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The tragic history of the MacGeoghegan's of Donore Castle

Dunore or Donore (the brown coloured fort) Castle is a 3 storey tower-house situated near the river Boyne in the south west corner of County Meath close to the Westmeath, Kildare and Offaly borders. The translation would imply that the tower-house of Donore was built on the site of an earlier earthen fort. The current tower house appears to have been built with the £10 that the English Government of Henry VI’s day- alarmed by the frequent incursions of Gaelic lords - offered in 1429 to "every liege man" in the Pale who would build" a castle or tower sufficiently embattled or fortified within the next ten years to wit 20 feet in length 16 feet in width and 40 feet in height or more." Given its dimensions it is likely that Donore castle is one of these. The notable rounded corner tower visible in the picture contains a spiral staircase (see Figure).

It is a bit of a mystery as to who built this castle/tower-house as the only historical reference that I can find are to the Mageoghegans or MacGeoghegan’s, but it is unlikely that an English Government grant would have been given to a Gaelic MacGeoghegan chieftain from whom the tower houses were meant to protect? Also the castle is situated at least 20 miles east from the nearest other MacGeoghegan castle (see Figure). If it is indeed an original Gaelic Irish castle it would have been a precarious existence for its native Irish inhabitants as the castle is completely surrounded by a sea of Norman and old English castles and tower-houses (see Google Eath image; yellow pins = Norman/English castles).

The historical association with the MacGeoghegan’s may simply be a result of an incident during Oliver Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland from 1649-1650. During the upheavals of the time members of the MacGeoghegan Clan took refuge in Donore castle. However it was captured in 1650 by the Cromwellian general John Reynolds and the occupants - James, son of MacGeoghegan, and over forty members of his household were all put to death.

The original spelling of the surname ‘Mageoghegan’ or ‘MacGeoghegan’ is now rare with most having dropped the Mac’ prefix altogether. In 1911 there were 2 clusters of populations of Geoghegans’ in Galway and in Westmeath (see Figure) which may correspond to 2 possibly distinct Clans. However, after the Cromwellian conquest many of the surviving MacGeoghegan’s appear to have been transplanted to Connaught (in the west of Ireland) and this could account for the large number of people with the surname found mainly in Galway although there are still descendants of the Clan still living and farming the Clans ancient territory in County Westmeath.

Donore castle is number 740 on the Irish Origenes castles of Ireland Map. There are 9 other castles on this map with an historical association with the MacGeoghegan’s of Westmeath who also feature on the Irish Origenes Clan Territories of Ireland map.

English Origenes

Scottish Origenes