Glenveagh Castle & Park

5 reasons to visit Glenveagh Castle

Glenveagh Castle is one of our favourite things to do in Donegal when we visit our hostels in Donegal. We never tire of it.  While the county is big enough and wild enough to warrant a lifetime of exploration and is forever throwing up new places to visit, Glenveagh Castle is one of those locations that we always return to. Here are five reasons why.

1. Getting to Glenveagh Castle

As the fourth largest county in Ireland, Donegal is big enough for us to have multiple hostels in and even then it is a bit of drive to get from hostel to hostel. Glenveagh is very accessible for anyone who visits our Errigal Hostel. If you are in a car it is just down the road. We like to bike it though. There is nothing like cycling through the National Park on the R251. There is just one road going through the park. It is perfect as it is the 6th largest national park in Europe. We have not walked it yet. Some of the more seasoned hikers that stay in the hostel like to walk through the Poisoned Glen and down to the bridle path to the castle. Maybe next time.

route to glenveagh castle

2. History of Glenveagh Castle

Glenveagh Castle has an interesting history and in typical Irish style it is supposed to be cursed. On first glance it looks like a Scottish Baronial castle.  This might lead you to believe that it this is due to the long history between Donegal and Scottish communities. However, It was actually built by James Adair in 1873. Black Jack, as he was known locally, was from Laois. He made a fortune speculating on land in the USA. Inspired by Queen Victoria’s castle, Balmoral, he cleared the tenants from the land and built Glenveagh. It was this action which led to the curse on the owners of the castle. It was said that the owners of Glenveagh would never bear children and this has been true since then.

After he died, his wife took over the running of the castle. She was responsible for the gardens and the round tower. By all accounts, she was a much kinder person than her husband. She even went so far as to house Belgian soldiers there during the first World War.

glenveagh gardens

After the Irish Civil War, it passed in to the hands of a Harvard professor who was interested in Irish archaeology. He disappeared while on an island off the coast. Then it passed to Henry McIlhenny who was the curator of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He transformed Glenveagh Castle into a hot spot for cinema stars like Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe. He decorated each room in a different style including a music room with a 18th century harp, a library overlooking the lake and some very stylish touches such as seashell covered walls. He gave it to the Irish state in 1979.

3. Scenery of Glenveagh Castle

Glenveagh Castle & lake

The scenery around Glenveagh Castle is full of contrasts and this is what makes it such a popular place to visit. It does not matter whether the sun is splitting the stones or the grey clouds are nearly touching the land. On one side of the dark lake are rugged peat mountains which hold back the parklands containing one of the largest herds of deer in Europe. The other side of the lake has the imposing four story castle built from stark grey granite with its round tower. It is hard to decide which is more stunning. The fairytale castle and its carefully laid our gardens or the majesty of the natural landscape around it.

4. Trails near Glenveagh Castle

Glenveagh Castle and gardens

With its location in the Glenveagh National Park, this is a great spot for walkers and hikers but here we are just going to concentrate on walks around the castle.The castle itself has plenty of walks through the gardens and off up to vantage points above the hills. The majority of these are one hour trails. Most people take the shuttle bus from the visitor centre to the castle and unless you are stuck for time, we highly recommend this 4km lakeside walk. The new bridle trail follows the contour of the lake so it is full of turns as it winds its way along the inlets to the castle and the reflection of the clouds in the lake and the many small islands makes it a sublime stroll.

5. Glenveagh Castle Gardens

Glenveagh Gardens

Formal gardens are not something you think of when planning a trip to Donegal. If you are into shrubs and exotics plants and lots of carefully cultivated flowers, you will already know about Glenveagh. For everyone else it is like entering a miniature world. Once you pass between the gates of the castle with their stag head scuptures, you leave Donegal and its rough beauty. You enter a crazy world of greenery that looks like it was brought back here by hundreds of global travellers. Every corner turns into something new. It will make you dream of far-off places and times. Here you will see walled gardens carefully laid out to supply the castle tea-rooms with herbs and salads. Discover the interlocking Italian gardens with their stern classical sculptures. Stroll through the Swiss walk between rhododenrons and pines. Find the hidden rose gardens and the gothic orangery. Sit in silence by the Himalayan meditation pool or imagine yourself tending the cute Victorian cottage garden. Our favourite is the pleasure gardens with their demented looking Indonesian sculptures.

Extra bonus attraction – The visitor centre has one of those cool old 1970s dioramas showing the park with red lights that you can control youself. Flick a switch and watch Mt Errigal light up. Flick another switch and there is the Poisoned Glen.

To get close to Glenveagh Castle we recommend you take a trip to Errigal Hostel.

You never know who you might meet!
You never know who you might meet!

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