Greencastle or Northburg is rightfully described as “The greatest castle building enterprise in Donegal”.
Built by Richard de Burgh, the Red Earl of Ulster in 1305 on a prominent rock, close to the shore, this awesome building utilised the advanced construction techniques of the Normans and the remarkable use of the natural rock to build a fortress intended to prevent attacks from Scotland and to act as a staging post for the final assault on the heartlands of Gaelic Ulster.
Although devastated by the wages of war and decay of time, this castle in terms of scale and construction compares with the greatest Edwardian castles of Wales; it has even been suggested that it was built by an expert who was involved in the erection of Harlech and Caernarvon Castles (McNeill 1980 p76).
It was captured by the Scots in 1316, during the invasion of Ireland by Edward Bruce. On the defeat of Bruce it reverted to the Earl. The Red Earl’s grandson, William, who succeeded the Earldom in 1328 was at once in conflict with a distant cousin, Walter de Brugh from Connaught. He had Walter arrested and brought to Northburg where he was slowly starved to death. The savegery of this act prompted the Mandeville family on the instigation of Walter’s sister to murder William in 1333.
As there was no one other than a young daughter named Elizabeth to take up the Earldom (and she fled to England along with her mother) Anglo-Norman power in Ulster was brought to a temporary end. The O’Doherty’s (dependents of the O’Donnells) took control of the castle.
However, fighting within the O’Donnell clan resulted in a conflict during which help was procured from the Scots and the castle was badly damaged by cannon in the ensuing war.
The castle then fell into the hands of Chichester during the plantation but eventually fell into disuse.
The castle itself should be viewed right up close and especially to the shore-side where the scale can be appreciated.
The rock outcrop upon which part of the walls and towers were constructed offers an unrivalled view of Magilligan Strand on the other side of the Foyle.