Seringapatam, India.  He erected a ground floor annex and a staircase against the southern wall of the keep and altered the interior of the keep by inserting arched recesses and fireplaces.  The barbican across the trench at the western entrance is a nineteenth century Hart addition.  General Hart also placed his family coat of arms over the eastern entrance to the keep. In 1978 the Hart arms were removed by members of a Sweeney Clan Association and replaced with a coat of arms they wrongly assumed to be the territorial arms of Doe.
cf. "Contradiction of Arms" on this web site.  

General Hart died in 1832 and was succeeded by his son Captain John Hart who befriended Eamon Rua Mac Sweeney and recognised him as Head of the House of Doe.  According to John O Donovan's Donegal Survey Letters 1835 Captain Hart told Eamon Rua's youngest son, Tarlagh (mentioned below) that the Mac Sweeneys had been unjustly deprived of that part of Doe.  Captain Hart died in 1838 and his brother Commander George Vaughan Hart, R.N., inherited his estate.  In 1864 George's son William Edward Hart sold Doe Castle in the Landed Estate Courts and the Stewart family of nearby Ards purchased it.  From then on Doe Castle was rented to tenants. The first tenant was a retired naval officer, Captain Madison.  The second tenant was the Rev. Mr. Murphy, a Protestant clergyman. Rev. Murphy tried to establish a title to Doe Castle under the Land Acts and the landlord had him removed.  From then on the castle remained vacant and rapidly fell into ruin.  In 1932 Doe Castle was sold to the Irish Land Commission and is now a National Monument in the care of "Dúchas" (Irish Government Heritage Service).

"Dúchas" (Irish Government Heritage Service) roofed the keep recently and windows, doors, floors and an oak staircase were fitted. Specialists from Scotland were commissioned to examine the castle and they discovered traces of the pargeting that had been applied to the exterior of the keep by the Mac Sweeneys.  The keep has been pargeted in the same manner and looks as it did when erected in the early sixteenth century. "Dúchas" did not renovate the remnant of the annex built in the nineteenth century by General Hart because it is not part of the Mac Sweeney castle of Doe.  All restoration work undertaken at Doe Castle has been funded by "Dúchas" (a government body) without financial assistance from the European Union or any other organisation, fellowship or group.  The late medieval  Mac Sweeney Doe tombslab (recently restored by Dúchas) has  been placed against a wall on the ground floof of the Castle keep. Photographs of the tombslab can be seen on the "Genealogical Table of the Mac Sweeneys of Doe" page on

In 1905 about three thousand people marched from Creeslough village through Duntally Wood to Doe Castle to attend a Gaelic Revival Festival/ Feis.  At the head of the column playing "Mac Swyne's March" was Eamon Rua Mac Sweeney's youngest son, the celebrated Donegal piper Tarlagh (An Píobaire Mór) who won international acclaim at the World's Columbian Exposition/ World's Fair in Chicago, 1893.  It's said that very few Sweeneys marching that day could name an ancestor who fought at Kinsale three hundred years previously but it mattered little because the presence of Tarlagh, An Píobaire Mór, furnished uninterrupted continuity from the past.  Tarlagh could name his ancestor, Maolmhuire/ Sir Myles Mac Sweeney Doe who stood shoulder to shoulder with Red Hugh O Donnell at the Battle of Kinsale 1601 and those present knew that their ancestors stood shoulder to shoulder with Tarlagh's ancestor at Kinsale.  The patriot Patrick Pearse stood shoulder to shoulder with Tarlagh, that day at Doe Castle.  Both were to die in 1916, Tarlagh paying his debt to old age and Patrick Pearse paying with his life before a firing squad for his role as leader of the1916 Rebellion.
                                                          (Amended Sept. 1, 2004)   End.