Whether crawling through centuries-old ruins or relaxing in 5-star luxury, Ireland’s castles pay homage to the inhabitants of times past
Ireland is as famous for its castles as it is for the Guinness. Dotted around the land, these monuments to the past contain their own dark secrets and a trip through the midlands gives a dramatic taste of treachery and skullduggery.
As the writer Frank O’Connor said, “It would take more than one lifetime to discover the reason for all the ruins in Ireland, but it sure makes for a diverting tour of discovery trying at least to scratch the surface.”
- Trim Castle in County Meath. The largest and most important castle in Ireland for several centuries, its garrison of Anglo Normans watched over the ‘dangerous natives’, and took every precaution to ensure the castle was seriously unwelcoming. Uninvited guests were treated to boiling water, tar, arrows, rocks, and other early weapons of mass destruction rained down on them from overhead.
- Dunluce Castle in County Antrim. The spectacular castle-crowned crag, on the famous north Antrim coast, was shaped when the sea cut deep into the rock. Dunluce Castle, originally occupied by the MacQuillan family and later the MacDonnells, was besieged by the British in the 16th Century. It’s reputed to be the inspiration for Cair Paravel, the famous castle in CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.
- Fifty miles southwest of Trim lies the village of Clareen, home to Leap Castle, what is reputed to be the most haunted castle in Ireland. It has guarded the pass from Slieve Bloom into Munster since the 14th century, and its spectre is a particularly smelly one – it was even witnessed by poet WB Yeats on a stay in the castle.
- Carrickfergus Castle, County Antrim. Started 1180 by John de Courcy, conqueror of east Ulster, and garrisoned until 1928, this is a striking feature of the landscape. Carrickfergus Castle represents over 800 years of military might. Besieged in turn by the Scots, Irish, English and French, the Castle saw action right up to World War II.
- If you want to make a quick escape from the ghoulish Leap Castle, it’s a short drive to Birr, at the exact geographical centre of Ireland. Birr Castle was a seat of the O’Carrolls, who were outlawed in 1620. The gardens are a real draw with one of the greatest displays of magnolia in the country. Flowers aside, the massive telescope in the castle is its main claim to fame – built in 1825 the telescope was the biggest in the world until 1917.
- Enniskillen Castle. Situated beside the River Erne in County Fermanagh, this castle was built almost 600 years ago by Gaelic Maguires. Guarding one of the few passes into Ulster, it was strategically important throughout its history. In the 17th century it became an English garrison fort and later served as part of a military barracks.
Want to hear even more about Ireland’s castles? Our blog delves a little deeper into all four corners of Ireland.