Grianan of Aileach Burt

Grianan of Aileach Burt
Grianan of Aileach Burt

Grianan of Aileach is one of the best know monuments in Inishowen.  Situated on a hill top, 800 feet above sea level, the stone fort was probably built on an earthen rath.  One of the oldest monuments in Ireland and second only to Newgrange in its historic importance, the fort dates back to 1700BC.

The great stone cashel which gave Grianan of Aileach its name is said to have been built by the Tuathan De Danann God, and King of Ireland to mark or protect the grave of his son Aedh around 1700 BC.  An Grianán was the resident of the Ui Neill’s, the High-Kings of Ireland in the 5th Century and was later the seat of the O’Donnell’s, Chieftains of Donegal. 

It was Aileach that Prince Eoghan, after whom Inishowen is named, was baptised at An Grianán by St. Patrick in 450AD.  St. Patrick consecrated a coronation stone as mark of goodwill and testament to Eoghan’s virility.  There is a well, known as St. Patrick’s Well, situated between the two outer banks on the south side of the hill.  The well is said to have healing powers.

In 1101 Muirchertach Ua Briain, King of Munster destroyed the ringfort.  To make his destruction of the fort more certain, he ordered his soldiers to march home with each carrying a stone from An Grianán, making it impossible to repair.

In the 1860’s Dr Walter Bernard, a Derry doctor who resided in Buncrana became increasingly concerned about the dilapidated state of the stone fort.  In 1870 a Derry group, called the Irish Irelanders, went to the site on Sunday afternoons and carried out repairs.  The Gaelic League and the GAA also helped.  In 1878 Dr. Bernard took charge of the reconstruction and the work was completed at his own expense. He was confident that the work would last for ages.

A tourist road to the fort was opened on 18th September 1955 by Pat O’Donnell TD and Eamon De Valera.

More restoration work has taken place in 2001 by the Office of Public Works due to a wall collapse.

In more recent years the fort has hosted the Summer Solstice Celebration - Féile Grianán Áiligh, which was hailed as one of the outstanding cultural events held in Donegal last year with over 2000 people in attendance. The Féile was a superb combination of music, re-enactment, crafts, pageantry, dancing, song and exhibitions.