Ireland’s castles look like they’ve been here forever, but they’ve barely been around for the bones of a millennium.
Arriving with the Anglo-Normans, these castles began as earth and timber structures, but by the late 12th century, were increasingly being replaced by a more permanent material: stone.
An era for a castle
After the Norman fortresses came defensive tower houses, Elizabethan manors, Victorian, Baronial and other flights of fancy in both new buildings and adaptations of original structures. The result? A motley collection of crumbling ruins, medieval mash-ups and pristine stately piles that seem purpose-built to surprise you at the most unexpected times.
Not many families can say “we lived here for 800 years,” but it’s true of the Talbot family, who occupied the north Dublin jewel of Malahide Castle until 1973. The castle dates from the 12th century, was enlarged during the reign of Edward IV, and had turreted towers added in 1765.
The latest refurbishment brings a spanking new food hall, although some things haven’t changed... namely the castle’s mischievous ghost, a 16th-century caretaker named Puck.
Heading northwest, the hulking pile of Enniskillen Castle is the former seat of the Maguires, local bigwig chieftains who had their own private navy of 1,500 boats to patrol the waters of Upper and Lower Lough Erne. Today, it houses the Fermanagh County Museum and the regimental museum of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The view still impresses.
Elsewhere, County Antrim’s Dunluce Castle is straight from the pages of a fantasy novel. Imposing entrance, impressive? Rock bridge with a jaw-dropping location. Just sidle up to the edge of the basalt cliffs on which the 17th-century ruins teeter and look down to the booming surf below.
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And what about castles that remain in the family? The Plunketts, Lords of Dunsany, have occupied the gem that is Dunsany Castle in Meath for almost eight centuries. It’s a home and it feels like one, with its impressive private art collection, architectural quirks and historical treasures (in fact, it’s said to be the longest-occupied home in Ireland).
Every Irish Castle has a story to tell
There is so much to discover when exploring Ireland's great castle's.
Did you know that Lismore Castle was once home to Sir Walter Raleigh, said to have brought the potato to Ireland? Or that Cahir Castle in County Tipperary featured in the opening scenes of the film Excalibur?
Have we mentioned that kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle in Cork imparts the fabled “gift of the gab”?
Enjoy great tales at every turn.