Built in the middle of the 16th century and standing just over 18 meters in height with four floors it stood as a formidable strong hold in that era. It was originally owned by Richard an Ierain Burke, literaly translated as Iron Richard, a title given most likely as he controlled the Iron Works at nearby Burrishoole. Later it was owned by the Pirate Queen Grainuaile…
No doubt Its most famous Owner was the Pirate Queen Grainuaile (Grace O Malley http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gráinne_N%C3%AD_Mháille born in the reign of King Henry the VIII around 1530. Daughter to Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille, chieftain of the Ó Máille clan. The O’Malleys although of Noble decent were a seafaring family and taxed those that fished in their waters.
Legend has it that she received her nickname Grainuaile, which came from Gaelic “Gráinne Mhaol” Mhaol meaning bald, by cutting her own hair so she could join her father on a trading expedition to Spain. Her father had refused to let the young Grainne accompany him citing that her long hair would get caught in the ships ropes.
In 1546 she was married to Dónal an Chogaidh (Donal of the Battle). Dónal was heir to the O’Flaherty title so this was a sound political match. She had three childern with Dónal; Owen, Margaret and Murrough. After Dónal’s death in battle, Grainne recaptured whats known today as Hens Castle in Lough Corrib from the Joyces which had been owned by her late Husband. Grainne now returned to Mayo and Clare Island. Many of the O’Flahertys remained loyal to her and followed her to Mayo and Clew Bay.
Perhaps wanting to extend her status and her wealth Grainne later remarried Richard an Ierain who owned Rockfleet Castle along with lands at Burrishoole. This provided the Pirate Queen with important strageic strongholds and safe harbours for her ships. They married as tradition dictated under Brehon law “for one year certain”. It is said at the end of this year Grainne divorced Richard and retained Rockfleet Castle.
English historical records from this time do not clearly state that they were divorced, at least not as far as the English were concerned. They at least remained allies and had one son Tiobóid na Long (Tibbot of the Ships). His english name being Theobald Burke. We do know that Rockfleet Castle remained in the possession of Grainne until her death in this Castle in 1603. Today she is burried at her home on Clare Island and the Castle remained in the O’Malley Clan for centurys to follow.
Some time in the mid 20th century the Castle was restored by its then American Owner using traditional building methods to its former glory and upon his death the Castle was left to the Irish State and its people. Today it is freely open to the public, however, access at high tide without getting your feet wet can be tricky!
The entire castle can be explored. Access to the second floor is by a conspicuous ladder exposing the climber to the mercy of the person stationed in the crows nest, the secret passages inside the stone walls. As you ascend the castle up the steep narrow winding stairwell you will pass the latrine (toilet). Upon reaching the top you will find a large room with strong timber oak beams as flooring and a large fire place, giving you a strong sense of what life in this Castle was like during the 16th century. Off this Top room are two doors with one leading to the roof. Both are locked for safety reasons.
Open: Daily All Year