On your Ireland Castle Vacation, you’re bound to find exactly what you want—there are more than 30,000 castles in Ireland. The earliest are from the 11th century. Some are ruins, with sheep chewing grass on tumbled walls. Many have been restored with love. Explore the countryside, and when you see one, stop. Take a moment. What were the secrets, romance, and skullduggery that happened within those walls? What ghostly spirits and voices remain? Let your imagination soar.
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You may recognize Trim Castle from the movie Braveheart. At 323,000 sq. ft., the castle is the largest fortification in Ireland. In the center is a 20-sided tower—a water-filled moat surrounds it. (When you visit, check the 12th century great hall and kilns.) It’s often called “King John’s Castle,” although when he visited Trim, he preferred to put up his tent on the other side of the other side of the river. Richard II imprisoned Henry the V there when he was young Prince Hal. A snow-white spirit is seen at Trim Castle, laying gold coins on a cloth for the poor before she disappears.
Cahir is one of the best, and largest, of Irish castles. When it was built in 1142, it was the cutting edge of defensive structures and much of the original building remains. Go to the northeast tower, and you’ll see a cannonball that’s been in the wall since 1599. (The castle remained in the original Butler family until 1961.) It’s been a favorite film location, starring in productions such as The Tudors and Excalibur. Archbishop of Canterbury, Queen Elizabeth I, Strongbow’s daughter, and Oliver Cromwell each played a role in the castle’s life. The walls ring with ancient intrigue.
Ross is a 15th century castle, built by Chieftain O’Donoghue Mór, and it is cloaked in historic myths. It is also the last stronghold that fell to Cromwell. Many visitors are on the hunt for a ghost named Sabina. She was the daughter of Richard Nugent, known as Black Heart. He was furious when she fell in love with the son of an Irish chieftain and imprisoned her. You might also see O’Donoghue Mór rising from the lake on a white horse. Take a boat out and enjoy the waters!
This castle is known as the crown in the medieval town of Kilkenny. Completed in 1213, this Anglo-Norman stone castle has become one of the most famous castles in Ireland. It was held by the same powerful family for almost 600 years, and went through myriad changes. Anne Boleyn’s grandmother was born here, and it’s rumored that she still walks the halls. There’s an electronic counter in the 13th century part of the fortress that continues to record hundreds of visitors during the night, while the tower is locked tight.
Donegal was the powerful O’Donnell clan’s stronghold from the 5th to the 16th centuries. Red Hugh O’Donnell built Donegal Castle as his personal fortress in 1564. Towering over the River Eske, it was considered to be one of the finest Gaelic castles. After the Battle of Kinsale, Hugh set fire to it to keep it out of English hands, and he fled to Spain. But English Captain Brooke rebuilt the castle in a Jacobean style. On quiet mornings, people have reported hearing Red Hugh’s frustrated cries across the river to the castle, all the way from Spain.
Dunluce is one of the best castles in Northern Ireland. It was a popular site for early Christians and Vikings—steep cliffs surround the castle on three sides. The “lost town of Dunluce,” at the foot of the castle, was built in 1608 with the most revolutionary housing in Europe, including indoor toilets. It was razed to the ground during the Irish Uprising of 1641—lost souls haunt the site. And, it was in this castle, that Mave Roe died of a broken heart. Her ghost, a white lady, haunts the castle still. Dunluce is the film location for Game of Thrones, Seat of House Greyjoy, The Great Castle of Pyke.
This fortress guarded one of the few passes into Ulster. It also served as a military barracks and an English garrison fort. Today, this 16th-century castle in Northern Ireland contains the Fermanagh County Museum and the Inniskillings Museum. As you wander through the pages of history, it’s no wonder that visitors feel ghosts here. The design of the castle has a strong Scottish influence, particularly seen in the Watergate, featuring corbelled circular tourelles, built in 1609. Voices of warriors’ battle cries have been reported here.
Interested in visiting Irish castles? Discover our Ireland itineraries.