The low lying mountains, lush greenery, numerous streams and rivers make Ireland a picturesque European Island. Interspersed among this landscape are medieval castles that appear to have come straight out of fairy-tales. A drive around Irish countryside is sure to lead to one of these castles, some of them are reduced to ruins, some are still accessible, some are in amazing condition, and some are even turned into luxury hotels. In any condition, a trip to these castles is like a walk down the lanes of fantasy or history.
The castles in Ireland date back to 11th and 12th centuries. Used for defense and fortification these castles have layered histories, owing to their subsequent captures, destruction, and additions. The present structures which can be traced back to different centuries make these castles a brilliant vision.
There are numerous castles throughout Ireland, but some of them should be definitely on every traveler’s to-visit list.
Near the River Martin, Blarney Castle, near Cork is a medieval castle. Its original stone structure was built in 1210 which was destroyed and then rebuilt in 15th century. The place is replete with historical importance. It was besieged during the Irish Confederate Wars, and later on in the 1690s during the Williamite War the castle was confiscated from its original owner.
Among these ruins some rooms and battlements are still available for visitors to explore. At the top of the castle is the Stone of Eloquence, popularly known as Stone of Eloquence. It is believed that kissing this stone gives the gift of eloquence, and to do that tourists have to hang upside down over a sheer cliff. There are many legends associated with this stone, the most popular being that the stone has magical properties as this was the stone on which Irish kings were crowned. The gardens surrounding the castle have various paths worth exploring. There are several natural rock formations, known as Witch’s Cave or Wishing Steps. It makes for a beautiful walk around these medieval structures.
Situated in County Clare, the history of Bunratty Castle can be traced back to Viking settlements in 10th century. From 1250s to the 1350s, three different castles were built around this place, though not many of these structures have survived. The current structures date back to 15th century.
It is an important tourist site, along with Bunratty Folk Park, open air museum, which also has the quaint rose cottage, Ardcroney Church of Ireland and several other buildings. Medieval banquets are offered here since 1960s. Bunratty Castle Entertainers perform during these banquets. Long wooden tables, candlelight, servers dressed in medieval gowns, and the medieval music of quartets, mulled mead served in goblets- these all combine to make it a unique experience.
Trim castle in County Meath is another popular tourist attraction. The ruins of this medieval castle dates back to 12th century too. Lying on the banks of river Boyne, it is one of the largest castles in Ireland. It was among the important strongholds of Anglo- Norman de Lacys. It was among one of the administrative areas under King Henry II of England. Further additions were done in 12th century by Hugh de Lacy. Beginning of 14th century saw further construction like the three aisled Great Hall, stables etc. In medieval times the site had significance from ecclesiastical as well as royal perspective. In 15th century Trim Castle was frequently used for parliamentary meetings.
The central three story keep is of cruciform shape with 20 corners. Dublin Gate is one of the two main gates into the castle and dates back to 1190s. A stroll around this castle’s outskirts is replete with beauty and history. The castle was also a part of the filming of Braveheart, a film directed by Mel Gibson.
This castle is located near River Nore. Built in 1195, the four large circular corner towers and the massive ditch that are a part of this castle, attest to its purposefulness for defense. First proper constructions can be dated back to early 13th century. In 1213, a square shaped castle was finished in the same area, three towers of this structure stand even today. During 1640s Kilkenny hosted meetings of the Parliament of Confederate Ireland. It is one of the most visited sites in Ireland. The widespread gardens and the land around the castle serve a decorative addition, and are a delight to explore.
It is a significant complex of Irish Government in the present day. It has great political significance- the castle has served as the seat of British Government, Kingdom of Ireland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland between 12th to 20th century.
It has served as defensive fortification, royal residence, military garrison and has also been employed for ceremonial purposes over the centuries. It has been renovated and additions have been made over time. The only surviving structure from the oldest construction (13th century) includes the great Record Tower. Its grandeur and allure has made it a popular destination among filmmakers. The grand state Apartments are a sight to behold. It includes Saint Patrick’s Hall- popular because it is one of the oldest rooms in this castle, and boasts of beautifully decorated interiors. State Drawing Room, State Bedroom, State Corridors, State Dining Room- also called the Picture Gallery it is the oldest room in the castle. It is an important site both for political as well as tourism purposes.
It is situated in County Galway. With its elaborate and detailed gold interior, its splendidly maintained gardens and lawns, this is a quintessential fairytale castle. It has been converted into 5 star luxury hotel and is a famous destination wedding venue, with its stunning presence.
Situated in County Donegal, northwest Ireland it is an exemplary specimen among the castles. Surrounded by water on 3 sides and built on a peninsula, it appears as if the Doe Castle is floating. Among the most rustic of Irish castles, the interior is not entirely accessible for tourists, but an evening spent in exploring its surroundings makes a memorable experience.
Dunguaire Castle: In County Galway, this castle is situated on a rocky headland. It is a chess piece style castle. Its location and structure make it highly photogenic. This castle also houses a museum and hosts “medieval banquets” in the evening.
Cahir Castle: One of the best preserved medieval castles, its moat, turrets, towers and dungeons make it an example of typical castles, which give an aura of feudal past and stateliness.
Enniskillen Castle: In County Fermanagh. Its water gates and twin turrets are a popular picturesque sight. The views from the lake side are unforgettable. The museum housed in this castle is a worth a visit too.
A drive down to these castles and exploring their beauty and magnificence gives one a sense of being transported back into the medieval times of knights and earls whereas their fairy-tale appearance gives one the sense of being transported to some Disney story. They make Ireland a beautiful land of Castles.