Ireland is one of the most magical places in the world, with myth and legend rolling seamlessly into history, melodic green landscapes and a well earned epithet of the Emerald Isle, one of the best ways to immerse yourself into the history, legend and culture of Ireland, outside of the bars and pubs of course, are its castles! Here are 10 essential castles that you have to visit in Ireland.
Wether you are in the North or the South, visiting the legendary coast of the Wild Atlantic Way or the meandering path through legend and history on the trail of Ireland’s Ancient East, one thing you will never be in short supply of is castles!
There are literally thousands of castles on this relatively small isle, and whether you want to explore on your own, pretend you are an ancient knight or Celtic warrior in a crumbling ruin’s battlements, or a princess in a fancy castle hotel, there is something for everyone here, and here is my personal picks of the ten best castles in Ireland.
Trim Castle is one of the absolute, bucket list worthy, must se castles in all of Ireland and has a well deserved spot in any top 10 castle list!
The castle is a large, imposing Anglo – Norman castle at the very edge of the Pale, the small piece of land seized by the Normans and acted as the border to hold back the Gaelic Irish hordes, the barrier between the civilised world and the mystical, frightening world of the pagans,at least in the Anglo Norman perspective!
Take one of the tours here and be regaled with stories that seem to mix myth with history, but one of the more interesting stories is a single, small, otherwise nondescript room. It was used as a film location for the movie Braveheart!
Make sure you leave time to take a walk along the Boyne river too. It is a nice walk in its own right and you will get a great view of the castle from a distance.
Blarney castle is home to the infamous Blarney Stone, otherwise known as the Stone of Eloquence. Legend has it that the rock is said to endow anyone who kisses it with the gift of the gab. Personally as a Scouser from Liverpool we are better at that than the Irish anyway so personally I couldn’t tell any difference. I was just happy I didn’t get a communicable disease from it since there was a huge line ahead of me full of people doing the same.
Even though the stone itself is the main tourist draw, the castle itself and the surrounding grounds are more than worth visiting for the rest of the day.
Donegal Castle is an easy walkable distance from the centre of Donegal town and overlooks the curve of the grand river Eske. This once viking fortress was turned into a castle in the 15th Century by the O’Donnell clan, and the walking tour gives you an interesting glimpse into the castles and the family’s past. Personally though I love exploring on my own and getting lost in the castles history.
Want to live like a king or a queen? Dine like royalty and stay in one of the exquisite rooms of this top hotel destination as you marvel at one of Ireland’s most famous castles. Ashford Castle is the former home to the Guinness family, this 800 year old stately home is obviously still in use today and has a lot of activities to offer on a day out as well as just admiring the castle itself. So if a stay in a castle is on your bucket list, this would be an awesome once in a lifetime place to do it.
Slane castle is as famous in Ireland for its modern theatrics and industrious innovation as it is for its historical past. Built in the late 18th Century to be the seat of the Conyngham family, it has been a landmark for Irish and British nobility since then.
Taking a tour inside really is like stepping back in time in a way like no other. The rooms are all immaculately preserved and still in use, so you can sit on a bed that royalty has slept in for centuries whilst looking at the new widescreen TV that has been placed in the room alongside it, and some of the stories the tour guides have to tell involve some of the biggest names in royalty, nobility and even celebrity!
Set in the absolutely stunning Boyne Valley in County Meath, the castle is also a backdrop to one of the UKs largest and most prestigious concert venues! In a genius mareketing move by the family, the castle has hosted bands as epic as Queen, U2 and the Rolling Stones.
There is also the Slane branded Whiskey distillery on the grounds that offer tours and tasting sessions for those with a penchant for Irish whiskey!
Dunluce Castle is an impressive ruin on the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland that gives a glimpse into just how formidable this fortress would once have been. This iconic castle was built in the early 16th Century by the MacQuillan family and has seen more than its fair share of epic battles, violence, rebellions and war and has a rich history to tell under its ruined facade.
Just 3 short miles away from the famous Giants Causeway, it is easy to get transport or drive here (where the car parking is at the time of writing still free), and walk up to the Giant’s Causeway.
This Ulster based castle sits on the River Erne in Fermanagh and is worth a visit not just for the enchanting town of Enniskillen that surrounds it but the museum that sits inside it with its award winning exhibits on local Irish history and pre history. Enniskillen Castle may not be the most impressively picturesque castle on this list but if you have an interest in local history it is a must see.
Killarney’s Ross Castle has a fairytale air about it, from the tranquil lake surroundings to the distinctly medieval looking fortress, the amount of myths and legends that surround Ross Castle are impressive even by Irish standards! Take a boat across the lake and see if you can spot the undead form of O’Donoghue on a grand white horse! It’s better luck than a shamrock apparently!
Doe castle is the epitome of what a castle should be. Solid, impressive, impenetrable and instantly reminiscent of fighting off an invading army from the battlements! Okay maybe that’s just me but the tours of the towers are definitely partly to blame too! The medieval stronghold was the home of clan MacSweeney for over 200 years and has a rich, fascinating history, but if you aren’t into all that then the surrounding peninsula this impressive national monument sits on is worth visiting just to appreciate the local landscape.
Kilkenny Castle is one of the more unique castles in Ireland. Dating back to the 13th Century this Norman castle looks and feels every part the grand fortress it used to be, but it has also been perfectly repaired and renovated to the point it also feels like a strange concoction of a modern mansion, museum and art gallery and even a home for grand formal gardens! If there was an award for the ability to change and adapt to the times, Kilkenny Castle would win hands down!
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