Lying in ruin or lovingly restored, the sheer number of castles in Ireland is astounding. Indeed, it’s been estimated that there are around 30’000, some simply a pile of stones now, but some as majestic and proud as the day they were built. Indeed, it’s a common sight in the spectacular Irish countryside to see such a fortification in varying states of disrepair, and we think there’s something beautifully bleak and mystical about the propensity of such buildings standing in the serene rural setting of the country. With that in mind, here are 5 IDEAL castles to visit on your historic holiday to Ireland.
Built in the 13th Century, this 800 year old castle is as grand as it gets. The grounds and castle itself have been progressively expanded over the years, and now stands on a 26’000 acre site of manicured lawns, precisely pruned flower beds and the rest. Though it’s been the scene of several fierce battles over the years, rest assured, it’s now a peaceful place where weary, well heeled travellers can lay their hat.
Indeed, Ashford Castle, a now five star hotel, has won more awards and accolades than you could count on 12 hands – the most impressive is arguably its National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World, marking it out as a very unique place indeed. As such, many, many famous faces have stayed here, including John Lennon and John Wayne (nope, you don’t have to be called John to earn a reservation) And did we mention it was the former home of the Guinness Family? You know, those of stout fame. Reason enough to visit, we think?
LOUGH CUTRA CASTLE
Want to rent an Irish Castle? Well, if your pockets are deep enough, then you can live out every medieval fantasy you’ve got going at Lough Cutra Castle. This 18th-century fort in South Galway can accommodate up to 17 guests, with an additional 23 in the courtyard homes and a total of 40 on the estate; ideal for a wedding or other big celebration we think.
Designed by legendary architect John Nash, who also dreamt up beloved builds like the Brighton Pavillion, his characteristic whimsy and interaction between the grounds and the building are all very much present and correct here. These days, the castle plays host to many events, including triathlons which make use of the estate’s 1000 acre lake. At just a 40 minute drive from Shannon Airport, this place is the perfect getaway for a truly special occasion.
Standing just 7 miles north west of Cork, Blarney Castle is most famous for a certain ritual involving a famous stone which stands towards the top of the castle. Yep, tourists from far and wide visit to plant a kiss on the Blarney Stone in order to gain the gift of eloquence. There is a catch; you have to hang upside down to do so, over a sheer drop, otherwise your smooch is rendered null and void. Perhaps the risk of death isn’t worth it in exchange for simply sounding a little more like Russel Brand? The spectacle, though, is well and truly worth it.
The castle itself is certainly worth your time, too; it dates back to before 1200 and still has some rooms intact. What’s more, it stands in truly stunning surrounds; the garden comprises 60 acres of sprawling forest, ferns and parkland.
Bunratty Castle is one of Ireland’s most beloved and visited, and it’s easy to see why. The site was established all the way back in 970, as a Viking trading post, and the castle itself followed just over 300 years later in 1275. In the 15th century, the Bunratty as we know it to look today was completed. Its thorough renovation in 1954 has left it in pristine nick, and today visitors can gain access for as little as €15. Inside you’ll find a huge collection of medieval furniture, generously donated by Lord Gort. Many tourists come here to experience the regular Medieval Banquet events which the castle hosts; a four-course meal held within the castle walls with hundreds-year-old recipes dutifully replicated by the talented chefs of the place.
The adjoining Folk Park offers a meticulously accurate representation of life in a 19th century Limerick village, with 30 buildings lovingly recreated, including a pub, school and post office. Fascinating stuff and totally engrossing; you may never want to return to the present!
You don’t need to travel deep into the Irish Countryside to find a large house with turrets. Yep, just 80 km (an hour’s drive, roughly) from Dublin is Ballinlough Castle, one of the country’s finest 17th Century castles. It’s been owned by the same family for 400 years, the Nugents (previously the O’Reillys, but a name change occurred in the 1800s), who have lovingly preserved its heritage and history. Interestingly, over the Summer Solstice weekend, the award winning boutique festival Body and Soul is held here, bringing in an eclectic crowd and flipping the dynamic of the otherwise sedate castle grounds on its head.