It was after Mel Gibson had finished shooting Braveheart that Eddie Jordan decided to bring his six-year-old son up to see Dunsoghly Castle.

The 15th-century four-storey tower served as a stand-in for Edinburgh Castle for the 1995 re-telling of Sir William Wallace’s life.

Just 1km west of Dublin Airport’s southern runway, it is owned and maintained by the Office of Public Works, but surrounded by private lands.

Until the film crews arrived in St Margaret’s town, people could get into the castle with the help of a local keyholder, Jordan says. “And after Braveheart, a metal gate went up.”

“Locked off,” says Jordan, driving through the narrow roads that loop around the perimeter of the grounds on Thursday morning.

“I was passionate about the castle since my dad brought me up there at nine or 10, and I brought my son up hoping I could do the same,” he says.

It was an aborted trip, though. “He was distraught, because we could see the castle over the gate, but couldn’t get in,” he says.

Access is still limited to people with permission to enter the site from the landowner, the Office of Public Works or the National Monuments Service, he says. “And you would probably have to sign an indemnity form.”

Dunsoghly Castle is a national monument, owned by the state since 1914, says Jordan. “We all own it, and everyone is prevented from getting in. It’s actually wrong.”

In the current Fingal County Council Development Plan, the castle has been listed as the site of a possible tourist attraction, one that could take in the landscape around it.

That appears to overlap with the vision that Peter Lyons, who owns the lands around the castle, has for this part of his farm, as an attraction and a food hub, too, for visitors from all around.

A spokesperson for Fingal County Council said that the land surrounding the castle is in private ownership, and that the castle is the responsibility of the OPW.

The OPW hasn’t yet responded to queries sent on Friday.

Showing heritage

Jordan pulls up outside the main entrance to the farmlands on which the castle stands on a bright warm Thursday morning.

He worked in Dublin City Council for 36 years, before retiring in 2012.

During his last years as a council worker, he enrolled in a history course at Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth, he says, as he steps out of the car.

“We had to pick a project and the only idea I could think of was Dunsoghly Castle,” he says.

Jordan stands outside a steel gate through which the castle’s four towers and slated roof are visible over some trees. A Ryanair plane takes off in the distance.

The project was supposed to be a brief assignment, he says, but his research ended up going above and beyond a brief presentation. “And I told the lecturer there is so much more information than I could put into this. So he says, ‘Write a book,’ and so I did.”

The result was If a Towerhouse Could Talk: the History of Dunsoghly Castle and the Plunkett Family, published in 2010.

The castle was built around 1450 by Sir Thomas Plunkett, the lord chief justice of the Irish Common Pleas, he says. “The Plunkett family were amazing. They were chief justices, clergymen or soldiers, high-ranking officers.”

Members of the family would live in the castle for 400 years, he says. Then, in 1914, it was listed as a national monument.

After access became limited post-Braveheart, Jordan still arranged visits, determined not to let people forget about it, he says.

“I organised six or seven different trips into it with groups, historical societies, and I would do lectures,” he says.

But once the OPW started to ask that he sign an indemnity form, in case an accident occur, he became hesitant to bring in any more tours, he says.

“If anything goes wrong, I’d be taking full responsibility. I don’t do this for money. It’s voluntary and I can’t afford to take care of the public liability insurance,” says Jordan.

In the Fingal County Council Development Plan 2017–2023, the castle was listed as one of several sites with demesne landscapes that should be looked at for some kind of tourism development.

It is included in the current development plan again as the possible site of an “integrated tourism complex”. The plan notes that the historical buildings for these sites would need sensitive conservation and any changes to the landscape should be sympathetic.

Jordan had launched a petition in January 2020, when there were few indications that progress had been made to improve public access.

It was addressed to the Minister for Culture and Heritage, the OPW and the National Monuments Service. To date, it has 796 signatures.

But it never gained the momentum he had hoped, Jordan says. “I’m still passionate, and if anyone shows an interest, I will jump on it. But I’m a bit worn out.”

A vision

Landowner Peter Lyons has wanted to see the castle opened up to the public for years too, he says. “A lot of people would have assumed it was me who stopped people coming out. Or my father. On the contrary.”

His grandfather bought the farmland around Dunsoghly Castle in the 1950s.

He comes from a long line of cattle traders, he says, as he drives his white van out of Broombridge on Monday morning.

“My ancestors would have been traders as opposed to farmers, and for hundreds of years they would’ve shipped cattle, traded cattle over to England,” he says.

As his van rumbles northwards, and eventually through the front gate into the working farm, he passes by fields to either side of the driveway where cattle and horses calmly graze.

The Lyons’ family farm covers 73 acres, he says.

Around the castle are cattle sheds, vans and a pile of old bricks sourced from the former Grangegorman psychiatric hospital. On the northern side of the tower is a long bawn wall, inside of which is a small, more modern, stable.

A small wall protects the castle’s eastern facade. Behind it, a light brown cow sits quietly on a patch of grass. Her breathing is laboured. She’s contracted bovine pneumonia, he says.

Lyons kneels to unlock an iron door that leads into the castle, noting a dark green tourism sign mounted to the wall. “That has been there for 40 years,” he says, irked by its redundancy.

Lyons says he wants the castle back open to the public. “But as insurances went on, under public health and safety, nobody has been allowed in for donkey’s years.”

In 2010, the Lyons family appointed an architects’ firm to do a conservation and development study with a view to establishing the castle as a heritage destination in Fingal.

The interior is maintained by the OPW, with health and safety warning signs dotted across the four storeys.

The ground-floor barrel-vaulted room. Credit: Michael Lanigan

One of the floors is missing, Jordan said on the Thursday before. “And there was a new floor put in in the 1950s to facilitate repairs to the roof.”

The surviving oak timber roof is one of the castle’s most important features, Lyons says. “You can see where some of it was replaced, but a lot of this can be carbon dated back to 1430.”

In Jordan’s book, he wrote that it served as a model for the modern reconstruction of roofs in Bunratty Castle in Co Clare, Rothe House in Kilkenny, and Dunsandle Castle in Galway.

An open farm

From the rooftop, Lyons surveys the land and points southwards towards the city centre. “We’re only a mile off the M50 and seven from the GPO exactly.”

His hope, he says, would be to develop an “open farm”. The lands could still be used for agriculture, but he also wants to add a farm shop and tourism features like a tea room and virtual reality dome – a structure that could simulate different scenes from the castle’s history.

In 2017, the Lyons family commissioned a feasibility study from Cooney Architects.

This suggested that the OPW would be responsible for fully restoring the castle and making it visitor-ready in line with its own standards.

The Lyons’ would, in turn, focus on public access, creating an internal road, car parking and a visitor reception space, the study said.

As part of a push to get the castle reopened, Lyons brought Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien out for a visit in March 2022.

A spokesperson for the Department for Housing, Local Government and Heritage wouldn’t comment on the visit, saying this is primarily a matter for the OPW.

In May 2023, Lyons submitted an application to Fingal County Council to develop an abattoir on the farm lands. “It’s 450 metres away from here,” he says gesturing in the distance to where the proposed slaughterhouse would be, while standing on top of the tower.

He doesn’t see the abattoir as conflicting with the idea of a tourist complex around the castle, he says.

The council received 28 letters with objections that mentioned its proximity to both the castle and local homes, as well as other issues like that the land is in a green belt, and concerns around waste disposal, noise, and traffic.

The council’s conservation officer asked for more detail on how the abattoir would look, and impact visually on the castle.

A spokesperson for Fingal County Council said they couldn’t comment, as the planning application is still live.

Lyons says part of his vision is for the area to have an agri-food hub for artisan producers.

“It would become a part of the tourist trail, and a part of the castle that would allow producers to come out, whether to make yoghurt, jams or bread, anything from the north county and they could put it over there,” he says.

Michael Lanigan is a freelance journalist who covers arts and culture for Dublin Inquirer. His work also appears in Vice, Totally Dublin, and the Business Post. You can reach him at

Join the Conversation


  1. It’s a shame that this fine Fingal asset is not available for viewing. Everyone involved should redouble efforts to get it opened to the public.

  2. I would love to see this project up and running. I wounder about the name for a long time. A housing estate was built in Finglas named Dunsoghly. Hopefully something will happen.

    1. This historic tower should be open for the public to enjoy.It is an a be solure shame that it isn’t.The landowner is on board with the idea so there is no reason why the pro JJ ext doesn’t go ahead

  3. Yes as a resident to the castle it would such a shame to have a slaughter house on the grounds of this beautiful definitely should be a tourist attraction with coffee shop ect

    1. We Finglas historical society where very interested in tours to the castle and I had visitors from America there in 1995 and they were amazed at the beauty of the castle should be protected at any cause its our heritage
      Kind regards
      Linda emmett

  4. Thanks for that piece, Michael. And thank you Eddie Jordan for your great research work and dedication.

  5. Lambay Island also a unique site in private hands and inaccessible. OPW offered to buy it decades ago after an approach from his lordship.

  6. Put in a cycle lane or three and it will fly, show the Parnell family, used bikes and it is a shoo in with council management!

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