The Historical Sites of Doolin in County Clare

The Historical Sites of Doolin in County Clare

Follow local historian, Mattie Shannon, and Doolin Tourism on a journey through time as we visit the historical sites of Doolin

Photo by Kev L Smith

The fifth episode of ‘Meet the Locals’ features Mattie Shannon, Retired Officer in Charge at Doolin Coast Guard. Join Mattie as he shares his extensive knowledge of Doolin’s history & biodiversity, as well as the safety services offered by the Doolin Coast Guard who serve the busy region around the Cliffs of Moher and Aran Islands. Uncover centuries of local history in these 4 short minutes, and revisit it for yourself on your next trip to Doolin!


Video by Kev L Smith, Music by Doctor Turtle

Ancient People

Prehistoric through early medieval 

Humans have occupied the Burren from the earliest times, and in Doolin, artefacts remain that show traces of life, death and customs over many years from Neolithic times (around 3000BC), through the Iron Age period (600BC – 400AD) and on to the Medieval period (1200 – 1500 AD).

Some of the earliest remains of human habitation in Ireland are from the Neolithic period. In Doolin, there are remains of a Court Tomb at Teergonean (reached from a roadway opposite McDermott’s pub in Roadford). The cairn which would have once covered the burial chamber is gone but a number of upright stones and the shape of the area have led to archaeologists identifying it as a funeral monument from about 3000BC. Additionally, archaeologists believe there was an “Axe Factory” from the Neolithic period or earlier where the River Aille enters the sea near Fisher Street.

Along the first few hundred metres of the Cliff Path from Doolin, to the left of the path, can be seen a Ring Barrow. These are circular mounds of earth surrounded by a ditch. The exact purpose and dating of the Ring Barrows in Doolin are not known but they are believed to be of the Iron Age (600BC – 400AD). Excavations of other Ring Barrows have shown them to contain a token amount of cremated bone sometimes accompanied by small objects such as rings, beads or pins.

Churches & Holy Wells

Killilagh Church (now in ruins) was built in the 17th century and sits on a ridge above the village of Doolin. As you walk up the laneway, the first building you will see is the stone mausoleum of the McNamara’s of Doolin house. In the field on your left is a monument which is recorded as a rath, but its size and shape envisage that it is more likely to be a Ring Barrow, similar to the Bronze Age barrows at Doonagore.


The church was recognised as a parish church in an Ecclesiastical list of 1302 but the original church would have pre-dated this. During the Medieval period, it seems to have been one of the most wealthy and populous parishes in the Burren.
The re-modelling of the church in the 15th century provides the main points of interest today with fine stonework from that period to be seen in the windows and on the arch. A fine window on the east wall was lost when the gable collapsed during a storm in 1903.
Today a group of local volunteers (including professional archaeologists) have been working to help preserve the remains. Near to the church are ancient remains of a ring-fort and possibly a ring barrow.

Toomullin Church (now in ruins) was in use at the same time as the one nearby in Killilagh and appears in the same Ecclesiastical list of 1302 though it appears to have been less influential and poorer, according to the tax returns.
It is traditionally believed to have been founded by St Brecan, the 5th-century disciple of St Patrick, who is credited with bringing Christianity to this area from his base on Inis Mor in the Aran Islands. It was unusual in that it had living quarters attached. Amongst the interesting architectural features surviving are a 15th-century window with fine stonework. A bronze brooch, dated to 200-300AD was found in the graveyard of the church when phosphate mining took place in the 1940s.

The only Holy Well was one at Toomullin dedicated to Saint Breccan of Arran, a disciple of St Patrick. In this short video put together by Doolin2Aran Ferries (audio credit by Irish Life and Lore), you’ll hear Mattie who is guiding a walk to Toomullin Church and stops off at St. Breckan’s Well and Toomullin House.



Doonagore Castle is the most complete of the castles in Doolin situated on the steep road leading from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher road. The current building was reconstructed in the 1970s using old plans and prints. The original was first built on an existing fortified site in the mid-1500s. In the turbulence and warfare of succeeding years, its ownership changed until it fell into disrepair in the mid-1800s.

doonagore castle doolin
Photo by Kev L Smith

Ballinalacken Castle is in a commanding position overlooking Doolin and the surrounding land and sea, just a few miles north of Doolin. The tower house that remains today was built and added to over a period of time probably starting around 1500 and probably took over the site of an earlier fortification. The extension of the basic tower house probably took place in the 1600s and was a residence until the middle of the 18th century at least. Like the other castles in the area, its ownership changed with the ebb and flow of warfare and turmoil.

Ballinalacken Castle Country House Hotel has put together an information sheet on the castle itself, which gives a good overview of its history through the centuries. View it here.


doonmacfelim castle

Doonmacfelim Castle is believed to have been built on an earlier fortified site which may have existed from the 14th century. It is found on a laneway to the right after O’Connors Pub.
The name indicates a fort (Dun) of the son of Felim (Macfelim) and a Felim O’Connor is known to have owned it at that time. The tower house was built around 1600 and passed through several hands in the turbulence of that period.

Geology & Biodiversity

Visitors to Doolin and the surrounding Burren areas are often surprised to see flora and fauna growing on such a barren landscape. It is truly what makes the area unique.
The Burren is known as “the fertile rock”, due to its temperate climate – which means that the limestone retains its warmth during the winter. Cattle and sheep are moved to the mountains during this time and can graze amongst the limestone.

The Limestone Pavement is host to a wide variety of wildflowers some of which, while not unique to the Burren, grow in greater numbers here than anywhere else in Ireland or Britain. This is the cause of one of the botanical mysteries of the Burren as the Dense Flowered Orchid is native of the Mediterranean yet here growing alongside the (Alpine) Gentian and often with Mountain Avens from the Arctic nearby! The limestone pavement also provides a hospitable environment for cattle during the winter months, as the limestone retains its heat, and within it grows vegetation for the cattle to feed on. Despite the nature of the barren landscape, it provides sufficient lifeblood for its native flora, fauna and animals, and is truly a unique sight to behold.

Photo by Kev L Smith

The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland’s most visited natural attraction with a magical vista that captures the hearts of up to one million visitors every year. Standing 214m (702 feet) at their highest point, they stretch for 8 kilometres (5 miles) along the wild Atlantic coast of County Clare. From the Cliffs of Moher, on a clear day, one can see the Aran Islands and Galway Bay, as well as the Twelve Pins and the Maum Turk mountains in Connemara, Loop Head to the south and the Dingle Peninsula and Blasket Islands in Kerry. O’Brien’s Tower stands near the highest point and has served as a viewing point for visitors for hundreds of years. Don’t miss out on the rich flora and wildlife as well as the very informative visitor centre.

Cliffs Of Moher

Birders are in for a treat as the Cliffs are home to a wealth of birdlife – offering a viewing of over 20 different species. The area is a Special Protection Area (SPA) for Birds under the EU Birds Directive and you may well see endangered species there – such as the chough – with significant numbers of kittiwake and fulmar.

Beautiful puffins are a hallmark of the Cliffs of Moher, and you’ll be able to catch them between May and June. You’ll see many beautiful wildflowers and grasses, many of them unique to the Cliffs countryside, while down in the waves below, you may be treated to the sight of a dolphin pod on a calm day.

Photo by Kev L Smith

Doolin Cave is home to “the great stalactite”, which is another natural wonder here in Doolin, and is becoming one of the most important eco-tourism attractions in Ireland. Follow in the footsteps of the great explorers Brian Varley and JM Dickenson and re-live their 1952 adventure to discover the Great Stalactite in the cave’s main chamber. Estimated to weigh over ten tonnes and measure 23 feet in length, the Great Stalactite is a true wonder of nature. The great stalactite has been opened up to the eyes of the world and is accessible to all at Doolin Cave.

Doolin Cave Cafe Food Dine


Be sure to explore the rest of our website to find out more information, or to plan your next visit to beautiful Doolin in County Clare. Check out ’11 Tips To Enjoy An Authentic Irish Trad Session’, for more local knowledge and hidden gems!

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Contact The Historical Sites of Doolin in County Clare

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