Grianan of Aileach Donegal

Grianan of Aileach Donegal

Grianan of Aileach is probably the best-known monument in Inishowen. Situated on a hilltop 800 feet above sea level the stone fort was probably built on an earthen rath. The origins of the Grianan of Aileach fort are dated back to 1700 B.C. It is linked to the Tuatha de Danann who invaded Ireland before the Celts and built stone forts on top of strategic hills.


The Grianán is located on the western edge of a small group of hills that lie between the upper reaches of Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle. Although the hill is comparatively not that high, the summit dominates the neighbouring counties of Derry, Donegal and Tyrone. Located at the edge of the Inishowen peninsula, it is 10 kilometres northwest of the Historic Walled City of Derry.

The town of Burt (and its famous chapel) is the nearest community and the fortress stands mainly intact insofar as its main walls and features are concerned. Portions of the fortress were destroyed over time but much was rebuilt in the nineteenth century with a view towards retaining the historic nature and aesthetics of the fortress.

There are excellent views from the fort across Lough Swilly, Lough Foyle and the Inishowen Peninsula. It is claimed that on a clear day, five of the nine counties of Ulster can be seen from this viewpoint.

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Place of Folktales and Legends

Grianan of Aileach, as with any ancient place in Ireland, has many folktales and legends associated with it. One legend tells of how the cashel was actually a place of sun-worship, the palace of hibernation of Graine, the Celtic Sun-Goddess. Another tells of how the fort was built by Dagda, the God- King of the Tuatha de Dannan to protect the grave of his son Aedh and that Nuada of the Silver Hand also has a royal burial place there. Finally, the sleeping warriors of the Ui Neill are said lie beneath the cashel, awaiting only for the call to arms to awake and spring into battle.

  • the Grianán was a historical centre of culture and politics during the rule of early Irish chieftains
  • it is one of only five Irish locations marked on Ptolemy of Alexandria’s 2nd century map of the world
  • Mr. Walter Bernard of Derry restored the stone fort in the 1870’s
  • the remains of the three earthen banks, which surround the cashel, are still visible in places

    Location of Grianan of Aileach Donegal

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