9 epic castles and conquests
1. Castle Roche, County Louth
The 13th century Castle Roche in County Louth is the only castle in Ireland built by a woman. It’s said that when her husband was killed in France, Rohesia De Verdon convinced the builder to finish the job on a promise of marriage. When the castle was built, she met him on the battlements. But she didn’t marry him... instead she threw him over. Legend has it his ghost roams the ruins to this day...
2. Rock of Dunamase, County Laois
This has got to be one of the biggest wedding presents of all time. The Rock of Dunamase – originally an Early Christian hill fort, once plundered by Vikings – was eventually a gift to Norman Lord Strongbow in 1172 upon his marriage to Aoife, daughter of the King of Leinster. As legend goes, there’s even buried treasure lying beneath the castle – guarded by a fearsome hellhound…
3. Black Castle, County Wicklow
Okay, there are only fragments of this 12th century castle remaining – given its daily assault by the Irish Sea, that's probably no surprise – but its demise was also due to constant attacks from local Chieftains for its ties to a supporter of Strongbow. This is where the three sister rivers, the Suir, the Nore and the Barrow meet the sea, and it's known locally as “the race to the south".
4. Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary
The devil bit off more than he could chew with the Rock of Cashel – quite literally, if you believe the legend. Dropped from his grasp in the heart of the Tipperary countryside, this hulking rock became home many ages later to the spectacular collection of medieval buildings that remain today. This is a land where St Patrick once stood, where kings ruled the land, and where legends live on in stone...
5. Kilkenny Castle, County Kilkenny
Built in the 12th century and bought by the Butler family in 1391, this huge Norman pile was once besieged by the Free State forces while the Butlers barricaded themselves into a bedroom – along with their Pekingese dogs. The pride of Kilkenny's Medieval Mile and an ode to the glory days of epic architecture, the restored castle boasts a National Art Gallery and 21 hectares of parkland.
6. Trim Castle, County Meath
Hedge-lined roads lead you up to 12th century Trim Castle, and its impact can never be understated. So impressed was Mel Gibson that it became central to the filming of Braveheart in 1995. But perhaps the most fitting accolade came from Richard Pococke, the Archdeacon of Dublin and explorer of Ancient Egypt, who described the castle in 1753 as “the greatest piece of antiquity” he had encountered.
7. Huntington Castle, County Carlow
Located in the pretty village of Clonegal, Huntington Castle began life as a garrison when it was originally built in 1625. But since 1680, it has evolved into unique and luxurious family home. As well as a fascinating interior packed with artefacts, it boasts impeccably curated gardens – featuring a gorgeous rose walk in the Italian parterre, as well as the recently restored water gardens. If you’re visiting, make sure to take one of the castle tours where you can hear stories about the castle’s historical residents, as well as explore the formal rooms, and its dungeon, which boasts a temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis!
8. Blarney Castle, County Cork
Between secret passages, poison gardens and stunning views, you’ll be lost for words around here – well, until you kiss the Blarney Stone. Dating from 1446, the castle is most famous for the magic that happens when you pucker up to kiss the Stone. According to tradition, once you've planted your kiss, you will be bestowed with the ‘Gift of the Gab’, meaning you will never again be lost for words!
9. Johnstown Castle, County Wexford
With over 800 years of fascinating history behind it, Johnstown Castle is a fantastic destination that encompasses an estate, gardens and a museum. The 19th century neo-Gothic castle is a delight of towers and turrets, with surrounding grounds, gardens and lakes that absolutely ooze romance. Once you’ve enjoyed both of those, you can pop into the Irish Agricultural Museum, which gives an interesting overview of Ireland’s rural history. Make a day of it and give yourself time to explore everything Johnstown Castle has to offer – it’s most definitely a location that will linger long in the memory…