Ask someone what they think of when you say Ireland, and it’s likely certain tropes will come up: rain, green grass, Guinness. All valid, but there’s more to the Emerald Ireland than bad weather, lush fields and the black stuff and these are Ireland Castles.
Prior to the occupation of Ireland by Britain, the country was ruled by several kings. Many of their castles remain standing in various degrees of ruin to this day. Moreover, as might be expected of an occupying force, the British built several large fortifications in the country. Whatever the reasons, the result is a country filled with beautiful castles to see and visit. Here are five of the best:
1. Blarney Castle
The small, picturesque town of Blarney is not far from Ireland’s second city, Cork. Those familiar with it will have heard of the Blarney Stone, and yes, this is undoubtedly what draws the majority of tourists to the castle. Visitors are lowered down the side of the castle (there are protective bars to prevent them following and told to ‘kiss it’ as quickly as possible. As you can imagine, it’s all a bit kitsch, something that rarely puts tourists off visiting. Madame Tussaud’s anyone?
If you’re visiting Blarney, make sure to do two things. Firstly, visit the town. Its restaurants serve great food and it has a nice, relaxed vibe. Secondly, skip the stone, and walk around the castle grounds. It’s visually stunning and the gardens are beautiful.
2. Ross Castle
Ross Castle is in Killarney National Park, the nation’s first national park and one of its largest. Killarney is another pretty – though bigger – town, in nearby County Kerry, which attracts a number of visitors a year due to its convenient location as a launch pad for the beautiful Ring of Kerry road and other scenic areas. However, you don’t have to travel far from Killarney to see beauty.
Take a jaunting horse and cart ride around the park. The guides will fill you in on the history and drop you off at Ross Castle. The castle belonged to Ross O’Donoghue, an ancient Irish king, and was the last to fall to Oliver Cromwell. It is a ruin now, and you can’t enter, but the grounds are pleasant to walk around and the views wonderful.
3. Dunluce Castle
Antrim’s Dunluce castle could easily be pictured as a Game of Thrones fortification, and indeed, it’s high location and the steep drops surrounding it were likely the reason it was so well favored by early Christians and subsequently, the Vikings. Though now a ruin, the castle is accessible to the public via a bridge and well worth the visit.
If you are going to take a trip to Dunluce, a good base is the nearby town of Portrush. A seaside resort, the town has a number of attractions and has been invested into heavily by the government. A very good choice, especially for those with kids.
4. Malahide Castle
If you happen to be in Dublin, you’d be well advised to see the city’s famous sights, which are (mostly) worth visiting. However, make sure to take a short trip north of the city, past the Swords area, to Malahide Castle.
The 12th century castle is particularly interesting for those interested in Irish history and the surrounding grounds make for a beautiful walk. Music lovers will also be glad to know that the grounds have been used as a concert venue since 2007, with artists such as Arctic Monkeys, Pink and the late Prince all having performed there.
5. Donegal Castle
And finally, we have Donegal Castle, located in Donegal town. Tours start every thirty minutes and last roughly thirty five, suitable for those who’d like to show the kids a bit of culture but not run the risk of them getting bored. Donegal is Ireland’s most northerly point (though it is part of the Republic of Ireland) and its coastline has some of the country’s most beautiful scenery.
It’s also a hotspot for music and culture. If you visit, make sure to take a trip to Donegal Town (where the castle is located), but also, be sure to drive around the county itself, with its pretty scenery, friendly locals and picturesque seaside towns.