Survey of tower house on Galway estate ‘authorised’

16th century structure on Ballynahinch Castle Hotel estate owned by Denis O’Brien

Management at the Connemara hotel owned by businessman Denis O’Brien says it has full authorisation for survey work currently being undertaken on a 16th century tower house on Ballynahinch lake.

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel manager Patrick O'Flaherty said that he had received a number of phone calls from local people who were concerned about the scaffolding and netting on the tower house and crannóg.

The scaffolding related to “pre-emptive” investigative work on the stability of the structure, he said.

The survey was being conducted by leading conservation architects De Blacam & Meagher with "full authorisation" and in collaboration with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, he said.


Mr O'Brien paid more than €6.5 million for the castle hotel and estate when he purchased it from former US owners Raymond and Minerva Mason. The four-star hotel on 450 acres under the Twelve Ben mountain range has been refurbished extensively by the current owner.

The tower house on the lake dates from about 1550 and is located on a crannóg which may have been built by the Ó Cadhla lords.

The crannóg was taken over by the O'Flahertys when they were pushed west by the Anglo-Norman advance from the 13th century on, according to Connemara archaeologist Michael Gibbons.

One of Grace O’Malley’s sons was killed there during a punitive raid by English forces in the late 16th century, he said.

The castle was lost during the Cromwellian wars, and the Martin family was granted the land in the 17th century. They turned the lake tower house into a “leisure palace” in the 18th century and then a large brew house in an “desperate attempt to stave off bankruptcy,” Mr Gibbons said.

Sinn Féin senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, who is based in the Galway West constituency, had called on the Minister for Environment and Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to "investigate" whether Mr O'Brien had the "relevant statutory permissions for works" at the tower house.

He said that local historians, archaeologists and wildlife enthusiasts had expressed "serious concerns", and he questioned whether there was planning permission and whether the National Monuments Service (NMS) and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) had been informed.

Mr O’Flaherty said no “works” were taking place, and the scaffolding was to facilitate a “haircut”, where some foliage is removed without affecting stability to examine the state of stonework.

“We have a long term commitment to heritage, and this stage of an effort to ensure stability of the tower houses is not development, but an inspection and is part of our social responsibility,” Mr O’Flaherty added.

The hotel and estate was fully committed to the Connemara bog complex special area of conservation designation, he said.

The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said that the NMS “is aware that scaffolding has been erected at Ballynahinch Castle, Co Galway, a recorded monument that is subject to the protections of the National Monuments Acts 1930-2004”.

“NMS is currently examining proposals for works to the castle that have recently been submitted by the monument owner for approval under the acts and will be carrying out an inspection as part of that process,”it said.

“The monument owner has been advised in the meantime of the provisions of the acts that are applicable in this case,”it said.

“Development works are primarily a planning issue,”the department said.

" Galway County Council have been informed of the works,"it said, and "the department as statutory consultees will be contacted by the council in the normal course of any planning application,"it said.

It said that the NPWS is “not aware of any damage to annexed habitats or species for which the SAC (Special Areas of Conservation) has been selected”.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times