If it didn’t already exist, someone in Hollywood might have tried inventing Ireland as the perfect romantic backdrop to illustrate a thousand tales. Luckily this magic land of castles and majestic scenery already exists and all that’s left for you to do now is experience it.
Ireland has some of the most beautiful castles in Europe. We’re talking fairy tale places that will send your imagination soaring from the moment you arrive. Irish Central has selected a few to visit for their ruined grandeur and a few to stay at that really have it all, history, style, superb service and a grantee you will be treated like royalty from the moment you arrive.
Built in 1228, on the shore of Lough Corrib, this fairytale castle has hosted guests like King George V, Queen Mary, and better yet the young Oscar Wilde (his father, Sir William Wilde, owned an estate next to Ashford where the young author, playwright and poet spent much of his childhood). Other celebrity guests have included Ronald Reagan, Prince Edward, Senator Edward Kennedy, John Wayne, Prince Rainier of Monaco and Princess Grace. To this day it is one of the top places to stay in Ireland, combining modern luxury with old world charm. It’s an unmissable treat.
Bunratty Castle was built in 1425 and it has actually retained the sparkling aura of the era in which it was built. The medieval age in Ireland was a high-spirited affair and all of the fun of that far off time will be recalled during your stay. A vacation at this spellbinding castle will transport you back in time (although you’ll bring along every modern comfort). Try a medieval castle banquet dinner or a traditional Irish music song and dance evening at this romantic castle.
The first castle on the grounds, of which not a trace now remains, was built in 1172 by either Hugh de Lacy, lord of Meath, or by his up and coming tenant Adam de Phepoe. Clontarf is remarkable because it was once held by the Knights Templar and after their suppression in 1308 it passed to the Knights Hospitaller, until they were in turn deprived of it at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1541 it was surrendered to the English Crown. In 1600 Queen Elizabeth I gave the entire estate to Sir Geoffrey Fenton, her secretary of state for Ireland. Through marriage, it passed onto his descendants to the King family. It’s a most evocative and unforgettable castle and now also a first class hotel that you should not miss.
Dromoland Castle is everyone’s idea of what a magnificent retreat should look like. It was built in the early 1500’s and was originally a tower house that became a castle in 1686. The castle housed eight generations of the O'Brien family, the Irish aristocracy of the area. Today it is a romantic fantasy of turrets and towers that even the least romantic sprit will be powerless to resist. Dromoland stands amid extensive parkland and native Irish red dear are frequent and heart stoppingly beautiful visitors.
Dunluce Castle was built in 1305 and then expanded on between the 14 and 17 centuries. In the process it has become one of the most glorious castles in Ulster, where it’s one of the top attractions for discerning visitors. After a walk around the grounds, most visitors stop in at nearby Bushmill’s Distillery for a drop of the famous whiskey before a mandatory stop at the ancient natural wonder that is the Giant’s Causeway.
Dunguaire Castle was built in 1520, upon the original site of King Guaire in the 7-century. Just think of how ancient and venerable that is, a sixteenth century castle built upon an even more ancient one. It is thought to be the most photographed castle in Ireland. Christobel Lady Ampthill, who completed the restoration work, acquired the castle in 1954. It was later purchased by Shannon Development and during the summer months when Dunguaire Castle is open to the public, a Medieval Banquet is held every night with costumed performers who recite Irish poetry and play traditional music.
Built around 1400 in County Limerick, Glin Castle has the distinction of being voted as the number one castle in Europe by Trip Advisor, and placed on the 2008 Conde Nast Gold List. It stands on the banks of the majestic River Shannon in County Limerick, on 500 acres of pristine land. Visitors stay between March and November and even at other times by special arrangement. Home to the Knights of Glin for over 700 years, the current castle was built in 1785. You can actually feel the current of Irish history run through the place and you’ll never forget your visit.
Set above the River Nore, this great Norman castle has undergone many alterations over the centuries. Strongbow built a castle here as early as 1172 but the structure was entirely destroyed by Donald O'Brien, King of Thomond. It was rebuilt in stone between 1204 and 1213 by Strongbow's son-in-law and successor, William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke. Nowadays its a National Monument that's open daily. Guided tours are available and the castle includes an art gallery and a fine restaurant in basement.
Knappogue Castle in County Clare was built in 1467 and no less an individual than the fearful Oliver Cromwell used it as his base whilst putting the Irish people to the sword in the 17 century. Knappogue was originally the home of the McNamara clan who dominated this area for over 1,000 years. (Fallen into disrepair, it was rescued by a Texan and restored to its former glory, including 15th century furnishings, who simply fell for the place.) For the past ten years during summer there have been nightly banquets and some say the occasional ghost sighting. With a history like that, it’s no surprise.
Waterford Castle is over 800 years old and you can actually stay there for an unforgettable vacation. Secluded on an island on the River Suir, you can only reach it by taking a boat, preferably in the moonlight. The castle keep is Norman and has been fully restored to its former glory, as have the castle wings, which are Elizabethan.