Ireland is known for its lush green countryside, "forty shades of green", friendly people, and of course, ancient history reaching back 8,000 years. There's little wonder there are so many castles and ruins across Ireland but you'll never guess how many.

History, luxury, and the rolling green hills of Ireland! Life doesn't get much better than having a stay in Ireland or at least visiting the historic ruins but have you ever wondered how many castles are there on the island of Ireland? The answer... 30,000. 

That figure is quite astonishing but when you think about it having traveled through Ireland's countryside it's hard not to travel a few miles without spotting a castle or at least seeing some castle's ruins. 

History of Irish castles

The castles of Ireland weren't built for royalty or for ostentatious reasons but rather as fortified homes of Ireland's chieftains or Anglo-Norman settlers. Their thick walls and ramparts were built for defense.

Many of these castles are medieval in origin, dating from the 11th to the 15th century. Some, perhaps the more flamboyant, are of the Georgian era or the neo-gothic revival in the Victorian Age.

Ireland's most famous castles

Bunratty Castle

Bunratty Castle, County Clare.

Bunratty Castle, County Clare.

Located in County Clare, Bunratty Castle dates back to the 14th century, once belonging to the O'Brien Clan, who were the High Kings of Munster. At one point, they had a herd of over 3000 deer in the castle grounds.

This castle is famous for its medieval banquets that for many visitors, from the United States in particular, present a great last night in Ireland before returning home via Shannon Airport.

Today the castle forms the centerpiece of an excellent folk park outlining Ireland's history with a recreated 19th-century Irish town.

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle, County Cork.

Blarney Castle, County Cork.

Another castle, top of the list with visitors, is Blarney Castle, in Cork. Famously, this castle is home to the famous Blarney Stone which, according to legend, bestows the gift of eloquence and Irish charm or as we say; "the gift of the gab". Countless numbers of people have descended on this 15th Century castle and climbed its tall tower to kiss the Blarney Stone. Sanitary or not! 

Blarney Castle was built around 600 years ago by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster, replacing a stone building on the site which had itself replaced a wooden building before it.

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle, County Antrim.

Dunluce Castle, County Antrim.

Dunluce is one of the most picturesque and romantic Irish castles. With evidence of settlement from the first millennium, the present castle ruins date mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries. It was inhabited by both the feuding McQuillan and MacDonnell clans. Historical and archaeological exhibits are on display for public viewing.

The Castle has become a tourist hotspot not only for the stunning views on offer but more recently its claim to fame with being used in the iconic show Game of Thrones and used as Seat of House Greyjoy, the great castle of Pyke.

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Ashford Castle

Ashford Castle, County Mayo.

Ashford Castle, County Mayo.

Situated on the banks of Lough Corrib in County Mayo, Ashford Castle is a majestic building of Victorian neo-gothic architecture. However, the castle's history dates back to 1228 when it was founded by the Anglo-Norman de Burgo family.

The Guinness family also owned Ashford Castle and the castle has hosted the Prince of Wales George V and President Ronald Reagan on his state visit to Ireland.

Ashford Castle is regularly voted as one of the best hotels in the world. 

Dromoland Castle

Dromoland Castle, County Clare.

Dromoland Castle, County Clare.

Again, one of the more luxurious castle hotels Ireland has to offer, Dromoland Castle has also had a number of famous guests, including US presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and a host of Hollywood stars.

Situated in exquisite grounds in County Clare, Dromoland dates back to the 16th century and is the ancestral home of the O'Brien Clan and Brian Boru the last High King of Ireland.

* Originally published in 2022, updated in April 2024.