The Grianan of Aileach is a a stone ringfort located at the top of a hill near the entrance to the Inishowen Peninsula. The ringfort, built by the rulers of Aileach and Inishowen in the 6th or 7th century, was restored in the 1870s by Walter Bernard of Derry. It is believed that a fort existed at this location since the bronze or iron age. This is indicated by ancient earthen ramparts that encircles the present fort. The tumulus (burial mound) found outside the stone walls could be from 3000 BC.
The fort was the stronghold of the Cenel Eoghain, the descendants of Eoghan, son of the Irish High King, Niall of the Nine Hostages. The Cenel Eoghain became the principal branch of the Northern Ui Neills who were the rulers of Inishowen and present day County Tyrone. The Cenel Eoghain occupied the Grianan of Aileach from the days of Eoghan in the 5th century. There is a legend that St. Patrick converted and baptised Eoghan at Aileach. (A well is located at the hilltop near the fort.)
Through the years, Aileach was attacked by rival kingdoms and Viking raiders. In 1101, the King of Munster, Murdoch O’Brien, destroyed the ringfort at Aileagh in retaliation of his previous defeat at the hands of the Cenel Eoghain. By that time, the Cenel had moved its headquarters from Aileach to a castle at Tulach Og near Dungannon, County Tyrone.
The walls of the ringfort are 16 ft. high and 15 ft. thick. There are three terraces. It has a commanding view of Lough Swilly, Lough Foyle, Inch Island, and the southern entrances to the Inishowen Peninsula. The walls encircle a space 77 feet in diameter.
The word Grianan means “sunny place.” Aileach means “stony.” The Grianan of Aileach could mean “Stone palace of the Sunny Place.” It was always cloudy or rainy when we visited. Go figure.