The 10 Best Castles In Ireland
In the Emerald Isle, fairy tales come to life and storybook castles are speckled across the hills. The green heart of Europe is home to a rich culture, tradition, and some of the most breathtaking views north of the Atlantic. When you picture Ireland, you most likely think of its many castles and grazing sheep, dotting the lush green hills. Most of the castles you’ll see are far from traditional European grandeur. For thousands of years, Ireland had no royalty. Some of the castles in Ireland were built as fortified homes for chieftains and Anglo-Norman settlers, primarily used as pillars for defense.
A Short History
Ireland is an island located in northwestern Europe. In terms of European prehistory, it was settled relatively late. The first human settlements took place in Ireland around 6000 BC. Since that first settlement, the island and its people have endured many periods of invasion, cultural changes, and fluctuating civilian populations. Some of the most influential periods in the history of Ireland include early Gaelic and medieval Ireland, Viking invasions, the Anglo-Norman conquest, modern Ireland, Protestant ascendancy, Great Famine, Home Rule Movement, and the division of Ireland into North and South.
This cultural heritage molded Ireland into the unique country it is today. Many of the castles in Ireland have survived their medieval origin, dating back from the 11th to 15th centuries. While there are a few more flamboyant in style, they owe their origins to the Georgian era and Neo-Gothic revival in the Victorian age.
Explore the Best Castles in Ireland
While each castle has a fascinating history, there are more than 3,000 to explore. Unless you plan on moving, there are far too many castles in Ireland for the average traveler to see. With so many options, we’ve helped to narrow down your choices for you. Read on to learn some unique history and discover the most spectacular castles in Ireland.
Here, public transportation is scarce, so you’ll need to rent a car. Some castles are a little further off the grid than others. This only lends to their mystery. Not to worry though, journey times from one city to the next only require a few hours in the car. There’s honestly no better way to explore a country than to drive right through the heart of it. Here are our choices for the best castles in Ireland.
Rock of Cashel
If you decide to visit one of the medieval castles in Ireland, the Rock of Cashel should be at the top of your list. A strong fortified complex, the Rock is the oldest building established in 1100. From a closer view, you’ll see its strategic foundation on a limestone outcrop, tall round tower, and a stunning 13th-century Gothic cathedral (added after its completion). Not far away, there is a mountain with a large base at the bottom, known as the Devil’s Bit. Legend has it that the devil broke his teeth when he attempted to take a bite out of the mountain. The Rock of Cashel dropped from his mouth and fell on the hill it stands today.
Today, the Rock is one of the most-visited sites in all of Ireland. As one of the most famous castles in Ireland, it has the whole package – A unique history, wonderful preservation, and interesting local folklore. The grounds are open all year for locals and tourists alike. If you plan your trip just right, you can get free entry. The first Wednesday of every month, the castle offers free admission. After you spend an afternoon exploring, take a five-minute walk to the town of Cashel. Here, you’ll find a fascinating replica Folk Village, depicting life in early Ireland.
Another popular site for tourists, Blarney Castle is definitely worth the visit. We’re sure you’ve heard of the notorious Blarney Stone. No? For over 200 years, world statesman, literary giants, and travelers seeking good fortune have climbed the steps of Blarney to kiss the famous stone and gain the gift of its eloquence. In older times, visitors were carried, held upside down by the ankles over a dangerous 10-story drop, and lowered over the wall’s battlements to kiss the stone. Some legends passed down claim it is Jacob’s Pillow, brought to the Irish homeland by the Biblical prophet Jeremiah. Here, it became the famous throne of Irish kings.
Blarney offers more than just its gift of good fortune. Perhaps the most captivating part of this castle is its sprawling 60-acre floral gardens. Walk among the paths of the kings up to a sweeping 360-degree view of its prized tower, built over 600 years ago by a chieftain named Cormac MacCarthy.
Cabra Castle, Co Cavan
With all of their nooks and crannies, castles in Ireland were made for exploring. Would you like to spend the night in one of the best? We thought so. Wander through stunning reception rooms, find a quiet corner by the fire to relax with your favorite book, or just enjoy the atmosphere in one of the best-known castle-hotels in the Emerald Isle. Statement period pieces and rustic furnishings lend to an old-world charm. The long-standing tradition of a warm and amiable service make the Cabra a perfect escape from the fast pace of modern living.
Due to its superb location and range of accommodation, the Cabra is a leading luxury hotel in Ireland and also one of the best-known wedding venues. Choose from one of twelve spacious rooms in the original wing of the Cabra Castle. Just outside of Kingscourt, this beautiful hotel dates back to 1760. Here, no two rooms are alike. Open your silk curtain windows and gaze out at expansive gardens, the parkland, and panoramic views of the breathtaking Dun na Ri Forest Park just across the way.
Credit: Killarney Oaks
Castles in Ireland hold so much history. Centuries of life, death, and battles mark these walls. This five-bedroom stone castle built in 1536, is now run as a bed and breakfast. But be warned. Unlike the glamor of Cabra Castle, guests choose the Ross for an entirely different reason. It’s haunted. Here, the noises of the evening give way to a ghostly atmosphere. Winds howl across the lake in chilling voices of their own, ancient trees extend their branches to knock on windows, and chills crawl race down your spine.
In the middle of the night, guests awake to echoing voices, faint footsteps running down the hall, and the squeak of old doors opening and closing on their own. Believers in the paranormal swear the spirit of an old English lord’s daughter still lives in the castle. She’s not the only one. The most famous ghost is its permanent resident Sabina.
Her story started back in 1536 when Richard Nugent, the 12th Lord of Delvin, built Ross castle. Overlooking the enemy territory of the O’Reillys to the north, it was positioned safely atop a steep hill. The Black Baron’s power was dealt with a heavy hand and more often than not, it came crashing down on those of low repute.
One day, a townswoman finished baking a loaf of bread and placed it on the window of her cottage. A dog happened to come by and snatched her loaf. When she returned, her bread was gone. Running through the streets, the woman screamed that a thief had stolen her bread. The dog dropped the loaf in the street and ran. Later on, a beggar passed by and found the loaf. He was discovered by Richard Nugent and taken to the gallows for his accused lawlessness.
Later, the townspeople found the missing bread and realized their mistake. The beggar had not eaten it. But it was too late. For Nugent’s mistake, his daughter Sabina was cursed. When she found love, he was taken away from her, carried away, and drowned. Legend has it, she spun into a frenzy, locking herself in her father’s tower until her very last days.
Tourists come from far away lands to walk the castle’s halls and hopefully catch a glimpse of her ghost. For thrill-seekers, add this to your list of spooky places to see that go bump in the night. Here, tales are so shocking you might want to leave the lights on.
Best known as the Kylemore Abbey, this castle was founded in modern times in 1920. Today, it sits on the grounds of the Benedictine Monastery in the County of Galway (cue Ed Sheeran’s song, “Galway Girl”). It was initially designed as a private home for the wealthy family of a London doctor, Henry Mitchell.
It’s amazing that Kylemore Castle survived. During World War I, it was bombed during one of many air raids. Thanks to the local Benedictine community, donations from private citizens were enough to rebuild and upkeep it. We’ve listed Kylemore as one of the best castles in Ireland because of its resilience and interesting legend.
Those who walked the grounds have said that every seven years, a beautiful white horse arises from the waters beyond the Abbey. On a windy day in 2011, the Abbey’s staff swore they saw a white horse emerge from the lake. While it was only white foam raised by the fierce winds, this supposed apparition only fueled the legend. Believers and their lore have given Kylemore the name “Pol a Capall,” or the “Place of the Horse.”
If you’ve gained your views of medieval times from a themed restaurant, it’s time to take a trip. Perched on a small, rocky stretch of land in the River Suir, sits Cahir Castle. Known as the best preserved medieval castle in Ireland, it fits all the descriptions of an old King Arthur’s court.
Perhaps you’ve seen it before. Excalibur was filmed here. So pack your bags and walk the grounds of living and historical legends. Cahir is open to the general public and while you can take the family or visit alone, booking a guide will give you the best education of the site’s history.
History buffs flock to Enniskillen. As you approach the castle sitting on the banks of the River Erne, it is clear it played a huge role in history. During the 16th century, it was one of the only passes into Ulster for Irish rebelling against the English. In the 17th century, it was used as a fort and later as military barracks.
Today, it is home to two museums. The Fermanagh County Museum gives visitors a comprehensive understanding of the county’s cultural, natural, and traditional history. On the other hand, the Inniskillings Museum gives military history enthusiasts a fascinating glimpse at old regimental regalia. While the castle is undergoing some renovations this year, we’re sure you’ll appreciate the new visitor’s center.
It’s easy to see why the Ballynahinch is one of the best castles in Ireland to visit. Besides its beauty, it was once home to a famed pirate queen. The home first belonged to the husband of Grace O’Malley, the chieftain of the clan. After her father’s death, she took on the role of a chieftain, inheriting his title and a ready fleet of ships. She took advantage of her power, frequently stopping ships that passed through the waters. Her exhortation of money and cargo goods earned her the nickname the Pirate Queen.
If you want to stay at the Ballynahinch Castle today, you’ll enjoy a quiet and luxurious residence on the hills. Here, you can try your hand at salmon fishing, bike the old country roads, and go for a morning hike to catch the sunrise on the surrounding trails.
Hillsborough Royal Castle
If you’re like us and avidly follow the lives of the Royals in the United Kingdom, read on. This is where the Royals come to visit when they tour Northern Ireland. Queen Elizabeth has likely taken a stroll through the same gardens that you will. The castle is also home to the Secretary of State of Northern Ireland and any other important guests.
Today, the property is undergoing a project to maintain its stunning grounds. The Hillsborough Castle Project will refine the Throne Room, the original features of the Staircase Hall, and the Drawing Room.
Walk in the steps of the Vikings. That’s right. The Dublin Castle was built on their settlement. The city’s history is steeped in a rebellious spirit, tracing back to the castle itself. Having served as a prison for dissidents and a dungeon for criminals, it is now a major government complex. Its remarkable history symbolizes English reign, which made it a primary target of attack during the Easter Rising of 1916. Memorialized in stone, sits the first step taken by the Irish people to end British rule in their land.
Book Your Flight and Visit the Most Amazing Castles in Ireland
Go ahead and book your flight. Embark on a beautiful road trip. The country of Ireland and its people have so much to offer. From stunning royal estates to strong Viking fortresses, the Emerald Isle is just waiting to be explored. Whatever kind of vacation you want, Ireland has it all. Climb the stairs of medieval fortresses, tour dark and mysterious dungeons. Perhaps, book a stay at one of the beautiful castle hotels. It’s all at your fingertips.
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