When it comes to visiting castles, Ireland is one of the top destinations, and for good reason, the Emerald Isle is home to some of the most spectacular castles on the planet. Here’s an overview of the best Irish castles to visit.
Why Visit an Irish Castle?
Thousands of people are fascinated by castles. They love the rich history, the marvelous feats of engineering, and of course, the stunning aesthetics. If you’re wondering why Ireland should be at the top of your list of destinations when planning a trip that involves visiting interesting castles.
There are many reasons why Ireland makes one of the best choices as a destination when looking for beautiful and fascinating castles to visit. The Emerald Isle is home to majestic castles; built by a magnificent and rebellious people.
Think of the struggles that the Irish have endured for centuries as they squabbled amongst themselves while trying to keep their gorgeous green isle independent from invaders.
First, there were the Romans, and then the English, not to mention Viking raiders! In many ways, the existence of mighty castles was instrumental to Ireland’s survival and ability to withstand attacks from foreign marauders.
Imagine trying to defend your homeland on a remote isle in a faraway corner of the world as boatloads of troops from the Roman Empire embark on a quest to conquer your home.
However, you should know that during the skirmishes with Roman soldiers, Ireland didn’t have anything like what we would consider a proper castle today. At that time, they mostly had what one would describe as fortifications.
It wasn’t until much later that castles began springing up across the Emerald Isle.
This does not mean that the Irish were behind the times. During the height of the Roman Empire, there were no Europeans building castles like the ones we are accustomed to seeing later in history.
The 6 Best Irish Castles You Can Visit
Ireland is a land of magic, ancient stories, and whispering winds. The waves that crash upon its rocky shores remind us of the strength and resolve of its hardy citizens.
When you look out into the mists over the Irish Sea, you can easily picture wooden ships laden with invaders coming towards the shore. Irish castles helped protect Irish territory. The castles that grace Ireland’s green earth are a wonder to behold.
1. Blarney Castle
The first castle on our list of the best Irish castles to visit is Blarney Castle. This castle is undoubtedly one of the most popular castles to visit in Ireland. Much of the castle’s fame and popularity comes from its chief curiosity, the Blarney Stone.
It is thought that one can gain the gift of gab by kissing the storied stone. People have sought the Blarney Stone and its unique gifts for nearly 200 years. Of course, no one can really say if it works or if it doesn’t, which makes it something that you have to experience for yourself.
Mystical stone aside, Blarney Castle has plenty of other interesting things to see and experience. For example, Blarney Castle is home to exceptionally beautiful and well-kept gardens. The castle itself is reasonably well-preserved and has much to admire.
For those of you that are interested in the history of Blarney Castle, you’ll find plenty of information to stimulate your curiosity. The castle was built 600 years ago by Cormac MacCarthy, a highly esteemed chieftain.
2. Birr Castle
Next up on our list is Birr Castle which dates back to Anglo-Norman times. This is a castle with an especially fascinating history. The O’Carroll’s occupied the castle until the 1580s. During the 1580s, the castle sold to the Ormond Butlers.
Since it was sold, the castle underwent various changes. The Black Tower, which was once known as the Tower House of the O’Carroll’s slipped into the mists of history from disuse.
Birr Castle sustained heavy damage from a fire in the 1830s but got largely restored since then. During the horrors of the famine that struck Ireland in the 1840s, Mary, Countess of Rosse, paid to have extensive reconstruction to be done.
Bit by bit, Castle Birr’s dignity and splendor were restored. It’s fascinating to think of the parallels of such a reconstruction.
At the same time that the famine tragically imperiled the Irish while death stalked the land, new life was breathed into the cold stone of Birr Castle. Another attraction that draws castle lovers to Birr Castle is the Great Telescope.
The Great Telescope was built in 1845. For the first 70 years after its construction, The Great Telescope of Birr Castle was the largest telescope in existence.
3. Charleville Castle
As one of the more recent castles in Ireland, Charleville Castle is also one of the most sophisticated in its construction. Construction began in 1798 by Baron Tullamore, who employed Francis Johnston as its architect.
So what’s so special about Charleville Castle? For one thing, it is the single most exceptional example of a neo-Gothic castle in Ireland. That’s a powerful statement.
However, once you see the castle for yourself, you will quickly ascertain that its reputation as the best neo-Gothic castle in Ireland is well-deserved. The Gallery, entrance hall, main staircase and landing, Library, morning room, and dining room are all intact.
Overall, the castle is a fine example of Irish ingenuity. It’s also a tribute to their skills as masterful craftsmen. Neo-Gothic architecture is very detailed, which means there are plenty of beautiful details to see and appreciate when visiting Charleville Castle.
When strolling the grounds of Charleville Castle, one feels the waves of history wash over them. Once upon a time, the grounds on which Charleville Castle stands were once home to an ancient Oak grove where druids once roamed.
As such, Charleville Castle can give you more than a glimpse into history. It can give you a glimpse into our shared past and the mystery of the human experience.
4. Dunguaire Castle
Dunguaire Castle is the next castle on our list, situated on the hauntingly beautiful shores of Galway Bay. First constructed in 1520, Dunguaire Castle by the O’Hyne’s. It eventually changed hands to Richard Martyn, Mayor of Galway.
The Martyn’s continued to occupy the castle for many years. Finally, in 1924, Dunguaire Castle was purchased b Oliver St. John Gogarty, who restored the castle and helped bring its grandeur back to life.
The restoration took place during the great period of Celtic revival that had swept over the land at the time. This Celtic revival left heavy influences in the literature of the period. The restoration was finally completed by Christobel Lady Aptill, who took the castle on in 1954.
Today, it belongs to Shannon Heritage and has become one of the best castles in Ireland to visit to see what life was like in the 1520s. If you are looking for an accurate glimpse into everyday castle life in the 1500s, you’ll want to make a point of visiting Dunguaire Castle.
5. Trim Castle
The next castle on our list is Trim Castle, a place which happens to be the biggest Anglo-Norman castle on the Emerald Isle. Trim Castle is much older than places like Charleville Castle, as it was built way back in 1173.
Just think of how different life was between a year like 1173 and 1798. By 1173, the Roman Empire was long gone, and the Vikings got defeated, while 1798 unfolded only a few short years after the French Revolution back on the Continent.
Fans of movies like Braveheart will recognize that Trim Castle is a must-see! History aside, Trim Castle is famous for being used as the setting in the film Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson. Admissions are cheap, and the experience is unforgettable.
Trim Castle features some of the most impressive and intriguing military architecture of all the castles in Ireland. The castle is close enough to Dublin to make it the perfect destination to round out your Dublin day trip.
6. Ballygally Castle
Just three short miles from the town of Barnes lies one of the most haunted castles in Ireland. If a haunted castle with a dramatic history is what you’re looking for, you can find it at Ballygally Castle in Northern Ireland.
Built in 1625, Ballygally Castle has seen its fair share of people since its construction. Hundreds of souls have passed through its mighty halls over the years. Some of them just might have stuck around for the long haul. James Shaw of Scotland originally built the castle on rented land.
The castle faced many spirited attacks from the Irish army in the 1640s. A castle that has seen so many battles and so much bloodshed is bound to be haunted.
The most famous ghost of Ballygally Castle is Isobel Shaw, who died by falling out of a window after being locked in a room by her husband and left to starve. Many people say she wanders the halls knocking on doors.
The castle currently functions as a hotel. If you wish to test your valor and see just how haunted this castle really is, try staying the night, you’re in for a fright!
7. Leamaneh Castle
Leamaneh Castle is also quite haunted. It also happens to be one of the best castles in Ireland to visit. As legend has it, a mysterious figure named Red Mary had 20 husbands during her lifetime, and she killed them all.
When the populace learned of her crimes, they sealed her up and left her for dead. Today, she is said to stalk the halls of Leamaneh Castle. Is it just a story? Maybe so, but then again, what if it was true? The only way to find out is to visit the place yourself!
So, What Are the Best Irish Castles?
There you have it, folks, the best Irish castles to visit today! While individually spectacular, these castles are part of a larger tapestry, the tapestry of Irish history itself. Each of these castles played a pivotal role at some time in Ireland’s history.
By visiting these castles and seeing what makes them unique, you will learn something about Ireland and about yourself. Put these castles on your list of destinations and prepare for the journey of a lifetime!