Enniskillen Castle, one of Northern Ireland’s most impressive castles, is to be transformed into a world class heritage attraction, thanks to a £2.37 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
Many of the historic buildings within the castle complex are to be restored and refurbished and a new visitor centre will be built to replace the derelict building currently at the entrance to the site. The result will be a major exhibition and museum which will tell the extraordinary, often blood-drenched story of the castle and of the glories of County Fermanagh and its unique heritage and landscape.
The original castle keep was built almost 600 years ago by the Gaelic Maguire chieftains. It was built on what once was a site strategic importance as it guards the crossing point between Upper and Lower Lough Erne – one of the few passes into Ulster.
The earliest known reference to the site occurs in the Annals of Ulster in 1439 which refers to Tomas Óg Maguire being taken prisoner in his own castle at Enniskillen by Domnall Maguire ‘the Freckled’. It is believed that Hugh ‘the hospitable’ Maguire had the castle built before his death in 1428. On an important international medieval pilgrimage route, Enniskillen Castle became the stronghold for the ruling Maguires and a centre for patronage of the arts and church. The blind poet Tadhg Dall Ó Huiginn painted an idyllic picture of the castle in the late sixteenth century. He wrote of the ‘fair castle, with its shining greensward…the white walled rampart amongst the blue hillocks.’ At the castle there were ‘poets and minstrels, satin-clad maidens weaving wondrous golden fringes, soldiers reclining, smiths preparing weapons.’
In the 16th century, the castle was attacked and burnt down on numerous occasions. One of the best documented assaults on the fortification took place in 1593/4. The castle was besieged and eventually captured by the English under Captain John Dowdall, but was recaptured by Hugh Maguire shortly afterwards. The events of the siege were recorded at the time by the soldier John Thomas on a remarkable bird’s eye watercolour now belonging to the British Library.
Enniskillen Castle continued to serve as a military fortification into the twentieth century> The site was even home to a health clinic before becoming a heritage attraction.
Sarah McHugh, manager of museum services at Fermanagh County Museum, said: “We’re thrilled to have been given this funding. The castle complex will become a great magnet for visitors, telling the story of the castle, the town and the county and become a true gateway to the entire region.”
There are plans to develop a new History Hub facility providing access to the museum’s archives, photographs, library, oral histories and digital film archive. There will also be four new galleries creating additional space to showcase the museum’s important collections of objects, images and oral histories relating to the region.
Paul Mullan, head of HLF in Northern Ireland said: “We feel passionately about this extremely important project which is genuinely world class. Our investment will provide a lasting legacy not just for Enniskillen but for the whole of Fermanagh. We are very grateful to all the National Lottery players who make this kind of funding possible.”
See also Top 10 Medieval Castles in Ireland
Enniskillen Castle-Northern Ireland, original home of the Maguire chieftans pic.twitter.com/ZJ471bpiVj
— MB Photo Channel (@MariaBoedeker) September 20, 2014