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Three Castle Head

Ruined castle

The name is slightly misleading - not three castles but three towers joined by 100metre long a curtain wall which reached from a lake to steep cliffs. This imposing fortified site was built by Donagh o Mahony in 1207 on the site of an earlier Iron Age promontory fort. Pushed out from Cork by the Normans, the O Mahonys settled on the remote Mizen Peninsula, building 10 tower houses to guard this stretch of coastline. The position of 3 Castle, or Dunlough castle to give it its correct title, is wonderful - hidden, secure, almost impenetrable. Yet it is built for defence. The towers are three-storeyed  with thick, drystoned walls. The entrance to each is on the second storey, access would have been by a ladder lowered from inside as necessary. The east tower was probably a gate house and the largest most westerly tower was the residence.  The central tower was probably used for storage. The remains that exist today are probably from the fifteenth century. As far as is known, the castle was never attacked or besieged. The lake is probably man-made and walls extend all around its perimeter, the most easterly acting as a dam, stopping the water from pouring down into Dunmanus Bay way below.  The lake would have been stocked with fish as a useful foodstuff. The O Mahonys were here for 400 years, their lands finally confiscated in 1627 .


This area is designated an  Area of Special Conservation with a wide variety of flora and fauna, including noisy choughs.

Dunlough - castle of the lake
V7292 2713

Recent improvements by the landowner have made access to the castle much easier than previously. There is now a car park, signage and clear paths but the journey to the monument is still spectacular. It's a stiff 3km walk through some astonishing scenery. First you wander through farmland then steeply up the edge of cliffs, full of sea pinks in the early summer, to a rocky summit and there suddenly below you, beautifully camouflaged, is the castle, stretching from the cliffs to the lough. It is a wonderful and unexpected sight. It is such a remote and isolated spot and you wander how on earth a) the O Mahonys managed to build here and b) how they managed to sustain themselves. The lake adds a special quality and is usually full of gulls and herons. Rumour has it that it's haunted by a white lady and should you see her the news is not good for she foretells of a death. The area around the caste is worth exploring, various pinnacles can be climbed and the views are sublime.

An added joy is a seasonal tearoom recently opened at the farm - enjoy their delicious home baking with huge views out towards the cliffs and the sea.

The old pier at Dunlough is also worth exploring, site of the largest drugs haul in Irish history - Operation Seabight.