For almost everyone visiting Ireland staying in an Irish castle is a dream! Here are some of the top Irish castles in the West of Ireland to stay in and a little insight into their rich histories.

Ireland is a land rightly known for its castles. It is probably the most castellated country in the world and the West of Ireland has the highest concentration on the island. There are thousands of Castles in myriad forms spanning almost a millennium from the Glens of Antrim to the mountains of Kerry, from the wild Atlantic coast to the leafy suburbs of South County Dublin. Some lie reclaimed by nature vine-strewn and neglected whilst others have been lovingly restored and resurrected as five-star hotels, self-catering establishments, Airbnb’s, and even family homes.

This great proliferation of castles is a testament to a long and turbulent history but one which is now a vital ingredient of a growing and vibrant tourist market – Spending a weekend or a week in a venerable keep, tower house, hall house, or fortress can be the ultimate in romantic escapism and is fast becoming a rite of passage for every intrepid, and even not so intrepid traveler to the Emerald isle. Intimate castle weddings are also gaining in popularity.

Turin Castle, County Mayo

Turin Castle Ireland in Kilmaine, County Mayo, is a magnificent example of a restored medieval square-towered fortress. It was erected by the powerful Norman, De Burgo family who controlled a huge swathe of territory across principally, Mayo and Galway. The De Burgos or De Burcas as they became known in Irish or Burke or Bourke in English, consolidated their power by marrying into the Irish aristocracy; adopting the Irish language and culture, and becoming ”Hiberniores Hibernis ipsis” more Irish than the Irish themselves.

Turin was abandoned by its owners in the mid-1600s for the comforts of the neighboring manor house and remained a crumbling picturesque ivy-clad ruin for 400 years until its restoration in 1994 by a local stonemason.

My wife, Marnie, and I  took possession of the castle in 2008 and set about a sympathetic revamp incorporating en suite facilities and central heating. We now manage it as a luxury self-catering holiday let and intimate wedding venue.

Turin Castle Ireland in Kilmaine, County Mayo.

Turin Castle Ireland in Kilmaine, County Mayo.

The orientation of Turin Castle Ireland is significant; important medieval buildings were often built with deference to an astronomical event or sacred landmark, in this case, it was the latter. In the northwest corner of the great hall, there is a small room with a lancet opening at floor level. This small window can only be viewed through at floor level necessitating one to assume a kneeling position. Incredibly it is directly aligned with the summit of  St. Patrick’s holy mountain, Croagh Patrick!

The De Burgos controlled this huge kingdom through a network of strategically placed castles inhabited by loyal family members. The land around Kilmaine was very fertile and proved particularly suitable for sheep farming. In the Barony of Kilmaine alone there were 41 castles, a line of which would appear to protect a valuable trade route for their ovine products, to Lough Corrib to Galway and then the open sea and ultimately, the burgeoning markets of continental Europe.

Ashford Castle, County Mayo

Ashford Castle lies at the end of this trade route dominating the northern side of Lough Corrib next to the historic village of Cong. The village is still a mecca for aficionados of the quintessentially Irish Hollywood movie "The Quiet Man" which was filmed locally starring screen legends John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.

Ashford Castle, County Mayo.

Ashford Castle, County Mayo.

Ashford castles dates from 1228  and started life as a simple square tower, not unlike Turin Castle. The huge castellated and turreted edifice in evidence today is largely the result of a 19c Gothic make-over by Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness head of the famous stout brewing family who acquired the estate from the noble Browne family in 1715. The castle set in 350 acres of ancient woodland and landscaped gardens is now a world-renowned five-star hotel with an emphasis on luxury and a price tag to match, attracting European royalty, Hollywood A-listers, and heads of state.

The Big Mac’s

In Clonbur woods between the ancient abbey of Cong and the village of Clonbur lies Ballykine Castle, another early De Burgo castle, this enchanting ruin partially obscured by the probing branches of oak and Beech forest was gifted to the Clandonnel or MacDonnel as bonnacht payment in lieu of military service by the De Burgo’s; The MacDonnel’s were a  formidable Clan of elite Scottish mercenaries known as Gallowglas. These fearsome warriors were reportedly of great stature and strength with a reputation for not yielding in battle. Their main weapons were razor-sharp 6ft double-headed battle axes and huge double-handed swords or Claymores.

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Wilde West

Oscar Wilde would have been familiar with Lough Corrib and its environs. his father Sir William Wilde an eminent Surgeon owned a house on its shores. Sir William was also a well-known Antiquarian who cataloged the areas’ rich history in his delightful book Lough Corrib, its shores, and islands. One of its larger Islands, Inchagoill translates as Island of the devoted stranger and refers to the legend that St Patrick was temporarily exiled to the island while his fate was being deliberated by the local pagan Kings. One of the 300 plus islands of the Lough.

Lough Corrib.

Lough Corrib.

Inchagoill is located mid-way between Cong in Mayo and Oughterard in Galway and is the site of a 5th-century monastery containing two ancient churches dating from the 5th and 12th centuries dramatically set amongst woodland. There are twice daily sailings from Cong pier to this delightful wooded islet.

The best little hall-house in Ireland

Carrigin Castle, near Headford, County Galway, like Ballykine castle, was a hall-house and has stood sentinel on the southeastern shore of the Corrib for almost a millennium. Its gleaming white tower would have been a familiar feature to crusading Templar Knights. This magnificent small castle, once a pile of scattered stones was painstakingly reassembled and restored under the guidance of Chris Murphy, brother to Richard Murphy, one of Ireland’s most eloquent modern Poets.

Carrigin enjoys unparalleled views of the Corrib and is an oasis of calm and tranquillity. The faithful simplicity of the interior, the white-washed walls, and stone floors are contrasted by the eye-catching geometry of the ceiling timbers.

The Original occupant Adam Gaynard , The grandson of a Norman knight and follower of the conquering De Burgos would not be unfamiliar with the building in its current state but would certainly feel a lot more comfortable in the bracing Connemara winters warmed by the central heating and the welcoming glow from the huge fireplace. Chris and his wife Anna run Carrigin as a very reasonably priced self-catering holiday let.

From the rag trade to riches…

Caherkinmonwee castle is the most popular Airbnb in Europe and sleeps up to four guests in regal medieval splendor. Thecastle near Craughwell in Galway has been a labor of love for stonemason and former fashion designer Peter Hayes for the last 25 years. Peters tireless devotion to restoring what was once essentially several piles of rubble into a magnificent 15c tower is nothing less than remarkable. The attention to detail is breathtaking. The stepped battlements have been meticulously recreated with every stone hoisted by hand and positioned by Peter.          

As with all medieval castles of this type These are authentic ancient structures, so come with an open mind, an open heart, sensible shoes a sweater or two for winter, and realistic expectations and be ready to make some new history!

Castles can be incredibly inspiring places and over the years at Turin Castle we have hosted amongst others: writers, actors, musicians, genealogists, history buffs and even British royalty. The Hollywood actor and scriptwriter Thomas Lennon was so enamored with Turin that it spurred his imagination to create the Ronan Boyle trilogy of books one of which "Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles" is now in production by Dreamworks as an animated film.

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