One of the iconic images of Ireland is surely a stark and imposing castle set against a hillside of impossible greens. Visiting castles in Ireland is a great way to learn about the country’s history while at the same time soaking in amazing views.
Throughout Ireland, you will find castles which are restored or intact and some which are nothing more than ruins. Rather than just being the residences of the nobility, Irish castles were built to protect their inhabitants. Many have fortified walls and towers in addition to the virtually impenetrable buildings themselves. The interiors of most castles are quite dark for lack of windows, and most rooms are quite small. In short, these are not the palaces of modern-day royalty we are dealing with!
Here are a few of the castles you can visit in Ireland:
- Adare Castle, County Limerick – This castle ruin dates to the late 1100s, and is one of the country’s more impressive.
- Ballylee Castle, County Galway – This castle has the distinction of having been purchased and restored by the poet W.B. Yeats, who made Ballylee his summer home.
- Ballynahow Castle, County Tipperary – This is a fine example of the 16th century round tower houses.
- Birr Castle, County Offaly – This castle is not only restored, it’s still lived in (but the museum and grounds are open to visitors).
- Blarney Castle, County Cork – Perhaps Ireland’s most famous castle, where you can kiss the famous Blarney Stone.
- Bunratty Castle, County Clare – Restored in the 1950s to hold “medieval banquets,” this castle is now a popular tourist attraction.
- Cahir Castle, County Tipperary – This monster of a castle is set on an island in the River Suir and was built in the 15th century.
- Castledoe, County Donegal – This four-storey tower house, dating from the 1500s, was fought over more than almost any other castle in Ireland.
- Dunsoghly Castle, County Dublin – Built in the mid-1400s, this castle was inhabited by the same family line for more than 400 years.
- Kilkenny Castle, County Kilkenny – Once the main castle of the Butler family, this castle is now a popular tourist attraction and holds part of the National Art Gallery collection.
- Lemaneagh Castle, County Clare – Located on the edge of the famous Burren, this castle enjoys a stunning backdrop.
- Moydrum Castle, County Westmeath – This one is on private land, but that didn’t stop U2 from using it as the setting for an album cover shoot (nor does it stop countless U2 fans from recreating the shot every year).
- Parke’s Castle, County Leitrim – This castle was built in the 17th century and underwent extensive restoration work in the 20th century. It is open from March through October.
- Ross Castle, County Kerry – This castle is a highlight on the Ring of Kerry tour, and during the summer you can take boat trips on the lake.
- Trim Castle, County Meath – This is what remains of the largest Norman castle in all of Europe and the largest castle in Ireland; it may be seen in the film, Braveheart.
While touring Ireland castles may be enough for some people, others want the experience to be a bit richer – which is why many Irish castles have been restored, modernized and opened up as hotels. Yes, you can actually sleep in some of the castles in Ireland. And if you are prepared to really splash out some money, some castles can even be rented by the week (yes, the entire castle).
For a good list of castle-related terminology, see this page.