Posted by Declan Varley, Galway Advertiser in Events.

What started out four years ago, as in most people’s eyes, a unique opportunity to see the wonderfully restored Claregalway Castle, has turned into one of the must-attend festivals in the west and also into one of the leading horticultutural events in the country. And in ten days, the Galway Garden Festival is back for round four.

The festival, on the first weekend of July 6th and 7th promises to be another special event. All gate profits go to and The Galway Simon Community.

This year includes the first gardeners’ competition which gives gardeners a chance to show their creative flair and design a planter pot. Diarmuid Gavin will judge and award the prizes for each category. Details of this are available on

On Saturday, July 6, Winners of the Best Modern Garden in France Sylvie and Patric Quibel, le Jardin Plume, Normandy are travelling to Galway to speak about their garden.

Breton gardener Tanguy de Toelgoet will speak on cultivating a potager garden and will be joined by orchid specialist Brendan Sayers, National Botanic Gardens, Dublin.

On Sunday July 7th, speakers include the poet John F Deane (1.30pm) and Dom Anthony Keane OISB, Glenstal Abbey, Co. Limerick (3.30pm), who will bring a unique perspective to this festival.

A variety of nurseries and garden suppliers from across Ireland will offer a range of plants, trees, seeds, shrubs, herbs, tools, baskets, pots, garden furniture, art work and equipment.

Expert craftspeople including stone masons, blacksmiths and weavers will be present to demonstrate and advise on their crafts.

Birdwatch Ireland, The Irish Seedsavers, The Organic Centre, Rossinver, the Green Sod Land Trust, GIY Ireland and other impressive organisations will be there to advise and share a range of knowledge and experience.

An extensive range of gardening books, botanical art books etc will be available in the bookshop.

Last year’s highlights included the botanical art exhibition and this year, it will be even better as more artists will show their work.

Music is a key feature of the festival each year and The Summer Music Opera Ensemble, The West Coast Jazz Band, St. Patrick’s Brass Band, The Army Band of Western Command will all be playing during this festival.

Local food, traders, and entertainment

Freshly cooked food and drinks are available each day.  Children’s entertainment will keep kids busy, leaving parents time to enjoy the event.

Made in Galway is a new feature in this year’s festival where local craftspeople and artists showcase their work—the quality of exhibits here will really be of interest to a wide audience.

Claregalway Castle is an early 15th century castle—one of the earliest De Burgo Tower houses—and has been saved from near collapse by a gradual restoration programme which began in 2003.

Festival admission is just €7 allowing people to support some of the Irish-based traders and food suppliers who have travelled from near and far to be at the festival.

Why not leave the car at home and travel in comfort by train to Galway Ceannt Station? Book early for the best rail fares available on

A free return courtesy bus will run from Galway Ceannt Railway Station to the festival each day, starting at 10.30am and every hour thereafter (Free parking facilities also available).


Mr. O’Donoghue has funded and overseen the restoration of the castle for the past decade, bringing in some of Europe’s top stonemasons and conservationists to ensure that the castle is returned to its original state. In the process, he had to overcome many obstacles in his mission to ensure that the castle was restored to the style in which it was constructed.

Were it not for his drive, the castle would be left to fall like the 27 other castles which are in various states of ruination in the hinterland of Claregalway and Turloughmore and Knockdoe.

When he acquired the castle in 2000, the building was in danger of collapse. The roof of the castle had been removed in 1653, following the famous Siege of Galway by Cromwellian forces. Mature trees sprang from the upper floors and the stone work was under threat.  A major reconstruction programme was drawn up under conservation architect David Johnson, a former inspector of national monuments with The Office of Public Works.

Eamonn O’Donoghue  never forgot the childhood picnic shared with his brothers and sisters and parents beside the bridge at Claregalway Castle. His father, Tom, a Toomevara man, a great hurler, and a civil engineer with Cork County Council, had a passion for Ireland’s romantic ruins. A photograph was taken of all seven O’Donoghues lined up grinning at the bridge. The family still have it at their Cork home. But Tom’s passion passed on to several of his children. Eamonn studied medicine in Cork, and archaelogy under Michael J O’Kelly, the man who brilliantly interpreted the ancient tombs at Newgrange.

Shortly after his appointment as ophthalmic surgeon to the Western Health Board (HSE), Eamonn set out to find the castle. He had no idea where it was, except that it was near the city. He drove out every approach road to Galway until one evening there it was—a vast crumbling tower, ivy-clad, with ruined buildings within its courtyard, exactly as he remembered ed as a child.

Crumbling ruin

On that very first evening of re-discovery, Eamonn met Canon Callanan, the local parish priest and an entertaining classicist, who told him some of the history of the area. Taken in conjunction with the spectacular ruins of the nearby Franciscan abbey, the medieval bridges, the village itself, the ‘ghosts of other buildings and landmarks (really only visible from the air), it soon became clear to Eamonn that this was a monument of major significance. Its battlements not only protected a main road into Galway, but looked down on the ancient Barony of Clare, which originally incorporated the vast and fertile plains of east Galway, known in pre-Norman times as Magh Seaola, and witnessed its evolving story.

The Castle was owned by John Buckley Jr (formerly of Spiddal House), then living in Indonesia, who agreed to sell. The next challenge was to get the various permissions required for a major transformation, and the team to make it happen. Two friends, David Newman Johnson, former keeper of national monuments, and archaelogist Leo Swan, gave moral and expert support. Galway County Council was, from the start, supportive in principle, but there were difficulties with the many conservation agencies along the way. “I wanted to do the job as correctly as possible, but there is a need to reevaluate the evolution of conservation principles in Ireland today,” said Mr. O’Donoghue.

Delays were costly and drawn out. And now, more than a decade later, the restoration programme is almost complete on this important 15th century tower house; one of the largest and most significant tower houses in the west of Ireland. At the festival, visitors can get a close view of the sympathetic restoration programme carried out by master builder Micheal Herwood from Cloonacauneen and French stonemason Jean Baptise Maduit.

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