In the early 15th century, the Gaelic Maguires, who ruled Fermanagh, built a castle at Enniskillen to maintain control over the north-western part of their territory.
The chieftain at the time, King Thomas Maguire, (Thomas the Great) ruled from Lisnaskea in the south-eastern part of the county. His younger brother, Hugh ‘The Hospitable’ Maguire, was deputy chieftain and he is credited with building Enniskillen Castle, locating it in a strong defensive position beside the River Erne.
The original castle, a small square tower-house, guarded one of the few passes into Ulster and defended Fermanagh from attack, particularly from the neighbouring O’Rourke and O’Donnell clans. The exact date of the building of the castle is not recorded.
The earliest reference to Enniskillen Castle occurs in 1439 in the Annals of Ulster and refers to King Tomas Og Maguire being held prisoner at his own castle in Enniskillen by Domnall Maguire ‘the Freckled’, and liberated eventually by Henry O’Neill.
However, Hugh Maguire, the reputed builder, died in 1428, so, if this tradition is correct, the castle was obviously built before then.Hugh’s death took place in Kinsale in county Cork as he returned with his nephew from a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James at Compostella in Spain.
The Maguire stronghold at Lisnaskea remained the seat of the ruling chieftains until 1484, when Sean Maguire became the first member of the Enniskillen branch of the family to be elected chieftain.
From this time and throughout the following century all but two of the Maguire chieftains came from Enniskillen Castle, thus establishing it as a power centre in Fermanagh.
Hugh the Hospitable Maguire,
builder of Enniskillen Castle.
Conjectural drawing by D. Warner.
© Fermanagh County Museum.