I’ve been to Clifden before but have no memory of ever visiting Clifden Castle. I’m not sure how I missed it but when I returned recently, I wasn’t going to let it happen again! Though Clifden Castle is sadly an abandoned ruin now, much of the exterior is largely intact and it remains very impressive.
Commissioned by John D’Arcy who also founded the town of Clifden, construction of the castle began around 1815. It was built in the Gothic Revival style, which was popular at the time and is thought to have been completed by 1818. As ruins go, it’s quite a beautiful one and is definitely worth checking out if you are staying in Clifden or exploring in the vicinity.
On a mission to find Clifden Castle
Ok, so it’s really not a mission to find Clifden Castle at all! The castle is located just 2km west of the town of Clifden. You can easily walk or cycle to it if you don’t have transport. Strangely enough, there don’t seem to be any signs for Clifden Castle as you make your way along Sky Road (though it’s very possible I just missed them too) so it would be quite easy to miss if you weren’t aware of it’s existence!
Thankfully there is a fine medieval style gateway though, which caught my eye just before we had driven right past. So if you are on the lookout for the castle, this certainly gives it away.
Having said that I still wasn’t 100% sure we were in the right place. There was nobody else around and the gateway actually looks like it could be quite recent. There’s a modern home just inside the gate, so you know, it’s possible they just wanted something a little fancy for their home. I’ve seen stranger things! However it turns out the gateway also dates from 1815. So not too recent then!
So we hesitantly followed the path for a little and then came across a handmade sign which confirmed that we were on the right track. The castle was soon visible in the distance and we continued along the trail which turns down towards the coast, offering stunning views of Clifden Bay.
Note that access to the castle is by foot only and across the road from the entrance gate there is space for a small number of cars to park. It’s just a short walk to the castle, about 5 – 10 minutes. The path can be quite muddy in places, so it’s best to wear suitable footwear.
Following the pathway to the castle, we passed four large standing stones. One is said to be an original but taken from elsewhere and moved here. How true that is, I don’t know, as I couldn’t find any further information about it.
Little is really known about standing stones (also called menhirs) or their function. Some stones date back to the Bronze Age and are thought to have been linked to rituals or religious ceremonies. Some may have been used to mark burial sites or may have originally been part of a stone circle.
More recently standing stones may have simply been put in place as rubbing-stones for cattle or to provide support for walls or buildings. Therefore, they can be very difficult to date.
I’m not aware of whether the standing stones at Clifden Castle have any special significance but if they do, it seems that it unfortunately hasn’t been recorded anywhere.
Exploring Clifden Castle
Unfortunately for the D’Arcy family, the castle and lands did not remain in their possession for long and ownership was later to become the subject of much controversy. The castle and demesne are currently owned by a number of families, though the public are thankfully allowed access.
The surrounding land seems to be very much in use as farmland. Even to the rear of the castle there is a pen for cattle, though it was empty when we visited. I don’t know if it could happen but it would be such a shame if the castle was ever closed to the public. So we made sure to stick to the path and not go off wandering through the fields, tempting as it may be!
I would have liked to spend a bit more time checking out the facade of the castle but unfortunately there were a couple of people trying to film something, so I didn’t really get the chance. There is an archway in the back wall though, which you can enter to get a look at the rear of the castle. You are advised not to enter the interior itself, which I would heed. You’d never know what could come loose or fall away.
Anything that could be removed from the interior and sold was taken a long time ago, so there’s nothing of interest to see anyway.
You can continue walking a short distance behind the castle to the ruins of an enclosed farmyard. We could see a little cottage or workshop but didn’t explore too much as it was just way too muddy and we didn’t have our wellies. We’ll leave that till the next time!