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Enniskillen Castle

Former Fortress Guarding the Erne - Now a Museum

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Busy Medieval Soldiers in the Cellars of Enniskillen Castle

Busy Medieval Soldiers in the Cellars of Enniskillen Castle

© Bernd Biege 2014

The Bottom Line

Visitors might be excused for thinking that Enniskillen Castle is best viewed from a distance - because it is. The vista across the Erne with the fairy-tale Watergate is as romantic as it gets. From up close you soon realize that apart from this 17th century feature the castle is utilitarian. Though originally built in the 15th century by Hugh "the Hospitable" Maguire, it today is essentially a 19th century barracks complex. But it houses two museums - the Fermanagh County Museum and the Inniskillings Museum. Both worth a visit, though the interwoven exhibitions in the Castle Keep might confuse a bit.

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Pros

  • Medieval castle guarding the river crossing between Lower and Upper Lough Erne.
  • Two museums are housed in castle buildings.
  • Number of rather unusual exhibits connected the the "Inniskillings".

Cons

  • Museum layout slightly disjointed.
  • Restricted wheelchair access.

Description

  • Enniskillen Castle was built in the 15th century for the Maguires, a Gaelic family ruling the area.
  • Strategic location guarding pass into Ulster led to an incorporation into the English garrison system in the 17th century.
  • Long used as military barracks, the complex has been converted into a museum complex in the 20th century.
  • The busy and interesting town centre of Enniskillen is only a few minutes walk away - leave your car at the (free) car park and enjoy a walk (though it is quite hilly).

Guide Review - Enniskillen Castle (County Fermanagh)

Visitors to Enniskillen Castle are guided into the recently built Fermanagh County Museum (which fits into the general layout quite nicely, kudos to the planners). Apart from temporary exhibitions here the natural history and the archaeology of Fermanagh are detailed. Complete with cleverly arranged showcases of stuffed animals and scale dioramas. Further exhibitions on folk life and lace-making lead to a section on the delicate Belleek pottery manufactured a few miles away.

Upon exiting this building you find yourself in the courtyard, looking at the back of the Watergate - a Scottish-style addition built by commander William Cole in the early 17th century. Still impressive, though the mighty cannon displayed next to it might make short work of these defenses. This actually is a German mortar captured by the Inniskillings in the First World War and sets the scene for the regimental museum in the castle's massive keep.

This museum is an Aladdin's Cave of regimental silver, uniforms, decorations, arms, models and ... "souvenirs" from several centuries and battlefields. From a silver pagoda to a German machine gun with a small detour via a stuffed elephant's foot.

As the regimental museum nestles between the recreated vaults of the keep (where a cat leisurely grooms itself while soldiers are preparing crossbow bolts) and further exhibitions on the Plantation of Ulster and the development of Enniskillen Town you might get confused a bit. But then the history of Enniskillen was always closely interrelated with the military.

By the way - after you have visited the castle, just cross the main road, head up the street towards the churches and then turn right ... the busy shopping street will lead you into the centre of Enniskillen Town. Take a walk here, and enjoy a town that has reinvented itself after the Troubles. Of which the War Memorial, scene of the IRA atrocity on Remembrance Day, is a poignant reminder.

 

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