On to Buncrana. This is its O'Doherty castle beside the Crana river. This also originally had a defensive wall or bawn around it. Some sources suggest that the ground and first floor may be 14th century, which is very early for an Irish tower house (most were built after 1450). The top storey dates from the early 17th century. Today, as a well maintained ruin, in the leafy surroundings of Swan Park, it has great character.
Next door is ‘Buncrana Castle’ , date stone 1718 but thought to be earlier. Bult by Sir John Vaughan. His family leased the O'Dohery castle after the Ulster Plantation in the early Seventeenth Century. The building is on the site of the pre Plantation town and is an early example of a landlord or 'big’ house. Most were built from the 1740’s onwards. The building was very carefully conserved in the early 2000’s retaining and reusing the original slate diminishing in size to the ridge on the front slope.
Castle Bridge, beside the O'Doherty tower house, lines up with the centre of Buncrana Castle to give a grand entrance to its forecourt. Built during the 18th century, its cutwaters rise up to form refuges for pedestrians and give it an appropriate defensive feel.
Back towards Derry, the graveyard at Fahan is worth a visit. Here is St Mura’s cross, a stone slab with Celtic ornament and small projections at its side. It is thought to date from the beginning of the eighth century and is associated with an important early monastery on this site. An inscription in Greek (the only example in Ireland) translates as ‘Glory and honour to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit’. This is a formula first used at the Council of Toledo in 633.
On down Lough Swilly to Inch Island and the ruins of its O'Doherty tower house. This is a very romantic place and the best way to get to it is across the rocks from the beach. From this angle its jagged form is silhouetted against the sky with Grianan (see blog 1) visible on the top of the mountain in the distance. A great place for a picnic as you can get up to the first floor via an internal stair. The structure is first mentioned in 1454 and was in ruins by 1600.
Nearby is another O'Doherty tower house. This one a little further south at Burt, is thought to have been built in the sixteenth century. Its design is Scottish. No other pre-Plantation example is recorded in Ulster. The closest equivalent has been identified as Claypotts near Dundee (Rowan, North West Ulster p 440). It is known as a z plan tower because it has round towers attached at two corners to allow flanking fire along the sides. In maps from the early seventeenth century, it is shown enclosed within a moat and bawn wall. Today, these are gone and it stands in splendid isolation as a ruin on top of a small hill,
Back along the base of Inishowen to Derry, Elagh Castle is visible among the foothills. What remains is very fragmentary and looks like a circular tower house but some have speculated that there was once a second tower making a gatehouse similar to that at Harry Avery’s Castle in Co Tyrone. The castle was occupied by the O'Doherty’s at the time of the Ulster Plantation in the early Seventeenth century but the site appears have been occupied as a major defensive position since at least the early medieval period. Recent archaeological excavations discovered a ditch from this period and those involved have speculated that this, rather than Grianan, may have been the location of Ailech, one of the great royal sites of Ireland.
Completing the tour, a final tower house. This one is back at the River Foyle, on Culmore point where the river expands into the lough. This structure is considered to be largely a nineteenth century folly to provide interest to the view from nearby Ballnagard House but it may be a rebuild or repair of an O'Doherty tower known to have been here in 1556. The site, however, was heavily refortified by the English from 1600 and this may also be a remnant... of one of the structures built at this time. In the trees about half a mile away from this site the earthen defences created by the English as part of their fortification of the site can still be seen. This was the first landing point of Sir Henry Dowcra in 1600. He was sent with an army to attach the rear of O'Neill and O'Donnell as part of the Nine Years War. After fortifying this site he moved upstream to Derry and then to Dunnalong and Lifford, where he also created forts.