From rambling ruins to luxury hotels, Ireland is home to an astonishing 30,000 castles and forts, many of which are the stuff of pure fairy tales. Whilst we wouldn’t expect anyone to visit them all, it’s well worth including visits to a selection of the most fascinating, historic or magical castles in your Irish holiday itinerary. These our top six beautiful Irish castles located all across the country.
One of Ireland’s best-known historic sites, 600-year-old Blarney Castle stands in partial ruin on the outskirts of the pretty village with the same name in rural County Cork. A tour of the castle offers a fascinating insight into castle life hundreds of years ago, from the banqueting hall to bedrooms, kitchens to the dungeon, while a visit to the famous stone atop the castle’s fifteenth-century tower offers the gift of eloquence in exchange for a perilous kiss. If you prefer to keep your feet on solid ground, there are 60 acres of extensive gardens surrounding the castle to explore, as well as Blarney House, a nineteenth-century collection of turrets and gables that feels as though it should be overlooking a Scottish loch instead of a broad sweep of manicured lawn. As you wander the network of woodland and riverside trails, you’ll come across features such as a courtyard of carnivorous plants and rock formations with evocative names like the Wishing Steps and the Witches Kitchen.
At the end of a tree-lined avenue, a pair of stone towers stand guard as you cross the narrow, arched bridge that leads to Ashford Castle. Another of Ireland’s great castle hotels, Ashford is a crenelated, Victorian pile whose location on the shoreline of tranquil Lough Corrib makes it a popular base for indulging in outdoor pursuits such as boating, fishing and kayaking. The estate is also home to Ireland’s oldest falconry school, where you can experience this ancient sport under the supervision of experienced hawk handlers, or explore 350 acres of wooded countryside with a horse-drawn carriage tour or on horseback. Just an hour’s drive away, the wild spaces of Connemara National Park offer endless miles of hiking trails and the chance to meet some of the region’s most unique inhabitants: Connemara ponies, Cladoir sheep and Irish Moiled cattle.
Kilronan Castle was originally built in 1820 and known as Castle Tenison, but now operates as an award-winning luxury hotel – if you’ve always wanted to experience nineteenth-century country house life, this is a great place to start. It’s located in County Roscommon in the north of Ireland, just a couple of hours’ drive from Dublin, and comes complete with suits of armour in the hallways, four-poster beds in the suites and even the chance to sleep in a tower room that’s worthy of a fairytale. It’s the ideal base from which to explore the northwest of Ireland: a beautiful outdoor playground of lakes and valleys that are made for hiking. A visit to the nearby Rathcroghan Visitor Centre is a collection of 240 archaeological sites including Bronze Age burial mounds and early medieval ring forts – a must for anyone interested in the ancient history of Ireland.
Set on a windswept peninsula of rock-walled fields in County Sligo, Classiebawn Castle is a nineteenth-century, castle-style country house that is best known as the summer home of King Charles III’s great-uncle, Lord Mountbatten, who was holidaying here in 1979 when assassinated by an IRA bomb aboard his boat. Although the castle itself is privately opened and not open to the public, the nearby village of Mullaghmore, with its sweeping stretch of golden beach and stone pier that protects a tiny boat harbour, makes this picturesque part of Ireland’s Atlantic coast well worth a visit anyway. County Sligo’s coastline is renowned among surfers for its consistently good breaks, while inland, you’ll find plenty of other spectacular natural attractions, from the salmon-laden waters of Lough Gill to the distinctive, table-top profile of Benbulben.
More than a thousand years ago, the Rock of Cashel was the seat of the Irish kings – it’s even said to be the spot where Ireland’s patron saint converted the King of Munster to Christianity in the fifth century. Today its ruins are a spectacular sight perched on a limestone crag overlooking the pretty town of Cashel and offering spectacular views of the Tipperary countryside and the romantic ruins of Hore Abbey – a nearby Cistercian monastery. The town of Cashel is a wonderful location to experience traditional Irish culture and learn more about its history. Brú Ború Heritage Centre offer exhibitions, classes and festivals of live music and dance, while the Cashel Folk Village is an award-winning that contains a vast collection of memorabilia from various periods in Ireland’s history.
Standing in ruins on one of the tiny islands that dot the waters of Lough Key, McDermott’s Castle has been empty since the sixteenth century, and was once coveted by renowned Irish author, W.B. Yeats, who dreamed of setting up an art centre within its space. It is possible to explore the lake and gain a closer view of the castle by renting a boat from the nearby Lough Key activity park, although you may be distracted by the park’s other activities, which include a high-wire adventure course, e-biking trails and the real-life questing phenomenon that is Boda Borg. Rent a bike and enjoy a leisurely ride along the Boyle to Lough Key Cycle Way, taking a break in the pretty riverside market town of Boyle to enjoy a classic Irish pub meal.
Many of the finest castles in the world are located in Ireland, ready to be explored as part of your Irish adventure. Contact your personal travel manager to start planning your holiday in Ireland.