Turin Castle, Ireland, is a magnificent example of a Medieval square towered fortress. It was erected by the powerful De Burgo family, who controlled a huge swathe of territory across the principality of Mayo and Galway. The castle is now privately owned and let out for self-catering castle heritage holidays.
The De Burgos, who later became the Burkes or Bourkes, controlled this huge kingdom through a network of strategically placed castles, which also protected their trade routes to Lough Corrib and Galway.
The orientation of Turin Castle, Ireland, is significant, as was common with important Medieval buildings of the time; it was built with deference to an astronomical event or sacred landmark, in this case it was the latter. In the north-west corner of the building, there is a small room with a lancet opening at floor level. This small window can only be looked through at floor level, necessitating one to assume a kneeling position, and is aligned with the summit of Croagh Patrick, the sacred mountain of St Patrick.
The Croagh Patrick Visitor Centre, Teach na Miasa, is situated in Murrisk on the Pilgrim's path at the base of Croagh Patrick mountain and opposite the National Famine Monument.
According to the Book of Armagh ’Patrick proceeded to Mons Aigi (Croagh Patrick) intending to fast there for forty days and forty nights following the example of Moses, Elias and Christ’. Legend has it that St Patrick returned to Ireland in 441 AD on a mission to convert the Pagan Irish to Christianity. To achieve this aim, he would first have to demonstrate his God’s superiority over the ancient beliefs and superstitions of the natives. This was no mean feat; Irish beliefs were inextricably linked to nature, the cosmos and mountains, especially of the conical variety were viewed as immensely spiritual places - in this case the domain of Lugh, the all-powerful Sun God. The Christian interpretation of Patrick’s sojourn on the mountain became an epic battle between God and the Devil in the shape of hordes of tormenting demons with good eventually triumphing over evil.
On two days of the year, 18 April and 24 August 24, a most incredible phenomenon known as the rolling sun can be witnessed. If the summit of the mountain is clear, the sun can be observed to set on the peak and then appear to roll down the north-west flank of the mountain. This is best observed from a deliberately calibrated setting, called the Boheh stone. The stone, also known as St Patrick’s chair, is positioned in a natural stone outcrop located on the eastern slope of Croagh Patrick, close to the village of Brackloon. The stone is profusely carved with bronze-age motifs covering virtually its entire area.
Turin Castle is located in the barony of Kilmaine. Kilmaine is derived from the old Irish Cill meaning church and Mhean meaning middle. It is believed that St Patrick established three churches in Kilmaine.
The area in St Patrick’s time was controlled by the Cuil Toladh tribe and the presence of two major iron-age hill-forts, Lisantreanduff and Rausakeera, would suggest that it was of great significance. Lisantreaduff would have dominated the surrounding landscape and was probably the largest structure of its type in County Mayo. Rausakeera, although smaller, was still sufficiently impressive to warrant its adoption by the De Burgos/Burkes as an inauguration site for their Chieftains from the 12th century onwards.
The area is also peppered with Neolithic monuments: stone circles, tombs etc., which would have held great mystical and religious significance for the Celtic people of St Patrick’s time. The establishing of the three churches may have been an attempt to spiritually dominate the landscape and its people.
Marnie and Brendan, the owners of Turin Castle, have picked their top 3 places to visit when you stay at the castle...
The summit of Crough Patrick is visible from Turin Castle and is well worth the hike. The mountain is located about five miles from Westport. The climb is moderately difficult (some folk actually do it in their bare feet!) but the reward is well worth the effort - a truly stunning view of Clew Bay with its myriad islands against a spectacular backdrop of rolling hills and mountains.
Inchagoill Island and Cong
Inchagoill or inis an Ghail (island of the stranger). St Patrick, accompanied by his Nephew and navigator Lugnad, came to Cong in the mid 5th century on a mission to spread Christianity. They were exiled to Inchagoill by the Druids. Whilst in exile and presumably with some help, they commenced building a fine Romanesque style church. Unfortunately Lugnad never left the island and he was buried close to the church, his grave being marked by a tiller shaped stone which is inscribed with some of the earliest Christian references in Europe outside Rome. A regular twice daily ferry service runs from Ashford Castle to the island.
The 13th century abbey was built on the site of a 5th century Patrician church.
There is a holy well where, according to legend, St Patrick baptised thousands of converts. The depression in the stone is believed to be an imprint of his knee.
If you are staying at Turin Castle, treat yourselves to afternoon tea at Ashford Castle, just a short drive away.