Venture away from Dublin’s brilliant Temple Bar district, and you’ll find hidden Dublin, one that is dotted with medieval castles filled with history, mystery, and legend. From the walled gardens of picturesque Howth Castle to the sea views of Ardgillan, visiting the castles of Dublin is a peaceful retreat from the lovely bustle of the city.
The most well-known of Dublin’s Castles, she has witnessed the significant events in Irish history, including the inauguration of Douglas Hyde, first President of Ireland. Built in 1204, and renovated multiple times, this castle has thick stone walls and was built to defend the city, following the Norman invasion of Ireland. Today, the castle is open to the public with access to The State Apartments, The Chapel Royal, and the Viking Excavation.
Malahide Castle, about 10 miles north of Dublin, has a resident ghost. The ‘Puck of Malahide’ was a jester, retained by the Talbot family; they built the castle in 1185. Puck was stabbed outside the castle and, while dying, vowed to haunt the castle for eternity. A number of people claim to have seen the long-gone jester. Malahide also has a “White Lady” ghost—many Irish castles do. If ghosts aren’t up your alley, visit simply for the pleasure of its story and its grounds. Want to throw an impressive party? It’s available to rent for a private affair, fit for royalty.
Built in the 12th century, Howth Castle, the private residence of the Gaisford St. Lawrence family, is just outside the sweet fishing village of Howth, County Dublin. It is steeped in tall tales. It is said that in the late 1500’s, the Pirate Queen of Mayo, Grainne O’Malley, stopped at the castle in order to dine, only to find the castle gates closed to her by the 8th Baron Howth.
Insulted by this lapse in hospitality, O’Malley apparently kidnapped Baron Howth’s grandson and heir, returning him once it had been agreed that the gates of the castle would always be open to visitors. In addition to this, an extra place was to be set at every meal. This promise is kept by the castle residents to this day. While there, explore the beautiful walled garden and a 30-feet high hedge planted in 1710.
Ashtown Castle, dating from 1430, is known as the castle that remained hidden right in the middle of Dublin’s Phoenix Park for hundreds of years. This medieval tower house was only discovered in 1978, found concealed within the walls of the soon-to-be-demolished Ashtown Lodge. Ashtown Castle has been fully restored, and it is open to visitors. If you decide to tour the castle as part of your walk through Phoenix Park, enjoy! The Phoenix Park, with Ashtown Castle as its backdrop, has hosted a number of rock acts over the years, including Coldplay, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and the jewel in Ireland’s musical crown, U2.
One of Ireland’s hidden gems, Ardgillan Castle overlooks the Irish Sea. It has magnificent views, stretching as far as the Mourne Mountains. Ardgillan is an ideal place to fall into the wonder of times long past. Officially opened to the public in 1992, by President of Ireland Mary Robinson, the castle has a number of family and canine-friendly attractions, including ‘Paws at Ardgillan,’ a dogs-welcome café.
Its picturesque setting belies a tragic past. It is said that the Baroness of Langford, Louisa Augusta Connolly, drowned in the Irish Sea while staying as a guest at Ardgillan Castle. Louisa, who is known among locals as ‘The Ghost of the Lady’s Stairs,’ still haunts Ardgillan, searching for the husband and children she left behind when she met her untimely end.
This is the former residence of numerous Archbishops of Dublin, including the first Anglo-Norman Archbishop, John Comyn. Swords Castle is situated in the center of the ancient town of Swords in North Dublin. Built in 1200, it has an impressive medieval church and tower that are open to visitors. The castle is also a popular film location. When visiting Swords, also stop by Swords Round Tower and St. Columba’s Church.
There are more than 30,000—you read that number correctly!—castles in Ireland. Many are tumbled down places where sheep munch grass. But these, just outside Dublin, are spectacular.
Be sure to tell your Destination Expert you’d like to see a castle, or perhaps stay in a castle, and they will make it happen!