Rockfleet Castle – Granuaile’s fortress near Newport
Rockfleet Castle is 8km (5 miles) west of Newport, off the Achill Road (N59). It is also known as Carraigahowley, a corruption of the Irish Carraig an Chabhlaigh, meaning “rock of the fleet”. This tower house, built in the mid-16th century, is most famously associated with Granuaile, the chieftain of the O’Malley clan and notorious pirate queen in the late 16th century.
Rockfleet was owned by Risteárd an Iarainn Bourke, known as “Richard in iron”, who is reputed to have always worn a coat of chain mail inherited from his Anglo-Norman ancestors. The nickname may also have come from the fact that he controlled the ironworks at Burrishoole, where his main castle and lands were.
Granuaile married Richard, her second husband, in 1566. When she moved her ships and army into Rockfleet, she divorced him. The following year her son Tiobaid na Loinge (Toby of the ships) was born aboard her galley, which was later attacked by Barbery pirates. When she returned to Rockfleet, she reunited with Richard to protect themselves from the English. Tiobaid is buried at Ballintubber Abbey.
She spent her latter years here, and legend has it that the door in the top-most room was where the rope from her galley came through from the outside and was tied to her bed. She most likely died at Rockfleet Castle around 1603 aged 73.
The castle, restored in the 1950s, is over 18 metres high and has a small rectangular corner turret rising above the parapet. Of the four floors, including ground level, the middle two are of wood and the top one is stone flagged. This stone floor may have been included to prevent fires from reaching that level. The ceiling is a fine example of a barrel vault.
Every nook and cranny can be explored including the passages within the walls. A very unusual wooden ladder is used to access the first floor above ground level, and from there to the top there is a spiral stone stairway. As was common in tower houses, the staircase winds clockwise upwards, so that an intruder would need to wield his or her sword left handed to advance to the upper floors. The gate to the outside at the top is padlocked for safety.
The Great Western Greenway passes near the castle, although it is quite a detour to visit Rockfleet.