Grianán of Aileach Ring Fort




N 55° 01' 25.8"   W 007° 25' 39.48"

Nearest town


Grid Ref.

C 36600 19738

Map No.


Elevation a.s.l. (m)


Date of visit

Monday 29 June 2015

GPS Accuracy (m)

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A long timber walk leads from the car park to the ring fort up the hill.

Grianán of Aileach is one of the most famous landmarks in Inishowen, county Donegal.
It was the royal site of the northern Ui Neill from the 6th century to the 12th century, though the area was in use since 2,000 years ago.
According to some sources the ring fort was built by Áed mac Néill, King of Ailech, so it's possible that in its early days the fort was made with earthen banks.
Within the fort there would have been some other buildings that left no trace.
The walls have three concentric ramparts, this could prove the high status of the occupants.
It had the purpose to give shelter to a community of people, but was also a site for ritual ceremonies and inaugurations.
Because it is said that St. Patrick blessed the fort as a source for future kings and clerics, the site was somehow linked to the saint in order to strengthen the relation between the old pagan functions and its new Christian purpose in celebrations.

In 1101, Muirchertach Ua Briain, king of Munster, attacked and destroyed the fort as a revenge for the destruction of Killaloe (at that time named Kincora) by Domnall Ua Lochlainn.
Probably it remained as a ruin until its restoration in 1874, when most of the present structure was re-erected using some of the fallen stones and many other stones quarried locally.

The entrance is through a lintelled passage on the east-southeast (100°) side.
The internal diameter is of about 24 metres, the walls are 4.80 metres thick, for a total diameter of about 34 metres, with a height of 5 metres. The walls have mural passages at 55°, 180° and 310° which are closed with iron gates, and stepped ramps at 55°, 135° and 225°.
The ring fort is surrounded by three concentric earthen banks, probably dating from the late Bronze Age, with diametres of about 85 metres, 70 metres and 35 metres.

When we arrived, a filming crew was leaving.

We came up here for the first time on December 5th, 1995, in the afternoon, and it was rather dark to appreciate it properly. We returned on May 6th, 2002, but on that occasion the inner court of the fort was being used as a football yard by a small group of American idiots.

The site has been used as a location for the movie "Night People" (2015) by Gerard Lough.

About 75 metres south of Grianán of Aileach is the St. Patrick's Holy Well.

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