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9 epic castles and conquests

9 castles in Ireland's Ancient East to whet your appetite for tales of battle, betrayal, heroes and much more

  • #IrelandsAncientEast
  • #HousesandCastles
  • #Landmarks
  • #IrelandsAncientEast
  • #HousesandCastles
  • #Landmarks

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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...

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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…

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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".

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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...

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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.

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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.

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7. Birr Castle, County Offaly

The crisp mid-morning light is the perfect time to admire Birr Castle, home to the 7th Earl of Rosse. Visitors can admire great oaks, flora and stunning Chinese imports – not to mention the unlikely hub of Irish scientific innovation. From providing the town with electricity via the river, building the so-called “Leviathan” telescope and creating one of the world’s first darkrooms, the inspiration in these grounds is infectious.

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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!

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9. Leap Castle, County Offaly

Before the first stone was even laid, blood was spilled at the site of Leap Castle. And so we now have spirits from The Murder Hole, The Bloody Chapel and The Red Lady roaming the halls to keep you company... But don't worry, when this dagger carrying woman comes your way, you'll know she's coming: the room will suddenly become immensely cold – so cold that it reaches your heart. You've been warned!