Castles and conquests in Ireland's Ancient East

Global conquerors, murderous wives and castles bought on a dime – Ireland's castles tell spectacular tales that weave a web of stories over the land.

1. Castle Leslie, County Monaghan

Sometimes there just aren’t enough superlatives to illustrate just how jaw-dropping a place can be at first glance. Castle Leslie falls into this category, with its lush, 1,000-acre estate, 1,000 years of intriguing family history and the elegant building at the very heart of it all. And then there's the inside. Every room comes with a different story about a Leslie family member. And what a family! The owners of Castle Leslie have quite the lineage, with venerable artists, writers and decorated soldiers included. And they can trace their roots all the way back to Attila the Hun.

2. Birr Castle, County Offaly

Birr Castle is a scientific marvel. Not only is the castle a beauty, the gardens are also filled to the brim with rare floral specimens – collected by the Earls of Rosse as they travelled the globe for the last 150 years. There are also plans to create the world's largest grove of giant redwood trees outside of California. And we haven't even mentioned the Great Telescope yet, which reigned as the world's largest telescope for over 70 years, and was responsible for the discovery of the spiral nature of nebulae in space!

3. Trim Castle, County Meath

Towering above the surrounding landscape, 12th century Trim Castle has kept watch over the gentle hills of County Meath for quite some time. The largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland, Trim has seen wars and rebellions, has survived sieges and conflicts and anything else that saw fit to try to breach these stone walls. The most recent, though, was more faux than fierce, when Mel Gibson and his crew of hundreds filmed the movie Braveheart in 1995. 

4. The Rock of Dunamase, County Laois

Christian settlement, Viking target, extra-large wedding gift: the Rock of Dunamase has been many things in its 900-year history, including the stuff of legends. Sitting above ancient buried treasure, the rock is said to be guarded by a fearsome hellhound. But it is the castle ruins that play to its more romantic side, as it was presented to Norman Lord Strongbow upon his marriage to Aoife, daughter of the King of Leinster. Sadly, the castle fell to ruins within just 200 years of that betrothal.

5. Castle Roche, County Louth

The ruins of Castle Roche come with a sinister secret. If you climb towards the castle, surrounded by lush green fields, you'll notice a window high up in the tower. It's known as the Murder Window. A wealthy and beautiful woman once promised her hand in marriage to the man who would build her a castle to her exact specifications. Men came from far and wide for the opportunity, and the woman made her selection. True to his word, the chosen craftsman built the castle and, upon marrying his new wife, they climbed to the window to survey their lands – where she promptly pushed him to his death.

6. Kilkenny Castle, County Kilkenny

How much do you think a castle costs? Probably more money than you can even imagine! But Kilkenny Castle, a 12th century masterpiece, was bought for the princely sum of just £50. The 6th Marquess of Ormonde offered it to the city of Kilkenny for this amount in 1967 as a gift – take a tour and see the stunning Picture Gallery, explore the South Tower, or kick back and take it easy with a picnic in the perfectly manicured grounds. You’ll then see how much of a bargain this gift really is!

5,000 years of history come to life...

Ireland's Ancient East