Ballylahan Castle

Ballylahan Castle
Ballylahan Castle

Ballylahan Castle is now a listed National Monument under the care of the OPW.  Built by Jordan De Exeter in 1239 on the south bank of the river Moy in Co. Mayo.  The Exeters arrived in Ireland during the Norman invasion of 1168 with Strongbow the Earl of Pembroke.  To assume Irish patronymics, the name was changed to Mac Jordan following Jordan De Courcy’s demise during 1197.  De Exeter was later appointed Sheriff of Connaught.  De Exeter built a Friary in nearby Straide: it was reputed that a tunnel connected both buildings.  During 1316 the King of Connaught Felim O’ Concobair attacked the castle with the result several family members were killed.  The building fell into ruins over the next seven hundred years.  The original castle with its hexagonal shaped bawn remain in ruins. [i]

From the Mayo Historical & Archaeological Society 20th Jan 2005 by MHAS one may read that the curtain wall of this small Norman Castle built by Jordan De Exeter encloses an area roughly hexagonal in shape which contains the foundations of several buildings.  The wall partly dates to the early years of the thirteenth century.  The two rounded gate – bastions were built during 1260 but only one remains.  Dr. Peter Harbison’s book ‘Our Treasurers of Antiquities’ 2002 Wordwell page 122 contains an illustration originally engraved in 1792 that shows both gate – towers still extant plus a vaulted hallway. [ii]

The Jordan’s of Mayo descent derived from one Jordan D‘Exeter who acquired Irish Estates following the 1172 invasion.  The original source of the name is purported to have come from knights who travelled with the Crusades: who then returned with water from Jordan’s river which they baptized their children then called the child Jordan.  The Irish version of the name is McSiurtaín or Mac Suirtain. According to Edward McLysaght the lands owned by the Jordan family were called MacSiurtain’s Country.  It has been described in the Fiants & the ‘Composition of Connaught.’  The earliest written records occurred in the ‘Annals of Connaught’ written between 1336 & 1470.  By the seventh century the family were considered a Gaelic Sept with their Chief named MacSurtaine alias Jordan.  Philip A. Crowe’s ‘The Intelligent Travellers Guide to History of Ireland’ references the ruins of Ballahan Castle as the seat of the Mayo Jordan’s.  ‘These scattered ruins are those of a thirteenth century castle built by Jordan of Exeter.  It was a polygonal courtyard castle with a twin towered gatehouse of which the remains of only one gatehouse are still to been seen.’ [iii]

This ancient Castle was constructed near river Moy was built on a grassy mound during 1939 by Jordan de Exeter whose family came from Devon in England.  The Exeter name changed to MacJordan (ie son of Jordan.)  He participated in the Battle of Connaught:  Later he was appointed Sherriff of Connaught with this castle as one of his strongholds.  During the last reign of his life in 1316 the King of Connaught Felim O ‘Concobair attacked the fortress.  It was destroyed then fell into ruins during the following centuries.  It was a formidable structure with two robust Towers that were an addition twenty – one years after construction: one on each side of the entrance on the eastern side.  At the site of the former entrance gate just one of the large cylindrical towers remains.  The bawn was of an unusual hexagonal shape.  The western face of the remaining tower is blasted open that revels remnants of buildings within this bawn. (posted by Castlehunter) [iv]

Ballylahan Castle was built during the thirteenth century by MacJordans.  The main entrance to east is flanked by two circular stones: only one remains that was built in 1260.  The entrance was accessed by an irregular hexagonal bawn.  Remains of buildings are visible especially to western walls.  There are grass grown foundations of polygonal buildings close to centre of the bawn.  The bawn has good base – batter particularly at north west corner.  There is a large Archway in the wall flanked by buttress on the outside.  Several images by Brian Mc Elherron on included on this site.  James Frazier mentions the Castle in his ‘A handbook for Travellers’ 1844 Dublin page 468. [v]

Sir James Ware states in in ‘The Antiquities of Ireland’ Vol 11 pg 59 sect 3 that ‘The De Exonias or De Exeters submitted to be called Mac Jordans from one Jordan De Extonia the founder of the family.’ [vi]

According to Angelo Maria Bigari there is an engraving within the National Library of Ireland: but it is wrongly dated with wrong name attached.  It has people in the foreground of the castle from Vol 11 Francis Grose’s ‘Antiquities of Ireland.’ [vii]

Templemore or Strade a parish of Gallen has the ruins of an ancient Fortress that is about thirty feet square.  It was built by the Jordan family, according to Samuel Lewis in his work ‘A Topograp0hical Dictionary of Ireland: Comprising the several counties, cities: with Historical & Statistical Descriptions embellished with engravings of the arms of cities…of  the seals’ published during 1837 by S. Lewis & Company.  The book may be read at this link:

This site has beautiful images of the Castle ruins.

Antiquities (,19176,en.pdf) [assessed 17th June 2020]


Ballylahan Castle is mentioned at this link:

John O ‘Hart in his ‘Irish Pedigree: or the Origin or Stem of the Irish Nation’ provides a description of the family at this link:

This book ‘Castles of Ireland: Feudal Power in a Gaelic World’ by McNeill T. E. 2005 Routledge page 256 mentions Ballylahan Castle at this link:

This link has a map of Ballylahan Castle at Aghaward as a National Monument plus a former Tower House:

Utube videos available at these links: /


[i] Ballylahan Castle Straide ( [assessed 16th June 2020]

[ii] Castlebar Co Mayo ( [assessed 1 7th June 2020]

[iii] Jordan’s of Mayo History ( [assessed 17th June 2020]

[iv] Ireland in Ruins ( [assessed 16th June 2020]

[v] Ballylahan Castle( [assessed 16th June 2020]

[vi] Jordan De Exeter ( [assessed 17th June 2020]

[vii] Castle ( [assessed 17th June 2020]


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