Doon Fort

Welcome back to Donegal.

Tucked away in bog lands lie the quiet waters of Loughadoon.


Accessible only by rowing boat, this lake is home to a hidden treasure.

Doon Fort.


Trusty boatman Pat Mc Cloone

A beard of lichen covers it:

‘splendid in scale – evocative in power’


It is unknown in which century Doon Fort was built, but it is one of thirty massive dry stone forts, which have become known as “Western Stone Forts” that are located along the Atlantic seaboard, from Spain and Portugal, right up to Scotland.

Yet Doon is the only one of its kind to be built in the middle of a lake.

20160516_105333This cashel is not circular but oval.

Photographs do no justice.

20160516_093056A magical 36.6m x 25.8m

An amphitheater rather than a defensive structure?

The walls are battered and measure 4 m thick at the base & 4.8m high.

It can be seen here that works were carried out in cement in 1955 but otherwise the structure is utterly untouched.


The stone is schist and smallish in size, apart from large flags reserved for steps, of which there are four flights, which lead to the parapet.


Pat Mc Afee talks with archeologist Paula Harvey about the vulnerability of the fort.

Pat reckons the fort has five years before it falls beyond repair.


Mural passages run inside for about six meters.

As a child I explored these ancient creeps and their mystery never left me.  They were built for small folk.


It is ivy plants thicker than your wrist which tears our  stone heritage asunder


It forces its way between the dry stone structure and literally splits it open


Paula Harvey along with the Ardara & GAP Heritage Group bravely applied  for the Adopt a monument scheme under which a community group undertakes to care for a heritage site.

They won the competition – yet now find themselves at the beginning of a long-term battle with bureaucracy in order to save Doon from its fate of collapse.

John Remington Shaw from Canada rummages in the ivy for stone.


Killing me not-so-softly:

Species ”hedera hibernica” is on the rampage in recent decades, possibly due to global warming. It doesn’t contain itself to dry stone structures alone but also feeds on medieval lime mortar causing the same type of destruction

20160516_103145This has resulted in collapse on the northern face



Pat is confident it would take only a handful of skilled masons a few weeks to repair.

20160516_105400So we must find a way to make wheels turn. All work here is carried out only with the kind co-operation of the Mc Hugh family, owners of the site.

20160516_104015Meanwhile this ‘masterpiece in stone’ and it’s secrets wait for us patiently in the lake


29 thoughts on “Doon Fort

  1. Stunning, just stunning. As usual our pics are perfect and your commentary/explanation of the problem facing the structure was lucid and unarguable.
    Would not a first step being some quick acting herbicide with a brief half life (to prevent poison entering the lake) be the first step whilst waiting for bureaucrats to move?
    If the ivy is killed it can’t go on weakening the wall and, once dead, could be removed from the interstices of the stonework with less structural damage.
    The fort itself reminds me of the Grianan of Aileach in the north of Donegal but that is probaby more to do with being a universal concept than any relationship.

      1. Paula shall describe the situation with the ivy with more knowledge than I – but fundamentally – it could be a home for bees and bats, which means an environmental report must be done before it can be dealt with – which all takes time.
        Thanks for your comment – it is great to be up and running again.

  2. Louise thank you for the lucid presentation and clear, beautiful photography which is characteristic of your work. More please, on the “long battle” to stop the decline of the structure. It is (we all believe……are we being misled!) the role of the Heritage people to respond to identified sites? What are the issues and how can the barriers to action be more broadly publicised so they can be dissolved?

    1. Thank you Marie. As you shall see from my reply to Amphibious re the ivy, it is a case often of one department not necessarily joining the dots with the other: environment, heritage for example. Are we to protect all wildlife at the expense of heritage treasures? Balance must be struck. Expensive reports must be made. It does not help much when the whole department of heritage has to what now is ”the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs”.

    1. As children we spent so much time searching for the ” secret tunnel ” from the fort to the land which my grandfather told us existed. He always thought that the fort had a connection with the collar of gold which his brother found in bogland not too far from there.

    1. Hello Denis – perhaps the archeologist Paula Harvey can give some details here of what help is needed, or else contact the Ardara GAP & Heritage group (they can be found on Facebook). As mentioned in previous replies here, a whole host of expensive reports need to be commissioned in order to prepare the ground for work to go ahead – so fund raising is always an issue for groups like this. Awareness raising & discussion such as this is also important – thank you.

  3. Hi Louise

    That looks like a good project . I can give a hand if I have time. Its a good excuse for a bike trip !

    All the best



  4. The Irish Geneological Soviety restored Carrickabtaghy Castle ;I personally gave to them and they restored the castle.I am willing to give,as I did through Clann O’Dochartaigh.
    We must take action.
    Stephen Clarke Doherty

    1. Stephen thank you for the information – sources of funding are constantly being sought out & I’m sure the heritage group involved shall be interested to inquire into this! It is very encouraging to hear the strong level of interest & support from the ordinary people – thank you.

  5. Well done highlighting this wonderful place & the task you all face saving it for future generations. Great photos & Good luck & keep in touch, as we have a medieval church project under repair….
    Derekvial, Killybegs history & heritage committee

    1. Hi Derek – thanks for stopping by. It is a few years since I visited St Catherine’s, if it is the same medieval church we are thinking of – would love to see what progress is being made. Fantastic to see the commitment of groups such as yourselves.

  6. Thank you Louise for highlighting this national treasure and the imminent danger that the structure is now facing. Great comments by all the other contributors and I wish success to Ardara Gap & Heritage Group.
    One point to remember when conserving these historic structures (and it is mostly overlooked or improperly dealt with), the buildings were there long before the ivy arrived! Will we end up with a pile of stones camouflaged by an island of ivy? In asking this, I am not dismissing the many issues involved, but common sense and the importance of conserving and protecting Doon Fort should take priority.

  7. It seems that the isle is not being grazed. A small flock of goats would put a check on the ivy.
    Two or 3 does with kids and that tiny area would be stripped in a week or two. They’d esp work away at the thick stems and so have them ring barked.
    No need of herbicide and the nesting birds & insects would have ample time to mature and complete their life cycle before it began to die off.

  8. I fished the Lough with my father and grandfather as a child from the 1960’s regularly up to about 20 years ago hiring a boat from Francie McHugh during many years of summer holidays in Portnoo. I have great memories of days catching little jewel-like trout and of picnics taken on “the fort”. Sad to see one side has now collapsed. I really hope something can be done, and soon. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. Good luck with your endeavours.

    1. Conservation, environmental and archaeological plans have been completed and submitted to the various heritage bodies. The management plan for our ‘ Adopt a Monument’ project managers will be complete this week, a major document that will give us a powerful incentive for the works involved. This is a very exciting and progressive move that will give us a balanced and phased approach to the restoration and preservation of Doon Fort itself and allow us to explore the wider landscape of the fort. The geography, history, lore and more will be researched in conjunction to the above works. We will be taking the works slowly in order that they are done right for the integrity of the fort and for future generations. Funding and fundraising will be essential along this road. Some of you may have photos of your trips to the lake and fort and we, the Ardara GAP Heritage and History Group would really appreciate copies. Our email address is

    1. Hello – and my apologies for the not-so-prompt reply.
      Thanks for the link to this report which I have read & believe to be a very influential report.
      How and ever – we are dealing not with hedra helix but hibernica
      much more invasive.
      Goats I think are the best suggestion yet!

  9. In terms of community involvement, it might be worthwhile to contact the local diving community.
    The tumbled part of the wall, should restoration ever be “allowed” by our bureaucratic Lords & Masters, would have to be retrieved from the water.
    It would be a unique opportunity for them to operate in a new environment and, given that visibility would be well nigh zero, a real test of their abilities. (Navy/professional divers routinely operate in zero visibility on crucial task so who knows, maybe it could be used as a proficiency status symbol.)
    Also imagine what artifacts might be found in the mud that would be a bonus for the historical provenance and knowledge.

    1. Indeed – the water is shallow & tumbled stone could be easily retrieved from the crystal clear waters.
      How & ever – you make a very good point insofar that a geophysical survey of the lake itself would be invaluable.
      There are what seem to be crossing points in the lake.

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