Doon Fort Heritage Week Event 2014, Co. Donegal with Paula Harvey, Teacher, Dun Laoghaire Further Education Institute
Following the success of the first ever National Heritage Week one-day event to Doon Fort, near Portnoo, in August 2013, Paula Harvey, a member of staff at DFEi and Tor Mór Cultural Tourism Committee, planned another trip to the magical island. The committee wish to express their sincere thanks to Josie McHugh, on whose lands this magnificent monument is located. The McHugh family have been the guardians of the site for many generations, and without their assistance this event would not take place.
Doon Fort is situated on a hidden island in Loughadoonin south-west Donegal, and can only be accessed by boat. This year, we hosted the event over two days, Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th August. The boat has a limited capacity and took people to the island every fifteen minutes, starting at 11.00am. Pre-booking was essential and over the two days some 300 people visited the island and fort, stayed and picnicked in the wonderful sunshine.
Doon Fort is one of thirty massive drystone forts, which have become known as “Western Stone Forts” that are located along the Atlantic seaboard, from Spain and Portugal, right up to Scotland. In Ireland, these massive fortifications stretch from Kerry, Clare, Galway and the Aran Islands, Sligo and Mayo and into Donegal, with An Grianan of Ailech (Inishowen peninsula) & Doon Fort. These monuments consist of impressive fortifications, built of drystone walling. They have narrow defensive entrances, internal wall passages and flights of steps leading to the top of parapeted wall.
Many words were used in Ireland to signify an enclosure where people lived - caiseal, rath, lios etc. However a dun was generally the residence of the king or chief. The name implies that Doon Fort was the residence of a powerful ruling family. Doon fort is also known as O’Boyle’s Fort. But it would appear that the island was inhabited before the O’Boyle’s. Loughadoon was formerly known as Loch Senmogha named after an ancient tribe known as the Tuath Senmogha. Oilean Lermogha was the name given to the early fortified island in Loughadoon. Incidentally, the unique boat that ferried people to and from the island last year has been recently christened ‘Oilean Lermogha’.
During the heritage week event we explored the archaeological, geological, wildlife, cultural and historic heritage of the site. We also traced the story of Doon Fort from the period of the Tuath Senmogha in ancient times and then the Breslins (5th century) who would have followed them and then on to the O’Boyle control of this area especially from 1300 to 1600AD. Cultural and traditional activities included wattle-wall building, peg loom weaving, horse-shoes, board games, folklore, ogham writing, medieval costume and torture, a taste of the medieval banquet, music, dance and more.
Western Stone Forts series of monuments have been submitted for short-listing on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We could say that these monuments represent the original Wild Atlantic Way!
National Heritage Week is part of the European Heritage Week Days initiative and this year’s theme is ‘Family – generations exploring heritage together’ and that was certainly the experience of all who visited Doon Fort. Speaking at Doon Fort and launching the event, Joe McHugh TD, Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, said “National Heritage Week is the perfect platform for families of all ages to come together to get involved in a wide range of activities. It is the perfect opportunity to focus on and to increase awareness of our local and perhaps lesser known heritage sites such as Doon Fort.”
The reason for doing this event was to highlight the importance of Doon Fort in local, national and international terms, as a monument that represents our rich built and cultural heritage. Doon Fort has enormous potential for future research and for its educational value as well as being part of Donegal’s cultural tourism in an area of rich natural beauty. If treated with sympathy – Doon Fort could become the backbone of heritage in this region of SW Donegal.