Mel Gibson used Trim Castle for scenes in Braveheart. 

According to the Irish government's figures almost 2.5 million tourists visited one or more of Ireland's castles and historic houses. That strikes me as an awful lot of people touring castles and other ancient houses and buildings, but I can understand the appeal – especially if you come from America or Canada or any place where medieval structures are non-existent.

And if you've been to Ireland you know there are castles everywhere, which makes it easy to find one to visit. Most of them are ruins, decaying reminders that nothing man builds is permanent.

Some castles are bigger than others, some are older, some are more significant and, it has to be said, some are prettier than others. Of course the beauty of a castle is, to a large extent, determined by the surrounding vista. Ireland has many spectacularly located castles. Although there may be some that are the equal of Dunluce, I doubt any can top the setting Dunluce has on the Antrim coast.

Even on a cloudy evening Dunluce looks spectacular
Although most of the castles are ruins, some have been partially restored, others are basically fully restored and some were never really fully abandoned or unused, but were rebuilt/restored many times. Carrickfergus Castle fits the latter category. It had a defensive role even in WWII when it functioned as an air raid shelter.
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Thanks to the fact that my son is so much younger than his older sisters I've been able to use him as an excuse to revisit some castles I'd been to years ago. We haven't been to too many, but Carrickfergus and Trim in County Meath are the two oldest ... and the best.

John Paul Jones was wary
of Carrickfergus Castle.
Both Carrickfergus and Trim date from the late 12th century, when the Normans came over from their strong-hold in England to set up shop here. Both Castles are impressive and provide that story-book castle look.

Perhaps due to the fact I was only at Trim last week rather than last year, as is the case with Carrickfergus, but I think Trim is the best to visit. Trim Castle not only looks fantastic - see above or the movie Braveheart - it also has what I think is just the right amount of restoration - not much. And it's historically very significant.

However, I have to admit that the visit to Trim Castle was really made by the tour guide, (David, I believe). He clearly loved doing what he was doing, knew the story of the castle inside and out. He conveyed his vast knowledge with such enthusiasm that it took a few minutes for my brain to adjust to the volume of information he was passing on. He knew how to make it great for children too, talking about things kids love like how people way back when didn't wash often and how they 'went to the bathroom' and so on.

While I think Trim is the best, you may think differently. The best part is that there are so many castles, especially the smaller tower houses that you can't help running into these picturesque, centuries old stone structures. Ireland's castles offer great pictures and great stories.