‘Ballymote Castle – Just near the town of that name is 150 feet square, sixty high, and flanked and quoined by towers six feet broad in the wall, with a strong rampart and parapet all around. The front is very regular, and the whole of this ruin equally handsome and strong.
It was built in the year 1300 by Richard de Bourg, second Earl of Ulster. This castle, and that of Sligo, being in the hands of the Irish, made a considerable stand against the reduction of that part of the country. But Ireton, having joined with Sir Charles Coote, retook them in 1652.’
From Statistical Survey of the County of Sligo by James M’Parlan, 1802.
As M’Parlan noted more than 200 years ago, Ballymote Castle, County Sligo was originally built in 1300 by Richard de Burgh, second Earl of Ulster, often called the Red Earl, a great-grandson of the Anglo-Norman knight, William de Burgh who had arrived in Ireland in 1185 and before his death had already taken the title ‘Lord of Connacht.’ Like his forebear, the second earl was ambitious and combative, and often in opposition to his fellow Norman lords, not least John FitzThomas, first Earl of Kildare. However, his pugnaciousness failed him in 1315 following the invasion of Ulster by Edward Bruce. The latter’s brother, Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, was married to de Burgh’s daughter Elizabeth (the couple’s son would become David II of Scotland) but that did not stop him attacking the earl and defeating him in battle in County Antrim (Edward Bruce would in turn be defeated and killed three years later at the Battle of Faughart).
It was during the upheaval that followed his defeat by Bruce’s army that the earl lost his recently-built castle in Ballymote, which was then seized by the O’Connor clan. Thereafter no one was able to hold onto it for very long. Just twenty years later the O’Connors lost the castle to the MacDermots who would, in turn lose it to the MacDonaghs in 1381. For the next two centuries, ownership of the castle passed back and forth between these local families. Finally in 1577 it fell to the English. However, Richard Bingham, appointed Governor of Connacht, sacked the place in 1584, and a few years later it was attacked and burnt by an alliance of local families, the O’Connors, O’Hartes and O’Dowds. Next the MacDonaghs regained control of the site, but soon after sold it to the O’Donnells, supposedly for £400 and 300 cattle. Following the defeat of Red Hugh O’Donnell at the Battle of Kinsale (1601), the castle once again passed into English hands. In 1610 it was granted by the crown to Sir William Taaffe whose son John was created Baron of Ballymote in 1628. But during the Confederate Wars it was once more subject to attack and in 1652 was taken by General Ireton. Finally, in the Williamite Wars, the castle was once again taken by the MacDonaghs before being surrendered to Arthur Forbes, Viscount Granard in 1690. Given such a history, it is remarkable that much of the building still stood, but at that point Ballymote Castle was finally abandoned, its moat filled in and the place left to become the ruin that can be seen today.