By Luke Henderson
The entire county of Sligo is steeped in history – North, East, West and South.
Often the history on the fringes can be overlooked, but just outside Gurteen in South Sligo, Moygara castle stands as a bastion of a time long ago when the O’Gara clan reigned supreme along the borders of the Yeats’ county.
PJ O’Neill, the current owner of the ruined castle spoke to the Sligo Weekender about how the castle is stumbled upon, rather than sought out by tourists.
“We have the ordinary tourist who happens to stumble on it or that they are interested in the history of Sligo and have discovered it that way,” PJ said.
The hope for PJ and a new group charged with the ongoing preservation of the castle, Moygara Castle Conservation Group is to put Moygara more in the minds of people coming to visit Sligo.
On Tuesday of this week some 85 European castle specialists visited the ruins of Moygara castle to do just that.
“From our point of view we would treat this [Moygara castle] as an unknown treasure that is on the periphery of the county. We are always trying to compete with Sligo town and trying to get more people out here to south Sligo,” PJ commented.
Much of the knowledge that we have of Moygara castle can be attributed to the ongoing hard work of PJ.
The land which the castle is situated on is PJ’s family’s land and through growing up with the castle, he developed a keen interest in the history and archaeology surrounding the historic fortification.
“Ten years ago we set up a group here and we spent the last ten years researching every last inch of the castle with the view of answering the two questions. When was it built? And who built it? The research is pretty much exhausted. We have done geophysical studies of the castle and the grounds around it, studies on the buildings, everything that you could imagine. All of that will be in one publication,” PJ said.
The mammoth task of taking on the responsibility of both being the owner and person responsible for researching and maintaining the castle was something which PJ hope to share out amongst the community.
He decided to take somewhat of a back-seat and put it to the community. In spring of 2016 he put out feelers to see about organising a focus group to continue research and maintenance of the castle.
“We wanted to see if there was interest in Moygara castle going forward and so we put the group together and headed it up by somebody else. So to give the group a fair crack at what needs to be done, I leased the castle to them for 10 years and after that 10 years, provided a certain amount of conservation is gone into the castle, it would go into a trust for the local community,” PJ said.
Excavations and work is still ongoing. According to PJ much of the excavation work has merely ‘scratched the surface’ in relation the overall picture of Moygara castle.
IT Sligo’s archaeology department come out to the site on a regular basis to excavate the site. It is also the hope that in the coming months a publication detailing Moygar castle will be published.
Adrian Tansey, who is a member of the group ‘Moygara Castle Conservation Group’ and a lifelong friend of PJ O’Neill’s spoke about the constant new information which the castle is producing with each new bit of research.
“PJ and I are friends for years. Each time I am at Moygara castle there is something new to be learned about it. I would not have known much about Moygara castle even though it is only over the road from me. PJ told me that he needed to get a new group together and asked me would I be interested and I said that I would, but I am still at the very early stages of learning about the castle,” Adrian commented.
More detail on the castle’s history can be found in this week’s edition of the Sligo Weekender- in shops now.