- On June 20, 2019
- In Blog
Best Castles in Ireland to visit?
Why so many Castles in Ireland?
Ireland had a large number of castles spread throughout the countryside and taken for granted by the locals. They may be a ruin or a remaining wall, a tower house with no roof, a renovated castle with modern extension or a renovated or lived in building – all called castles, so what are the best Castles in Ireland to visit? From the 1800s onwards large Georgian Houses replaced castles and modern homes are our castles!
The late Bronze age and Iron Are had forts, with walls and ditches built on a hill to enclose a settlement used for protection of people and animals. The Hill of Tara or Dun Aengus Stone Fort on the Aran Islands is good examples of this type of fortification. The English dictionary states a castle as ‘a large building, typically of the medieval period, fortified against attack with thick walls, battlements towers and often a moat”. The early castles built in the 10th Century were made of clay and wood, none of whom are left. If a castle was not up to standard, you will see repeatedly a new castle will be built on the same site, to the building extended, upgraded to the fashion of the time.
With the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in 1170 many Castles were built, many as square keeps. Trim Castle on the banks of the river Boyne was made of clay, and soon after the invasion, a stone castle was built and is one of the best Castles in Ireland to visit. In the following centuries, this castle had a large curtain wall added around it to protect the residents and valuables inside. The Castles were built by the settlers to protect themselves against the natives. By the 15th Century, the English Crown of Henry VI was offering grants of £10 ( about £60,000 in today’s money) to build a castle which must be’20 feet in length, 16 feet in width and 40 feet high or more’. Castle building became so common that a maximum number had to be put on the number built in ‘the pale’ – area close to Dublin. There were over 70,000 tower house built in Ireland in the late middle ages as a result. This means we had and have more castles than any other part of Europe.
Cromwell and Castles
Comfort became more important in building in the late middle ages with buildings being more rectangular, with fireplaces, windows and light being more important. The new builds were referred to as a fortified house, as in Kanturk Castle, which was more of a country house in style. When Cromwell and his army came to Ireland in the start of the 17th century with mobile heavy artillery the walls of castles were no match for them. Castle building stopped abruptly as they were blown up by cannon fire. Some castles were saved because they were handed over to the army as the owners surrendered, sometimes to regain them again. The Conquering army extended the castles they conquered and the new Anglo Irish settlers built country houses rather than castles. The castles were used to house the military ( Bunratty Castle) or fell into disrepair. The new design was for Georgian houses with classical architecture and Italian Gardens. Powerscourt Garden in Wicklow is a great example of this as is Bantry House in West Cork.
The castles of the 19th century were towards the Gothic, and Victorian designs with architects brought in to design in the latest fashion. The landed gentry travelled and brought back ideas from the UK and Europe. With the Great Famine, the source of income of the estates dried up and so did the building of grand houses. Blarney Castle was rebuilt repeatedly and the present ruin is one of the best known Castles in Ireland to visit.
In the early 20th Century with the separation from the UK and formation of the free state many Anglo Irish were happy to sell their property and in some cases burned out of them. The houses and estates were abandoned, some divided up or sold to the natives who could afford them or go into ruin. It was also the case that some families of the landed gentry who were dependent on a male heir to pass on the family estate, name and peerage died out, as it was not considered important or beneficial in the Irish State.
From the 1960s onwards the Irish State through the OPW ( Office of Public Works), the National Monument Service of Northern Ireland, An Taisce and enlightened interested parties came together to develop or the repair castles of different sizes. Malahide Castle in Co Dublin was handed over to the state as payment for death duties in the 1970s. Bunratty Castle was repaired by a group of enthusiasts with the support of Failte Ireland and is now run as a very successful Tourism venture by Shannon Development. Bunratty Castle and Killkenny Castle are the best-renovated Castles in Ireland to visit.
Some grand houses and castles are hotels such as Dromoland Castle and Ashford Castle, both of which are 5-star hotels which have undergone extensive renovation in the past 10 years, and are now the grandest Castles hotels in Ireland. Adare Manor was built after the castle’s period but is also a renovated 5-star hotel. Some castles are still in private ownership and pay their way as venues for weddings, corporate events and have rental units on site. Some are still lived in full-time by families, who spend a lot of money on repair and upkeep of these historic properties. But as we say in Ireland ‘ my home is my castle’.
Which Castles to Visit
We have a list of Castles of different types you can visit in Ireland. Blarney Castle is on everyone’s bucket list for Ireland, but there are many other castles to visit, marvel at and stay in if you wish. We have a more detailed blog on each of the 4 provinces of Ireland Munster, Leinster, Connaught and Ulster and the most interesting castle in each part of Ireland. Get details fo their history and reasons to visit. Some castles have guided tours and others are not open to the public. For a Guide who will take you around Ireland to visit castles, contact Activity Days with an enquiry form. There are the renovated castles to walk around, those which are now hotels and those still in ruin, but in stunning locations. Here are my favourite castles to visit all over Ireland
Top 10 Castles to Visit in Ireland
Blarney Castle, Cork
Privately owned ruined Castle in Blarney village which can be visited to kiss the Blarney Stone at top of the castle. Blarney House well worth visiting and beautiful gardens.
Co Tipperary Castle tower is renovated by the state and has guided tours.
Beside a Lough in Killarney, Co Kerry the renovated castle has guided tours but little furniture
In Co Meath Trip castle on the banks of the Boyne river is a fortress and was used in the film Braveheart. Guided Tours and run by the state.
Bunratty Castle in Co Clare, is close to Shannon Airport and can be visited during the day. Has banquets at night and an old style Irish village in grounds of castle.
In west Co Galway beside a lake is one of the most picturesque castles in Ireland. Guided tours and renovated
Renovated Castle in ownership of state in Donegal with wonderful gardens as well as the castle and grounds
A ruin on the north coast of Co Antrim with the castle falling into the sea. Was Castle Greyjoy in Game of Thrones.
A private hotel in Co Mayo and one of Irelands most luxurious Castles
In Kilkenny town, where it dominates the riverfront. An extensive castle, renovated and managed by the stage with Guided Tours