10 of the Best Castles in Ireland

Ireland’s verdant green countryside is dotted with castles, from imposing stately edifices to atmospheric ruins, and no visit is complete without climbing to the turret-top of at least one of these beauties. Whether you’re looking for weekend activities to keep the kids busy, or you fancy swatting up on your Celtic legends and Irish history, here are our pick of the best Irish castles for you to explore.

1. Dublin Castle, Dame St. Dublin

There may be no turrets here, and not even a hint of a moat, but this collection of historic buildings in the heart of the Fair City is still well worth a visit. Wander at will around the outside of the Norman Tower, the nineteenth century Chapel Royal and eighteenth century Bedford Hall or take the tour of the State Apartments – the guided tours are well worth the extra €2. Standard admission is €8.50, while for children it’s €3 with or without the guided tour. Open seven days a week until early evening (4:45pm), it’s the perfect place to get some culture in before you hit the bars.

Couple sitting in Dubhlinn Garden at Chester beatty Library, Dublin
2. Cahir Castle, Co. Tipperary

One of Ireland’s best preserved castles, Cahir still has its keep, tower, walls and battlements, as well as a portcullis in full working order. Cross onto its rocky island in the middle of the River Suir to explore the thirteenth century complex. Don’t miss the scale model of what the castle looked like in the medieval period. Those of you lucky to bag Gravity Festival tickets this year will enjoy live music and street food all within the castle’s walls – Cahir is home to the annual charity event each September.

3. Kilkenny Castle, The Parade, Kilkenny

Commanding a crossing on the River Nore, Kilkenny Castle dominates the eponymous city and demands a visit. Restored to its 1830s glory, the interior is truly lavish and on a tour here you’ll see the library, the drawing room and the impressive Long Gallery, which occupies an entire wing. Guided tours cost no extra, though you may have to wait in summer as it can get busy – it’s worth noting that entrance is by guided tour only November to January. Open daily

4. Doe Castle, Co. Donegal

Doe Castle provides a masterclass in natural defences, surrounded by water on three sides and built into the rock on the fourth. But man had his hand in building the castle’s reputation as one of the strongest fortresses in northwest Ireland; the sixteenth century tower has walls so thick (some eight feet) that the dungeon could be located on the third floor. The castle achieved more modern notoriety in 2001 when Brian McFadden proposed to Kerry Katona here. Admission is free, though the interior isn’t open to the public.

Doe Castle

5. Ashford Castle, Co. Mayo

Here’s your chance to be king (or queen) of the castle for a night. This fairytale-perfect thirteenth century castle was once owned by the Guinness family and is now a five-star hotel with 82 guest rooms, including the Presidential Suite with original fireplace and views over Lough Corrib. Although if you want the royal treatment it’s going to cost you, as rooms start at €305 a night! Can’t stretch to that? Go for afternoon tea instead, served daily in the spectacular Connaught Room for the princely sum of €34 per person (plus 15% service charge).

6. Bunratty Castle, Co. Clare

Bunratty Castle is Ireland’s most complete medieval fortress, restored in 1954 using fifteenth and sixteenth century furnishings and works of art to return it to its original 1425 splendour. Feast on an authentic medieval banquet inside the castle’s great dining hall (€53.50), or visit during the day to check out the Folk Park, a sympathetic recreation of a 19th century village completed with post office and pub, populated by actors in period dress. Arrive along the N18 between Limerick and Ennis.

7. Donegal Castle, Bridge Street, Donegal

Persian rugs, French tapestries and fine Jacobean architecture unrivaled in beauty and style by any other of its kind in Ireland; it’s hard to imagine that before the 1990s Donegal Castle sat in ruins. Now, proudly restored and standing tall on the banks of the River Eske, it makes for a fascinating visit in the heart of this pleasant little town.



8. Blarney Castle, Co. Cork

You’ve heard of the Blarney Stone, of course, but there’s much more to this castle than just the chance to grab the ‘gift of the gab’ by kissing the legendary Stone of Eloquence. Keep your hands to yourself in the Poison Garden and stick to the boardwalk through the bog, before climbing the steps to the stone (you know you want to) and joining the queue to lean backwards off the parapet and kiss the stone. Save this until late in the day or arrive early to avoid the crowds.

Blarney Castle
9. Dunguaire Castle, Co. Galway

Reflected in the flat calm of Galway Bay, Dunguaire Castle is the quintessential Tower House and looks as if it might have been placed here with the specific aim of selling picture postcards. Be inspired to take your own perfect castle shot before heading inside to see where literary greats WB Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and JM Synge were once inspired themselves. There’s even a twice nightly banquet with live entertainment featuring extracts of their work.

10. Rock of Cashel, Co. Tipperary

You get plenty of bang for your buck at the Rock of Cashel, the rearing outcrop of limestone home to a full crop of medieval buildings including a twelfth century round tower, thirteenth century gothic cathedral and a fifteenth century castle. There’s plenty to see here (and a free 45min guided tour) but perhaps the best moment comes when you take a step back, and admire the collection of turrets, towers and crenellations from afar. You also won’t notice the numerous coach parties from a distance!

Rock of Cashel

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Top ten sites in Ireland where history comes alive

In Ireland, history is everywhere. But in some places, there is an especially strong connection with the past. Here are IrishCentral’s choices for the top ten historical sites in Ireland.

1. Newgrange, County Meath

At Newgrange, County Meath, the wall of the passage tomb decorated with a Celtic spiral.
Dating back to 3200 B.C the passage tomb at Newgrange is older than the pyramids in Egypt and is officially a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Newgrange is a large passage mound, spread over an acre and surrounded by 97 uniquely carved kerbstones. The cremated remains of the dead were buried in large stone basins under the mound in a chamber accessable by a narrow passage.

At dawn on December 21, the shortest day of the year, sunlight shines directly into the central chamber of the tomb. It is believed that this was an ancient way of measuring the passage of time, like a calendar for the ancient farmers, or that the light has some religious significance for those in the afterlife.

Newgrange is part of the Bru na Boinne complex, which includes similar tombs at Knowth and Dowth.

Newgrange
2. Hill of Tara, County Meath

The Hill of Tara is also located near the River Boyne in Meath. It is an archaeological complex that runs between Navan and Dunshaughlin and contains a number of ancient monuments. According to tradition it was the seat of the High King of Ireland (Árd Rí na hÉireann).

The oldest archaeological site at Tara is the Mound of Hostages, which dates back to 2500 B.C.

The hill itself is 500 feet high and has some of the most panoramic views of the plains of Meath.

3. Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

The Rock of Cashel is not a rock at all – a common misconception among tourists reading the name off the map.

This Rock of Cashel was a fortress in the 4th century. The medieval structure has four edifices, including the Connac’s Chapel, the round tower, the cathedral, and the Hall of the Vicars Choral.

It was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster for several hundred years before the Norman invasion. Very little of the original structure survives. Most of what remains dates from the 12th and 13th centuries.

Rock of Cashel
4. Ceide Fields, County Mayo

The Ceide Fields are a Neolithic landscape dating back to 5000 B.C. They are the oldest known field systems in the world. Their name, “Ceide Fields,” literally means “fields of the flat-topped hill.”

The rocks delineating the field system were originally discovered by a school teacher cutting turf in the bog in the 1930s. It took over 40 years to unravel the true significance of the fields. Fields, houses and tombs had been concealed under the bog for thousands of years.

5. Clonmacnoise, County Offaly

Clonmacnoise is one of Ireland’s most important monasteries and is located on the banks of the River Shannon. It was founded in 545 by Ciaran of Clonmacnoise. Until the 9th century it had very strong ties with the Kings of Connacht.

Its strategic location also helped it to be become a center of religion, learning, craftsmanship and trade. Together with Clonard, it is one of the most famous monastic sites in Ireland and continues to be visited by scholars from all over Europe.

6. Jerpoint Abbey, County Kilkenny

Jerpoint Abbey is a well-known Cistercian abbey, founded in the 12th century. Its most famous asset is its sculptured cloister arcade with unique carvings.

It was constructed in 1180 by Donogh O’Donoghoe, the King of Osraige, and is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. The monastery thrived until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII.

7. Blarney Stone and Blarney Castle, County Cork

Six miles northwest of County Cork, Blarney Castle and the Blarney stone date back to 1446. The castle was a medieval stronghold on the River Martin. Although earlier fortifications were built on the same spot, what is left standing today dates back to the MacCarthy dynasty, King of Desmond.

The castle and the stone are among the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland. Legend has it that if you kiss the Blarney stone you will have the “‘gift of the gab,” meaning “clever, flattering or coaxing talk.”

8. Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny City

Kilkenny Castle is certainly one of Ireland’s most impressive fortresses. The castle dates back to 1191 and stands with three tall towers.

The original castle was built by William Marshal, the 1st Earl of Pembroke, to control the crossing point on the River Nore. Some of the stone has been replaced.

The castle is now run by the Office of Public Works and sits in the midst of beautiful parkland.

9. Leap Castle, County Offaly

Not only is Leap Castle an extremely historically important castle, it is also said to be one of the most haunted locations in Ireland. This castle has been the scene of some truly appalling acts.

It was built in the 15th century by the O’Bannon family and was originally called “Leap of the O’Bannons.” In 1513 the Earl of Kildare Gerald FitzGerald attempted to seized the castle and three years later attacked again. In 1557 the O’Carrolls had possession.

Within the O’Carroll family, there was great rivalry which culminated in murders and killings in the chapel. This is just a brief chapter of the castle’s sordid history. Later. when the castle was being studied, a dungeon where people had been left to die was discovered.

10. Skellig Michael, County Kerry

Skelling Michael (which literally means Michael’s rock) is a steep and rocky island in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Kerry. It was founded in the 7th century and for 600 years it was the center of monastic life for Irish Christian monks.

In 1996 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Reached only by boat, Skellig Michael is one of Europe’s most famous but least accessible monasteries. As a site it is very well preserved, and the Spartan conditions inside the monastery illustrate the ascetic lives of those who built it and were devout there. The monks lived in “beehive” huts perched over the dangerous cliffs.

Skellig Michael

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