Ireland’s many castles, spread across the verdant countryside and set within charming villages, tell stories of the country’s past. From barely recognisable ruins to luxury resorts, Ireland’s castles are favourite destinations on visitors’ itineraries.
Many castles offer tours with stories of their history, colourful characters, battles, and restorations, and some even host medieval-style banquets for an entertaining and educational experience. It is said that as many as 30,000 castles have been built on the Emerald Isle, so here are 15 beautiful castles in Ireland to inspire your next trip.
Bunratty Castle is the last remaining castle on this site which began as a Viking trading camp in 970. Built in 1425 and restored in 1954, the castle is furnished with art and tapestries from the 15th century. Today, the castle is part of the 26-acre Bunratty Folk Park, a recreated medieval village with farmhouses, shops, and homes, from humble houses to an elegant Georgian residence. Guests can experience a four-course medieval banquet accompanied by the Bunratty Castle singers in the castle’s Great Hall.
Located in the town of Lismore in County Waterford, this castle is one of the ancestral homes of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Set on the banks of the Blackwater River in southeast Ireland, the 800-year-old castle was rebuilt in the Gothic style in the mid-19th century. Its elaborate gardens and contemporary art gallery are open to the public during the day, and the castle is available to rent, only in its entirety. Its 15 bedrooms can accommodate up to 27 guests.
This well-preserved Anglo-Norman castle is located in County Meath on the banks of the River Boyne. Built in 1172, the castle is the largest Anglo-Norman fortification in Ireland, and it took 30 years to build. In its heyday, the massive 20-sided tower was protected by a ditch, curtain wall, and moat. The town of Trim is home to many medieval buildings, and the visitor centre, located beside Trim Castle, offers a collection of medieval armour, model buildings, and tickets for Trim Castle tours.
Built in the 16th century by the O’Flaherty clan, this castle is located near the shores of Lough Corrib in County Galway. The well-preserved example of an Irish tower house was restored during the 1960s, and visitors can see the remains of a watch tower, banquet hall, bastions, and an underground stream. Three species of bats inhabit the castle, and supernatural events, including the appearance of the gamekeeper’s ghost and the wail of a banshee, have been reported. The castle is open for tours.
This 13th-century castle overlooking the Clarinbridge River in County Galway still retains parts of its medieval walls, battlements, and decorative stone carvings. Its Great Hall is accessed via a wooden staircase, originally meant to be removed during battles to prevent the enemy from entering. Today, visitors can see medieval costumes, armour, weaponry, and a replica of a street scene and dungeon. Guided tours, a picnic area, a playground, and interactive exhibits make the castle a family-friendly attraction.
Built in the 13th century, Cahir Castle is one of Ireland’s largest and best-preserved castles. Set on a rocky island on the River Suir in County Tipperary, the castle’s design was state-of-the-art at the time, and much of its original structure remains although the castle has been rebuilt and expanded over the years. Today, guided tours, a bookshop, and an audio-visual presentation tell the castle’s story. The castle has even been featured in film and TV productions including Excalibur and The Tudors.
Built in the 15th century by Red Hugh O’Donnell, Donegal Castle overlooks the River Eske in the centre of Donegal Town. After losing a battle in the Nine Years’ War, O’Donnell tried to destroy his castle rather than allow it to fall into English hands. He didn’t succeed, and the castle was restored in around 1616 by English captain Sir Basil Brooke who built a manor house, tower, and boundary wall. During the early 1990s, the castle was fully renovated, keeping the style of the 15th and 17th centuries. Visitors can tour the castle and visit a museum there today.
Set on a rocky outcrop along the shores of Galway Bay in County Galway, Dunguaire Castle was built in 1520. Said to be the most photographed of Ireland’s castles, it has a 75-foot traditional Irish tower. The castle was bought and repaired in the early 1920s by Oliver St. John Gogarty, a famous surgeon and literary figure. Because of him, the castle became an important site during the revival of Irish literature, and famous writers such as Yeats, Synge, and Shaw were frequent visitors. Today, the castle is known for its medieval-style banquets and tours.
This castle was built around 1190 by the Norman baron Hugh de Lacy, and it was later seized by King John of England (and for that reason, the castle is sometimes called King John’s Castle). Located in County Louth on the southern shores of Carlingford Lough, the castle is a short walk from the village of Carlingford, a walled town famous for its medieval buildings. Two rectangular towers in an enclosed courtyard were part of the original castle, and many changes have been made over the years. Guided tours are available from March to October.
A short walk from Trinity College, Dublin Castle was built in the 13th century on the site of a Viking settlement. Its medieval tower, with walls up to nearly 16 feet thick, was constructed mainly during the reign of Henry III, King of England and Lord of Ireland. Today, the castle is a government complex as well as a tourist attraction, open daily for self-guided visits and guided tours of the chapel royal, state apartments, undercroft, and heritage centre. The Castle Gardens, enclosed by wrought-iron gates with Celtic-inspired spirals, are also popular with visitors.
While not an ancient castle, Kylemore Abbey and its walled Victorian garden are historic and beautiful. Located about an hour from Galway City, Kylemore Castle was built in the late 1800s by Mitchell Henry. Ownership has changed through the years, and since 1920, a community of Benedictine nuns has resided in the abbey. Today, visitors come to experience Ireland’s largest walled garden, lakeshore walks, craft shops, and tours of the magnificent buildings and gardens.
Built nearly 600 years ago, Blarney Castle is one of Ireland’s most popular attractions. Its large tower house was typical of fortifications built between the 15th and 17th centuries, with 18-foot-thick walls that slope inward for stability and defence. Of course, most visitors come to the castle to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. According to legend, anyone who kisses the stone will have the gift of gab, and it’s been kissed by countless famous politicians, musicians, and other notable figures.
Originally built in the 13th century soon after the Norman conquest of Ireland, this castle is located in the Nore Valley on the banks of the River Nore in County Kilkenny. Through the years, the castle has been rebuilt, and today its Victorian terraced rose garden, man-made lake, and historic decor attract visitors year round. Tapestries, paintings, and furniture fascinate visitors, and the nursery, with its Victorian toys, books, cradle, and furnishings, tells of 19th-century childhood. Set on rolling parkland with mature trees and wildlife, there’s also a playground, walking trails, and a tearoom.
Located in County Cork at a place called Three Castle Head, 13th-century Dunlough Castle is set atop cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. One of Ireland’s oldest castles, it exemplifies Norman architecture and dry stone masonry. A hike up to the castle rewards visitors with stunning views and a fascinating look at its remains; just be sure to keep an eye out for the ghostly “Lady of the Lake.”
Dating back to around the year 1014, Dromoland Castle was rebuilt in the 16th century, and a second castle was built in the early 1700s. It was remodelled and redecorated in 1963 when the castle became a hotel. Today, sumptuous accommodations, a championship golf course, award-winning cuisine, and a stunning landscape make Dromoland a beautiful and historic destination.
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com
Main and Feature Image Credit: Vipersniper/Getty Images
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