Doonfort is our flagship conservation project.
- We are part of the Heritage Council’s Adopt a Monument Ireland scheme since its start in 2016 with Doon Fort as our flagship project of conservation, interpretation, preservation and visitor access.
- We need to put this monument into its context as it is often described as a ringfort. Really it belongs to the Western Stone Fort series of significant and massive drystone walled enclosures that have an important part to play in later prehistory & early historic Ireland.
- Thirty monuments belong to this class of archaeological monuments that are also found in Iberia, Scotland & Wales, creating a cultural, social and architectural Atlantic connection.
- There is a wide variation in the location & setting of these Western Stone Forts, in addition to the area enclosed & the layout of the walls & associated defensive features. However, all the forts share a common characteristic and that is their distinctive defensive architecture of drystone construction.
- Main features to look out for in Western Stone Forts are their general circular massive dry-stone walls (ranging from 1.83m to c.5.00m (6ft – 16ft), entered though a narrow gateway/passage which normally has sloping sides from the base to the upper limits. The inside walls have terracing and internal flights of stairs leading to a parapeted wall top. Often there are internal or intra-mural passages built into the walls.
- Doon Fort is oval-shaped with an internal diameter of 36.6m NE-SW & 25.8m NW-SE. The walls are 4m wide at the base and 4.8m high externally and slightly lower internally due to the build up of ground-cover vegetation over time.
Achievements to date
- County and regional winner of the National Lottery’s Good Causes awards 2019.
- Achieved Adopt a Monument Ireland status for Doon Fort as part of the Heritage Council’s first Adopt a Monument Ireland scheme (2016)
- Conservation, environmental & archaeological plans for Doon Fort (2016)
- Joint meeting on conservation of Doon Fort with Department of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht, National Monuments, Archaeological Survey of Ireland, Rural Recreation Officer (DLDC), Heritage Officer (Donegal County Council), Drystone Wall Association of Ireland, Dedalus Architecture and local representatives.
- Implementation of vegetation management plan as part of Phase 1 of restoration of Doon Fort (2017)
- Systematic trimming of ivy covering Doon Fort as part of pre-survey groundwork for first scientific surveys of Doon Fort: 64 volunteers from all over Ireland assisted in the supervised removal of the vegetation over a four week period
- Geophysical, topographical and photogrammetry surveys of Doon Fort (2017/18)
A bit about the monument
Doon Fort is an impressive drystone fortification which takes up almost the entire island in Loughadoon. It is one of thirty massive forts along the western seaboard of Ireland, linking Donegal to Kerry, largely following Fáilte Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
These monuments are now known as Western Stone Forts because of their unique shared architecture. Most are circular, with walls ranging in height from 1.83m to c.5.00m, entered through a narrow gateway or entrance passage generally with sloping sides from base to the upper limits, internal flights of stairs leading to the wall tops and many have internal or intra-mural passages. Some sites are terraced on their inner walls which may provide hints as to their usage.
From a glance at these stone forts, we see a wide variation in location & setting, in addition to the area enclosed and the layout of the walls and associated defensive features.
However, all forts share a common characteristic and that is their distinctive architecture. The spectacular settings of Dún Aonghusa, Caherconree & Benagh (Kerry) & An Grianán of Ailech (Inishowen Peninsula, Donegal), are exceptional.
Many sites occupy prominent/strategic positions. Many command coastal views, although only Dún Aonghasa & the island monastic enclosure on Illauntannig (Kerry) are actually located directly on coast. Doon Fort has a unique location on an island in middle of a lake and is mainly hidden from view.
Dún Aonghasa (Aran Islands, Galway) is a cliff-edge fort facing into the Atlantic, commanding extensive views of the seaways off the west coast of Ireland. It possesses features found both in hillforts & ringforts. The visual impact of the fort and its impressive architecture are often compared with other massive drystone-walled monuments found along the Atlantic coast of Europe. These include the roundhouses (brochs) of Scotland, the stone forts of Wales and the castros of the Iberian Peninsula.
The presence of chevaux de frise at Dún Aonghasa and Ballyknivarga (Clare) is strongly associated with Iron Age forts, hinting at a date for Western Stone Forts and this may be the case for An Grianán of Ailech. However, some stone forts, such as Dún Aonghasa and Dunbeg (Kerry) appear to have had their origins in the Late Bronze Age (circa. 800BC) Many, including Dún Eoghanachta, were reused in the Early Historic Period as royal centres, probably deriving their wealth from controlling some sea and land trade.
Doon Fort and its possible origins
It has been suggested that Doon Fort was a ‘stronghold of the Tuath Senmogha before the days of Cenel Conaill’. It would appear that Oilean Lermogha was the name given to the early fortified island in Loughadoon (Doon Lough) and that Loughadoon was formerly known as Loch Senmogha. It may be that the lake derived its ancient name from an early population group who lived in this area – who were called Tuath Senmogha. Further proof may come from a reference in O’Cleary’s Book of Genealogies, which places Loch Sencha in “Tir Ainmirech mir Tuathail; Breslan a chedainm Lermagha” (O’Breslins were the hereditary guardians of the nearby early 6th century AD ecclesiastical foundation on Inishkeel Island and they were the keepers of St. Conall’s bell/bell-shrine down to mid-19th century). The key to both references is “Tir Ainmirech” as this is the ancient name for the territory which lay between the Owenea River and the Gweebarra River. The Breslins’ were of the Cenel Conaill stock and probably took control of this area – most likely from the Tuath Senmogha – in the 5th century AD. In the early medieval period Tir Ainmire seems to have been a subdivision of Tir Baghaine; the territory of the Cenel Baghaine, which, at the very minimum, extended from the Gweedore River to the north and to the river Eany which flows into Donegal Bay to the south.
According to the genealogies, Ainmire, the eponymous (someone who gives his/her name to something else) ancestor of the Cenel nAinmirech, and that he was a grandson of eponymous ancestor of the Cenel Baghaine (Cinel mBógaine). The first name of Lermagh, who gave the island its name, was Breislen (“Breislen a chedainm”)’. This is the very earliest reference that exists to the Breslin name.
While Doon Fort is more commonly known as O’Boyle’s Fort & Bavan (or Bawn, Cow Fortress). Before the O’Boyles came to Drumboghil/Kiltoorish area, they ruled The three northern tuaths of Rosguill, Clochaneely and Tory. The O’Boyles were driven out of most of the northern part of their territory in 13th & 14th centuries. After that, they were largely confined to what is now barony of Boylagh or Baollaigh (south-west Donegal). By the 16th century Baollaigh or Boylagh, which had been known previously as Ainmhireach, ‘the land of Ainmhire’, was referred to as Baoigheallaigh. Their main strongholds were the castles at Ballyweel (Baile Uí Bhaoill: Boyle’s Town) near Donegal Town, Crannogbuí on Loughros peninsula and O’Boyle’s castle on Kiltoorish Island along with Doon Fort.
A detailed description of the building is found in the Archaeological Survey of Ireland:
“Internal diam. 36.6m NE-SW, 25.8m NW-SE. Known variously as ‘The Bawan’, ‘Doon Fort’ or ‘O Boyle’s Fort’. This well preserved but partially reconstructed cashel takes up almost the entire area of a small island in Doon Lough. It consists of an oval area enclosed by a massive stone fortification averaging 4m wide at the base and 4.8m in height externally. The wall is battered in a fashion similar to the cashel at the Grianán of Aileach (DG047-012-). The maximum internal height of the wall is 3.35m above the interior ground level and access to the top is gained by four sets of four short flights of steps. A parapet runs along the external side of the top of the wall. To the S and NNW there are two short stretches where foundations on the external side of the wall project slightly out from the base giving the impression of a low footing. The entrance which is in the SSE consists of a passage through the wall 1.8m wide. It may originally have been roofed. On the SSW side of the entrance an opening gives access at ground level to a wall-passage. A flight of steps at the SSW end of this passage rises to an opening in the top of the wall. On the NNE side of the entrance an opening above ground level enters a second wall passage, narrower and lower than the first. The NNE end of this passage turns at right angles forming a low creep which enters from the base of the interior of the cashel wall face. The ground level in the interior of the cashel is higher than that on the outside. The area around Doon Lough is rough, marshy land with a lot of rock outcrop.
There are slight remains, consisting of collapsed walling of a second small cashel on another small island to the W in the same lake. “On a subcircular island (max. dim. c. 31m) located towards the W end of Doon Lough.
The landscape setting of Doon Fort within a basin surrounded by higher ground seems to have little strategic importance. However, if this area was heavily forested in the past the fort’s location may have been intended as a secretive place. The setting would appear to have a symbolic or ritual importance although almost nothing is known about the monument in this regard. It may be observed that the alignment of the doorway towards the rising sun at the winter solstice, and an adjacent island fort with the equinoxes, suggests an aspect of the structure that has symbolic importance.
There are only a limited number of historical descriptions of Doon Fort; descriptions concerning the development of the structure over time do not exist; or at least as far as we have been able to establish so far. Historical maps only begin for this area, from around the end of the 16th century as it becomes of interest to the British in plans for the colonisation of the region, the period known as the Ulster Plantation. 1609 Map: Irlandiae Accurata Descriptio, Auctore Baptist Boazio
Whatever future research will tell us, there appears to be a continuity of occupation at Doon Fort, which significantly predates the association of the site as the inauguration place of the O’Boyles.
Recent scientific surveys have shown that there is a wealth of archaeological evidence beneath our feet when we walk through the interior of the fort and until there are further investigations on the site, we cannot be definitive about the date of Doon Fort……more to follow!
Doon Fort is protected under the National Monuments Acts as are all the archaeological monuments in Ireland.
ITM Coordinates: E 529345 N 726384
Map Type: OS 1/2500 Map
Map Sheet: 64