Granuaile’s Tower, Kildavnet, Achill Island, Ireland

Grace O’Malley’s Castle at Kildavnet, Achill

The Tower at Kildavnet, in the south-east corner of Achill Island, is a perfect example of a 15th century Irish tower house. The Gaelic Chiefs of the time copied a Norman design and constructed many such tower houses. The tower at Kildavnet is thought to have been constructed by the Clan O’Malley in about 1429, but is associated locally with a descendant of the original builders, Grace O’Malley or Granuaile. This legendary pirate queen is thought to have been born around 1530 and died in about 1603. The Tower at Kildavnet is one of a series of such strongholds that Granuaile established along the western seaboard (she is said to be buried in a similar tower on Clare Island) as she dominated the waters during the 16th century.

The Tower House at Kildavnet, known locally as Grace O’Malley’s Castle, is some 40ft (12m) in height and has three storeys. The strategic importance of its location, at the mouth of Achill Sound and protecting the passage that connects Clew Bay with Blacksod Bay, is underlined by the fact that the present-day Achill lifeboat station is situated close by.

Another neighbour to the Tower, and an historic feature worth a visit in its own right, is the ancient church and cemetery at Kildavnet. The church itself is thought to date from at least the 12th century, though subsequent building has made it difficult to date. Some claims put the original construction as early as the 8th century. The adjacent graveyard contains early Medieval gravestones alongside more recent (18th century onwards) graves. This cemetery also contains monuments to two of Achill’s greatest tragedies, the Clew Bay Drowning of 1894 and the Kirkintilloch Fire of 1937.