It may be famously known as the home of Bono, Guinness and a great night out, but venture off Dublin’s Temple Bar tourist trail, and you’ll find a whole new hidden Dublin, one that is dotted with medieval castles brimming with history, mystery and legend. From the walled gardens of picturesque Howth Castle to the sea views of Ardgillan, a tour of the castles of Dublin provides a peaceful retreat from the often relentless hustle and bustle of city life.
Looking for a breather from your city break? Then a tour of Dublin’s many castles is perfect for you!
A place of great cultural, historical and political significance, Dublin Castle, the most well-known of all the castles of Dublin, has borne witness to a number of significant events in Irish history, including the inauguration of the first President of Ireland, Douglas Hyde. Built in 1204, and renovated multiple times since, this castle, with its thick stone walls, was first conceived as a means of defence for the city of Dublin following the Norman invasion of Ireland. Today, the castle is open to the public via its popular Dublin Castle tour, a guided tour which permits access to The State Apartments, The Chapel Royal and the Viking Excavation. The Dublin Castle tour lasts approximately 70 minutes with admission costing €10.
Like many castles in Ireland, Malahide Castle, which lies 14 kilometres north of the city of Dublin, has its very own resident ghost. The so-called ‘Puck of Malahide’ was a jester retained by the Talbot family, who built Malahide Castle in 1185. When Puck was stabbed outside the castle for reasons seemingly unknown, he vowed to haunt the castle forever more. Indeed, a number of people claim to have seen the ghost of Puck over the years. Like all of Ireland’s haunted castles, Malahide also has a ‘White Lady’ ghost, but if hauntings are not your thing, then there’s still plenty to see and do at the castle, which is accessible to the public via a guided tour. If you really feel like splashing out, you can even hire the Great Hall at Malahide Castle for a private banquet that is fit for a king.
The private residence of the Gaisford St. Lawrence family since the 12th Century, Howth Castle, which sits just outside the picturesque fishing village of Howth in County Dublin, is steeped in legend. Rumour has it that in the late 1500’s, the Pirate Queen of Mayo, Grainne O’Malley, stopped by the castle in order to dine, only to find the castle gates closed to her by then resident the 8th Baron Howth. Insulted by this lapse in traditional Irish hospitality, O’Malley is said to have abducted Baron Howth’s grandson and heir, only returning him once it had been agreed that the gates of the castle would always remain open to visitors. In addition to this, an extra place was to be set at every meal, a promise that is upheld by the residents of the castle to this day.
As per Grainne O’Malley’s instruction, Howth Castle is open to visitors during the summer months. A guided tour of the castle includes access to its beautiful walled gardens, which features plants such as rhododendrons and azaleas, along with a ten-metre high hedge, which dates from 1710.
Dating from as far back as the 1430’s, Ashtown Castle is famously 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 when it was found concealed within the walls of the soon-to-be-demolished Ashtown Lodge. How a castle remains hidden within the walls of a building for hundreds of years is something of a mystery, though it has been noted that residents of the lodge often wondered why the walls of their home were so thick and impenetrable. Today, Ashtown Castle has been fully restored, and is open to visitors via a guided tour. If you do decide to take a tour of the castle as part of your walk through Phoenix Park, you’ll be in good company. 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 of course, the jewel in Ireland’s musical crown, the one and only U2.
Touted as one of Ireland’s hidden gems, Ardgillan Castle, which overlooks the Irish Sea and provides magnificent views that stretch all the way to the Mourne Mountains in Co. Down, is a great place to get away from it all and explore the splendour of times past. Officially opened to the public in 1992, by then President of Ireland Mary Robinson, Ardgillan Castle has a number of family and canine-friendly attractions on offer, including ‘Paws at Ardgillan,’ a dog-friendly café which invites owners to dine with their four-legged friends.
It may boast a picturesque setting, but Ardgillan Castle is one of a number of castles in Ireland with 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 now known amongst locals as ‘The Ghost of the Lady’s Stairs,’ haunts Ardgillan to this very day, as she searches for the husband and children she left behind when she met her untimely end.
A former residence of many Archbishops of Dublin, including the first Anglo-Norman Archbishop, John Comyn, Swords Castle, which sits right in the centre of the ancient town of Swords in North Dublin, was built way back in the year 1200. Today, the castle, which boasts an impressive medieval church and tower, is open to visitors all year round. The castle has also featured in popular TV Show ‘The Tudors’. When visiting Swords, be sure to stop by other notable landmarks including Swords Round Tower and St. Columba’s Church.
Want to experience some of these Dublin Castles up close and personal? Many of our Ireland Vacations Packages feature authentic castles in Dublin and beyond.