Castles are a feature of many of the cities and towns of Ireland and the Irish countryside and coastline are the settings for many of these most picturesque historical buildings. Visitors can enjoy access to a wide variety of castles, from those that have fallen into disrepair to those that have been transformed into luxurious hotels.
Located in County Mayo, on the West Coast, Ashford Castle, whose building commenced in 1228, is said to be the first castle built on Irish soil. Now a luxury hotel, featuring excellent restaurants, this monument of medieval architecture looks out over the water, and features ancient turrets.
A ghost is said to walk its corridors even today. Visitors are able to experience the best in outdoor sports and pursuits, including falconry, in the grounds which command magnificent views over the water.
This castle in County Clare now boasts a Michelin starred restaurant and a hotel offering luxury accommodation, where many famous people have stayed along the years. Its history dates back to the 15th Century, with buildings occupied by various Gaelic families at different times.
The castle that can be visited today was built, using dark blue limestone, in the early 19th Century, in neo-Gothic style. It enjoys a tranquil setting, with beautiful gardens, a lake, surrounding woodlands, and fine views.
Dublin Castle was constructed as an integral part of the old city wall. In modern times it has mainly been used for Government administrative and judicial purposes. One significant historical even was the 1907 theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. The Irish Presidential inauguration ceremonies are held at the Castle, and other ceremonial public occasions are celebrated there. In the past it was the base of British Government in Ireland. In former times it defended the city, and has been a Royal residence. Significant features of the castle are its design, around a courtyard, the medieval Record Tower dating back to the 13th Century and the Chapel Royal, where there is an Arts Centre in the crypt. Visitors may have access to the castle when it is not being used for State occasions. Features include the decorative rooms in the State Apartments, and the grounds, which are the setting for occasional concerts.
Blarney Castle has been an essential destination for visitors to County Cork for decades. This medieval edifice dates from about 1446, although there is evidence of wooden structures on the site as early as 1200. The castle has seen many wars and conflicts, and its history includes many changes in ownership and control. Today the visitor to this partly ruined castle can inspect some rooms and enjoy the spacious grounds and natural rock features. The highlight of a visit is to climb the battlements and kiss the Blarney Stone, which is said to confer the gift of eloquence on anyone who dares to hang from the castle wall and kiss the stone.
Bunratty Castle stands in a park by the Ratty River in County Clare, near Shannon.
Its history reaches back to Viking times, around 970AD, and it has seen many changes since that time, as well as being destroyed and rebuilt several times in the course of volatile clan fighting and the turbulent political history of Ireland.
The castle and grounds are popular with visitors, who can enjoy the added attraction of the well-designed folk park.
Waterford is famous all over the world as the source of exquisite crystal wares, and is one of Ireland’s top visitor destinations. Nearby, on Little Island, stands Waterford Castle, dating back to around the 6th century. The various structures here over time have housed Monks, Vikings, Normans and the FitzGerald family, who controlled it for over 8 centuries.
In the 20th Century the island was used for commercial horticulture and dairying operations, taking advantage of the temperate climate, and in 1988 the castle was transformed into the luxury hotel it is today, with its own golf course established in the grounds. Visitors access the island and the castle by ferry from Ballinakill.
An extra treat is available for visitors interested in wildlife, particularly birds, and the coastal area around the lovely old city of Waterford offers the chance to explore many picturesque beaches and villages.
The west of Ireland, in the Connemara, is home to Ballynahinch Castle and its 450 acres of beautiful natural space, set against a backdrop of mountains and alongside a crystal clear and fast flowing river.
The castle is now an elegant country hotel, particularly catering for visitors with a passion for salmon fishing.
Historically it was a private home, constructed in the 17th century, and its owners include the founder of the RSPCA.
On the east coast of Ireland, in County Meath, the visitor will find the dramatic edifice of Trim Castle. Trim embodies all the best in medieval castles, so much so that this huge Anglo-Norman castle was chosen as the location for filming “Braveheart”.
Hugh de Lacy is a famous person in Irish history, and he was responsible for the construction of the castle, which took 30 years to build, and has at its centre a unique tower that has 20 sides. Battlements which literally tower some 25 meters above ground level, and a ditch and moat are additional medieval features of this huge castle.
Trim Castle is readily accessible from Dublin and the castle and grounds are a popular destination for visitors.
Belfast Castle offers a wide variety of interests for visitors and residents. Built in 1870, it now belongs to the public. Standing high on a hill, within the Cave Hill Country Park, it is easily accessible from the city. Outdoors, as well as taking in the lovely gardens and views, visitors can roam and explore the Park, and even climb Cave Hill, enjoying its natural beauty and wildlife. The gardens contain nine representations of cats, inspired by a belief that a white cat will bring good fortune.
The Cave Hill Visitor Centre is an excellent source of information about the castle and Park. Indoors, there are the usual amenities, and parts of the castle are open for inspection. Rooms in the castle can be booked for social occasions, weddings, civil partnership ceremonies, conventions and meetings, and it is a very popular venue for such occasions.
Kilkenny Castle is a medieval castle steeped in history. It originated in the 12th Century, but is now a monument to the Victorian era, in design, furnishings and decoration. Its history reveals that it has seen many conflicts, including involvement in the 1920’s Irish Civil War, and changes of ownership, and it has suffered ups and downs with the fortunes of the private families who have possessed it over the centuries. Nowadays it is one of the most-visited sites in Ireland.
Kilkenny has strategically important location, on a river, at the junction of trade routes important in olden times, and the Castle is an integral part of the town. Now in public ownership, what remains of the castle is well maintained and used for a variety of public purposes, and is open to the public. Visitors are able to enjoy wandering in the beautiful parkland and gardens. Wonderful art exhibitions are held in its galleries.
Ross Castle can be visited in County Kerry, in the Killarney National Park, an area of wonderfully natural beauty. Located on the shores of a lake, it is popular with tourists, who come to see what remains of a fortified castle that dates from the Middle Ages, and has survived many uprisings and conflicts.
Originally the base of clan Chieftains, it is typical of the structures built by them, and it has largely remained in private ownership. There are many features of the structure, such as the spiral staircase that turns clockwise, the crenelated parapet, and holes through which boiling oil could be poured on to people below, that had their origins in the need to guard against invaders.
Visitors to Dublin have only a short journey to Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel from the city. This handsome white building is ideally suited to the traveller looking for both urban and rural activities, with access to the beautiful Killiney beach, parklands, golf courses and gardens.
Cahir Castle is a very large castle in an excellent state of preservation, a National Monument located on an island in Cahir, South Tipperary. Owned by the Irish State, it is well set up for visitors, with all the usual amenities, as well as a wealth of history to enjoy. Cahir Castle has seen a great deal of change and conflict since construction commenced in the 13th Century. The private families who have come and gone over the years saw it decay and undergo reconstruction and extensions, as was the case with most edifices of its vintage in Ireland.
Near Kinvara, in a stunning setting overlooking Galway Bay, Dunguaire Castle invites the visitor to admire, explore and learn about the history of the castle, and re-live aspects of how the Irish lived in the past. Dating from 1520, it is a tower house of simple design but great impact on the visitor. The private owners of the castle encouraged interest in Irish Literature in the 20th century and for many visitors, the Castle is associated with that aspect of the arts.
Doe Castle is now a National Monument near Donegal, and it dates from the 15th century. The castle has been the seat of several powerful families across the centuries. It is steeped in myth and legend, with tales of strange happenings and spirits, and holds great interest and attraction for visitors. Restoration works are continuing and will enhance the appeal of this castle for the visitor. A particular attraction is the old graveyard at the castle, where visitors can explore more of the history of the site.
Cabra Castle is in fact two castles, situated in County Cavan and located in a 100 acre estate. Over the centuries the castles have been in the private ownership of some of the most wealthy and powerful families in that part of Ireland. These days one has been developed into a luxury hotel, and the other remains as a real ruined castle. Both are of great interest to the visitor.
County Roscommon is the location of Kilronan Castle with its 40 acres of grounds. Built in the early 19th century, when it was known as Castle Tenison, and later extended, it is more like a large country house than a castle. In private ownership throughout its history, the castle has been converted into a spa resort. Visitors are treated to an excellent taste of history during a stay at Kilronan Castle.
Kinnitty Castle is also known as Castle Bernard. Located in County Offaly, the present Gothic style building is the result of extensions to the castle in the early 19th century, and some believe it is haunted. As is the case with many such buildings, Kinnitty has a history going back many centuries, and has suffered through political conflicts and wars, including being burned by the IRA as recently as 1922. Ownership, mostly in private hands, changed several times as well, and it is now a luxury hotel where visitors can experience its delights in very comfortable surroundings.