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      Cavan County Museum recently launched their new exhibition Clogh Oughter Castle:  A Witness to Centuries of Irish History. This exhibition was created to coincide with the publication of  Clogh Oughter Castle, Co. Cavan:  Archaeology, History and Architecture by Conleth Manning. It is the 8 publication in the Archaeological Monograph Series. The exhibition was the culmination of over a years work for the museum and I have to say the result is fantastic. The exhibition is a combination of text panels, timelines, interactive aids, mannequinns and original artefacts from the excavation that was carried out on the castle in the late 80s.

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The history of the castle is a vibrant and interesting one. The castle was built in the late 13th Century and was said to have been built on the site of the O’Reilly crannog. The lake, Lough Oughter, that the crannog is on is in the uppermost major lake on the River Erne which is where the name comes from, Loch Uachtaire-Upper Lake. The castle was an O’Reilly stronghold right up until the 1600s when it was taken over by the government and the Culme family. The history of the castle is interesting with many historical events having taken place there. The castle had a turbulent history which eventually ended with the castle being bombed in 1653 by Cromwellian forces and abandoned . From the early 1600s the castle became a prison and it was during this time that Bishop Bedell was held there. Bedell was the first person to translate the bible into Irish. It is also said that Owen Roe O’Neil died at Clogh Oughter in 1649 although whether this was at the Culme house on the shore or that castle it is not known.

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In 1985 the castle was taken under state guardianship and conservation work was started without delay. Later an official excavation was undertaken at the site under the leadership of Conleth Manning. The excavation yielded a huge amount of finds and many of these finds are now on display in Cavan County Museum to coincide with their exhibition. Some of the more impressive ones include, a lead papal seal with Saints Peter and Paul, silver, pewter and lead objects, coins, a 1603/4 Silver Penny, clay pipes, pottery shards and a Iron plumb bob.

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The exhibition is a fantastic one and portrays the history of the impressive site in an exciting and informative way. One of the most intriguing things that has come to light since the launch of the exhibition is how many people are keen to visit the site itself. At present the castle is not accessible to anyone who doesn’t have their own boat. No attempt to the best of my knowledge has been made to clean up the site in recent years and organise tours to the site. Cavan is not alone in having a historical site on an island. Other counties have counteracted this accessibility issue by running boat tours to sites, an example of this would be Devenish Island in Co. Fermanagh which houses a monastery and round tower.

Personally I think Cavan is missing an opportunity here. If there was a system in place to have tours running seasonally I can imagine it would be very popular. The Lough Oughter complex of lakes has ample history and offers up an abundance of places for people to visit. I would hope that this is soon rectified. The castle is a jewel in Cavan’s heritage crown and at present it is being left to fall to ruin and unfortunately appears to be completely forgotten by the people who should promote the history and heritage sites in the county and country. Hopefully this is something that will change in the near future with the exhibition shinning a light on how fascinating this site is.

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