10 amazing castles in Ireland

Last updated by Jack on 14 December, 2014 in Travel.

Ireland is as famous for castles as it is for Guinness. Dotted everywhere on the Emerald Isle, the castles connect modern day tourists with the dramatic history of Ireland.

At the bottom of this article, you'll find a map where these 10 castles are marked so that you can better plan your Irish vacation.

1 - Dunluce Castle in County Antrim

Dunluce Castle in Ireland

In County Antrim you can find Dunluce Castle clinging to a rocky outpost of the north Antrim coast. The castle was built or rebuilt by Richard de Burgh or one of his chief followers during the Anglo Norman period in Ireland, around 1150 AD. It replaced a fort in the same spot.

Under siege by the British in the 16th century, it fell into disuse in the 17th century when the MacDonnells abandoned the castle. Dunluce is reputed to be the inspiration for Cair Paravel, the famous castle in CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. On a clear day you can see out over the sea to the island of Islay in the Irish Sea.

Dunluce Castle is located 3 miles East of Portrush on the road to Bushmills. Tours are organized from Easter to September and can be pre-booked out of season. More information at the Dunluce Castle website.

2 - Birr Castle in County Offaly

Birr Castle in Ireland

Birr Castle was originally a seat of the O’Carrolls, who were outlawed in 1620. The gardens are a real draw with one of the greatest displays of magnolia in the country. Flowers aside, the massive telescope in the castle is its main claim to fame – with the first telescope at Birr Castle built in 1825, and constantly rebuilt and improved upon by consecutive castle inhabitants, the telescope was the biggest in the world until 1917. More information at the Birr Castle home page.

3 - Trim Castle in County Meath

Birr Castle in Ireland

Trim Castle in County Meath and on the shore of the Boyne. This was the largest and most important castle in Ireland for several centuries, and with its garrison of Anglo Normans watched over the ‘dangerous natives’. Every precaution was made to ensure the castle was highly unwelcoming. Uninvited guests were treated to defenses like boiling water, tar, arrows, rocks, and other nasty weapons would rain down on them from overhead. It was built in at least three stages, initially by Hugh de Lacy around1174 and then in 1196 and 1206 by Walter de Lacy. More information on the County Meath tourist information site.

4 - Carrickfergus Castle in County Antrim

Birr Castle in Ireland

Carrickfergus Castle, County Antrim. Constructed originally in 1180 by John de Courcy, conqueror of east Ulster, and garrisoned until 1928, Carrickfergus Castle is a striking feature of the landscape. The fortified castle represents over 800 years of military might. Besieged in turn by the Scots, Irish, English and French, the Castle saw action right up to World War II. More information at the Environment & Heritage website for Northern Ireland.

5 - Leap Castle in County Offaly

Birr Castle in Ireland

Leap Castle is situated in the village of Clareen, County Offaly. Leap Castle is reputed to be the most haunted castle in Ireland. It has guarded the pass from Slieve Bloom into Munster since the 14th century, and its spectre is a particularly smelly one – it was even witnessed by poet WB Yeats on a stay in the castle. Through turbulent centuries, Leap Castle kept watch for the lords of Ely O'Carroll and still stands fortress-like on its perch overlooking a vast stretch of the countryside. More information at Discover Ireland.

6 - Enniskillen Castle in County Fermanagh

Birr Castle in Ireland

Enniskillen Castle in County Fermanagh. The castle is situated beside the River Ernewas was built almost 600 years ago by Gaelic Maguires. Guarding one of the few passes into Ulster, it was strategically important throughout its history. In the 17th century it became an English garrison fort and later served as part of a military barracks. More information at the Enniskillen Castle home page. This historic site houses two museums, Fermanagh County Museum and The Inniskillings Museum.

7 - Thoor Ballylee Castle in County Galway

Birr Castle in Ireland

Thoor Ballylee Castle in County Galway. This castle, in which poet W.B. Yeats lived for 12 years was a sixteeneth century norman castle built by the family de Burgo, or Burke. It was also close to Coole and Yeats' life-long friend Lady Gregory. The tower had to be restored before Yeats could live in it. By the summer of 1919 Yeats and his wife and daughter had moved in. More about Irish poet W.B. Yeats.

After the Yeats family moved out in 1929 it fell into disrepair, but Thoor Ballylee was restored as 'Yeats Tower' in 1965 and fitted out as a Yeats museum. Today it contains an interesting collection of first editions as well as items of furniture. The adjoining cottage is fitted out as a tea room and shop. More information is available at Dochara.com.

8 - Ballynahinch Castle in County Galway

Birr Castle in Ireland

Ballynahinch Castle is steeped in a wealth of tradition and has been intertwined in the history of Connemara and its people for many centuries. From the days of the O'Flaherty Chieftains, to Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen of Connemara, to Humanity Dick Martin, founder of the society for the prevention of cruelty to animals and to H.R.H. the Maharajah Ranjitsinji, also known as the 'Ranji', Prince of Cricketeers.

The name comes from the Irish Baile na hInse meaning settlement of the island. Ballynahinch Castle is located at the heart of the Ballynahinch Estate between Recess and Roundstone in Connemara. Comprising of 450 acres of beautiful woodlands, gardens, lakes and rivers. This sporting country estate offers a secluded retreat of peace for any visitor. The history of Ballynahinch Castle goes back over 700 years. It was the home of 'The Ferocious O'Flahertys" and one of its most famous residents was Grace O'Malley from Mayo who married Donal O'Flaherty in 1546. More information at Celtic Castles.

9 - Tullynally Castle in County Westmeath

Birr Castle in Ireland

Tullynally Castle has been the home of the Pakenhams' later Earls of Longford, for over 350 years. The original 17th century fortified house was remodelled first as a comfortable Georgian mansion, then as a huge rambling gothic revival castle in the early survive in private hands. The interiors, part Georgian, part Gothic revival, have a fine collection of furniture and pictures, a 1800's, by the 2nd Earl of Longford. It is still lived in as the family home, now probably one of the largest in Ireland.

Situated 1.5km just outside Castlepollard on the Granard road (signposted), 14 miles from Mullingar and 55 miles from Dublin via M4 or N3. The guided tours also take in the splendid Victorian kitchens and laundries, complete with all their equipment. More information at the Tullenally Castle home page.

10 - Ballinfad Castle in County Galway

Birr Castle in Ireland

Ballinfad Castle was a Martin family reconstruction of an old 15c O'Flaherty stronghold in Connemara. Known as the Castle of the Curlews, this castle was built around 1590 to protect the pass over the Curlew Hills. It was garrisoned by a Constable and ten wardens from 1610 to 1626 and, after a stout resistance, had to surrender in 1641 due to lack of water.

The plan of the castle is modeled on those of 13th century castles, with a small central square block dwarfed by four massive towers at the corners which are round outside and square inside. Now restored for hotel use.

A map of our 10 Irish castles

The numbers on the map correspond to the number of the castle above. Anywhere you visit on the Green Isle, you'll be close to a famous castle in Ireland.

Birr Castle in Ireland 

This selection of Irish castles only scratch the surface. There are hundreds more to visit and explore, anywhere you are on the Emerald Isle.

"It would take more than one lifetime to discover the reason for all the ruins in Ireland, but it sure makes for a diverting tour of discovery trying at least to scratch the surface." - Writer Frank O’Connor

Traveling to Ireland

Every major airline flies to Ireland, in particular to Dublin Airport. Getting a cheap flight to Ireland should be simple most times of the year, although July and August are peak season. Winter can be cold and rainy, and is best avoided.

If you're planning to tour some of these castles, it's a really good idea to rent a car. Ireland is fairly small and driving is easy. Just keep in mind that average speeds are lower than in the U.S. as the highway system is limited outside of the (few) larger cities.

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Comments

Great article!

This is a wonderful article providing the reader with a nice sampling of Ireland's castles. I have a website on Irish castles and Ireland travel, so I've been trying to visit as many castles as possible. I have been to six of your ten in the article, but still have a long way to go. Visiting castles is a fun basis for a trip to Ireland. You never run out of castles and can enjoy the beauty of the country and its people while you are there. Thanks! Patricia

Patricia on 06 September, 2008

I Love Castles

I have always enjoyed visiting castles, ever since I was a wee kid back home in Scotland. The sense of history and being able to step back in time is an amazing buzz for me.

Looks like Ireland has quite a few castles worth visiting as well...

William Wallace on 22 September, 2009

Brilliant, aren't they? One of these days, I'll sort out some favorite castles from other countries too.

Jack on 23 September, 2009

castles are cool but i've never heard of these

lisa on 04 October, 2009

wao what a fantistic place in ireland. i like all but Dunluce Castle in County Antrim i very nice. i like to visit once in my life .

thanks for sharing.

Monterosa treks on 08 October, 2009

A great list of beautiful places all around the World. Thank you for that!

Nadia on 15 March, 2010

Thanks for the map at the bottom, really completed a good list.

Brian on 15 March, 2010

Ballinahinch Castle is not located correctly on the map. No.8 should be in Galway near Clifden, not Kerry

David Burke on 15 June, 2010

Which Castle is famous for tourist hanging upside down & kissing it's rocks for the gift of gab?

j. Shane Womack on 10 March, 2011

That would be the Blarney Stone, at Blarney Castle, in County Cork. That castle isn't on the list, but probably should be!

Jack on 11 March, 2011

Well, I thank you for the list I love it! I was actually trying to figure out what castles would be great to visit.

Vanessa on 12 May, 2011

I have a different classification of Irish castles. You can compare and find out about our opinions.

Vladimir on 26 May, 2011

You're definitely more interested in staying in them than seeing ruins. Not bad, I like your selection.

Jack on 26 May, 2011

typical article, not a word relating to richard de burgos castle at greencastle co donegal. Hardly a shock as the opw have charge of it, i doubt if they know where it is. This castle is the most north westerly norman castle in europe yet it is ignored and left in ruins. It has a link to the coat of arms of Derry, wasa captured by brother of robert the bruce for a short period, the princess maud resided there, the french envoy once parleyed there yet? typical dublin control, we should take it back from the opw who care not a whit about heiratage, history or culture

brendan keaveney on 17 August, 2011

Newsflash !!! As a follow on from my last comment on 17 August 2011 - we have formed a core focus group on bringing Northburg/Greencastle to your attention - watch this space - you'll not be surprised to expect that this is going to be exceptional on many levels - check it out

"Northburg Castle" Greencastle- Co.Donegal

B KEAVENEY on 01 September, 2011

I'm really going to need to make a follow-up on this article now!

Jack on 02 September, 2011

Bárbara , they are great !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

on 06 September, 2011

In relation to B Keaveney's articles of 17th August/21st September'11

why haven't the Powers that be launched an initiative to preserve Northburg's crumbling beauty? I know the site he's talking about & would encourage anyone/everyone to visit -just don't climb around it as it's dangerous. A proud Martello Tower adjacent to it, also. Good on you B Keaveney...Ps Are you related to the good folk who ran the Fort in its heyday up there in Greencastle?? Regards to all on the Pursuit & Protection of Heritage Sites in Ireland...Arthur Carter

Arthur Carter on 13 October, 2011

Hey All,

First off I'd like to state that I hate Castles...for the simple reason that doe-eyed tourists and faux gothic-literati-wannabe's expect so much from heritage monuments like CASTLES and do SFA to help with the upkeep of them. Castle Management is bloody hard and underpaid work I can tell you. Next time you visit one think of the upkeep, safety, man hours, groundswork, signage, access, amenities & general management that goes into providing tourism facilities like these. It would turn your head full compass, just ask High Profile 'keepers' like Jeremy Irons, he'll tell you all about it. Intricacies darlings, intricacies -truckloads of elbow grease. Having said all that they're an important part of historical & social culture for any number of reasons and, yes, deserve to be maintained and 'put on display'. Wish there was more consideration adn assistance from the general public, elected officials and State Agencies. There Endeth the Rant, I go now in Peace. "Keep sending the tourists, the last ones were delicious"

Conrad Fork on 13 October, 2011

Tsk Tsk tsk How Very Unparliamentary of you, Mr Fork. :)

I do see your point, however. Which Castle do you manage/own?

I may know of it.

Arthur Carter on 13 October, 2011

Arthur, it does not matter which castle i manage, except to say we keep our heads above water in these bleak & grinding times. We rely on Tourism's sustainability so i hope we can all formulate plans & work together in the right direction.

I just felt like blowing off some steam in the general direction of all the cobweb-peepered amadans who expect all and give extremely little in return. I hope that's a fair enough summary of my views.

Peace to all, I'm away to poke some big-wigs for funding now. "The campaign trail is an endless wheel.I try not get crushed in the revolution" -Jack Schaefer said that.

Conrad Fork on 13 October, 2011

I'm curious to find the castles used in the movie "Snow White and the Huntsman".

I have an idea that they were located in Ireland.

Ken on 09 June, 2012

Hi Ken

The filming was mainly done in Marloes Sands beach, Pembrokeshire, UK, and the castle was digitally created on Gateholm Island. I can't find a source for the interiors, but they're likely scattered across studio & location shots.

Wikipedia source

Jack on 09 June, 2012

I just came upon this website, and the 10 chosen castles featured are certainly fantastic, though chosen at random from the many equally amazing examples we have here on this lovely little island of ours. Being an Irish castle owner myself I empathize with Conrad, yet it is nevertheless really satisfying to see the joy our guests get on experiencing how our ancestors lives in the 15th century when they come and stay with us. I suppose owning a castle it's like having children - the good times outweigh the bad!

Liam on 14 June 2012

www.ballyhannoncastle.com

Liam on 14 June, 2012

I can't believe you have left out both Ashford Castle and Dromoland Castle! And what about Bunratty????

Pamela Garavan on 28 December, 2012

It's a selection of 10, maybe I need to do a "10 more great Irish castles"?

Jack on 28 December, 2012

I love very old Eurpean castles/cathedrals since high school. Thank you for the short tour. I have to get to Ireland soon.

Jim Jensen on 04 January, 2013

You have sourced an amazing range of castles that differ from each incredibly in terms of their architectural features. It would no doubt prove fascinating to research them all in great detail and plan a fabulous Irish road trip!

Mary @ Green Global Travel on 03 October, 2013

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