Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

The topic of ‘the best castles in Ireland’ stirs up a lot of debate online.

I’d argue that there’s no best – each offers something a little bit different.

Take, for example, Kilkenny Castle – it’s beautifully maintained and looks like it did hundreds of years ago.

Compare this to the likes of the crumbling Dunluce Castle in Antrim and you’ve two castles that are world apart in both history, location and appearance.

In this guide, I’ll show you what think are the best castles in Ireland to add to your to-see list for 2023.

The best castles in Ireland

map of famous castles in Ireland

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Although there are plenty of things to do in Ireland, many visitors to the island have the various Irish castles at the top of their bucket lists.

Castles in Ireland tend to hold plenty of secrets, stories and tales. You’ll find the most interesting ones below.

1. Glenveagh Castle (Donegal)

Glenveagh Castle

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There are few castles in Ireland with a location that’s as mighty as Glenveagh Castle in Donegal. Built between 1867 and 1873, Glenveagh Castle is finely placed on the shores of Lough Veagh.

The castle’s location was inspired by the Victorian idyll of a romantic highland retreat and you’ll find it surrounded by mountains in Glenveagh National Park.

The construction of Glenveagh was ordered by a man from Laois named John George Adair.

Adair married his wife, an American by the name of Cornelia, and construction of what is now one of the finest Irish castles began in 1867.

2. Dunlough Castle (Cork)

Dunlough Fort

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You’ll find one of the most uniquely located castles in Ireland at a place called Three Castle Head, a stone’s throw from Mizen Head in West Cork.

It’s here that you’ll find the ruins of Dunlough Castle in an area that boasts an almost other-worldly landscape.

It’s believed that the castle here (there’s only one, despite the area’s name) is one of the oldest Norman castles in this corner of Ireland.

Legend tells the tale of a ‘Lady of the Lake’ that haunts the area. The story goes that the ghost is that of a heartbroken bride who leaped off a nearby cliff after discovering that her dad accidentally ‘offed’ her new husband.

3. Dunluce Castle (Antrim)

Dunluce Castle

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You’ll find the romantic ruins of Dunluce Castle perched on dramatic cliffs along County Antrim’s craggy coastline, not far from the Giant’s Causeway.

A source of wanderlust for travellers the world over, Irish castles don’t come much more unique than this.

According to legend, on a particularly stormy night in 1639, part of the castle’s kitchen next to the cliff face collapsed into the icy waters below.

The castle’s striking appearance and quirky legend have seen it receive enormous attention online in recent years. It’s best visited while driving the Antrim Coastal Route.

4. Trim Castle (Meath)

Trim Castle

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Trim Castle, in my opinion, is the best castle in Ireland. I live an hour drive from this place and, no matter how many times I visit, the sight of it never fails to amaze.

You’ll find Trim Castle on the shores of the ancient River Boyne, where it has been since 1176. Once the largest of the many Irish castles, Trim occupies a 30,000 m² site in County Meath.

If you’ve ever watched the movie Braveheart with Mel Gibson, you may recognise Trim Castle as one of the castles used in the film. You can take a tour of the castle grounds and of one of the towers, also!

5. Blarney Castle (Cork)

Blarney Castle

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Arguably one of the most famous castles in Ireland, Blarney tends to attract tourists from far and wide.

Blarney Castle tends to often be referred to as a ‘tourist trap’, but that couldn’t be further from the case. OK, if you’re only visiting the castle to see the Blarney Stone, then you may be disappointed.

However, Blarney has much more to offer than a stone that gives the gift of the gab. The extensive grounds and the many unique features of Blarney make it a joy to visit.

Those that saunter around Blarney can visit the Witch’s kitchen, the magic steps, one of the only poison gardens in Ireland and plenty more.

6. Clough Oughter Castle (Cavan)

Clough Oughter Castle

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Clough Oughter Castle is like something from a fairytale. It’s unique, surrounded by natural beauty and it has an interesting story attached to it.

You’ll find the castle in County Cavan, next to the picturesque Killykeen Forest Park. Over the years, Clough Oughter fell under the control of many different clans. It also fell under the control of the rebels.

In 1641, the castle was seized during the Irish Rebellion and it was turned into an island fortification. Interestingly enough, at one point, it was also used as a prison.

7. Classiebawn Castle (Sligo)

Classiebawn Castle

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You’ll find another of our favourite Irish castles in the village of Mullaghmore in County Sligo where it looks like something that’s been plucked straight from a fairytale.

Classiebawn Castle was built by Viscount Palmerston, who was once Prime Minister of the UK. Construction of the castle finished in 1874 and it was built primarily from stone from Donegal.

The castle passed through a number of hands over the years. One of my biggest issues with Classiebawn is that, as it’s on private land, it’s very hard to get a good look at it.

Most of the photos that you see have been taken through a long photo lens.

8. McDermott’s Castle (Roscommon)

McDermott's Castle

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Antother of the best castles in Ireland if you’re fond of ones with glorious locations is McDermott’s Castle.

You’ll find the very magical looking McDermott’s Castle in County Roscommon on the waters of Lough Key.

Lough Key is home to over 30 islands but none compare to one known as ‘Castle Island’. It’s on Castle Island that the ruins of McDermott’s Castle can be found.

If you read our guide to McDermott’s Castle, you’ll learn about the tragic incident that took place here many years ago between a young couple along with how you can visit during your trip to Ireland.

9. Doonagore Castle (Clare)

Doonagore Castle

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I’ve visited Doolin on many different occasions over the years, but it wasn’t until my most recent visit in late 2019 that I visited Doonagore Castle. The first castle here was built during the 14ht century on the site of a ring fort.

The castle that stands today dates to the mid-16th century and is what’s known as a tower house. Doonagore passed through many hands over the years. In 1588, a ship from the Spanish Armada crashed near the castle.

Although the 170 passengers survived, they were all hanged soon after. Discover more about the incident and the history of the building in our guide to Doonagore Castle.

10. Kinbane Castle (Antrim)

Kinbane Castle

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There seem to be endless castles in Northern Ireland sat in ruin at the side of cliffs!

You’ll find Kinbane Castle on a little rocky promontory that juts out into the sea known as Kinbane Head.

It was built around 1547 and, although it’s now in ruins, is well worth a visit if you’re driving along the Causeway Coastal Route.

The ruins are isolated, the castle tends to get only a handful of visitors and the scenery that engulfs you as you walk around the ruins is absolutely breath-taking.

11. Birr Castle (Offaly)

Birr Castle

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There has been a fortress on the site of the mighty Birr Castle since 1170. Interestingly enough, the castle is still inhabited by the same family that bought it in 1620.

So, although you can take a tour of Birr, the residential areas of the castle are not open to the public. One of the most unique features of Birr Castle is its giant telescope.

It was built in the 1840s and for many years it was the largest telescope in the world. Between 1845-1914, people from all over the world travelled to Birr Castle to use it.

12. Kilkenny Castle (Kilkenny)

Kilkenny Castle

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Kilkenny Castle is a place that tends to make it onto the itineraries of many of those visiting Ireland, with hundreds of thousands of tourists and locals visiting its grounds each year.

The castle here was built in 1195 in order to ensure the protection of a point of the nearby River Nore that was shallow enough for potential enemies to walk through.

The castle was given to the people of Kilkenny in 1967 for the fine sum of £50 and it’s now a major tourist attraction that boasts some finely-manicured grounds that are perfect for a ramble around.

This is widely regarded as one of the best castles in Ireland for good reason.

13. Dublin Castle (Dublin)

Dublin Castle

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You’ll find Dublin Castle on Dame Street in Dublin City Centre on the site of a Viking Fortress.

Work on the first castle here kicked off in 1204 while Dublin was under Norman rule following the invasion of 1169.

It was built on what was previously a Viking settlement and construction was completed in 1230.

However, the only section of this original fortress that remains to this day is the Record Tower. Many of the current features were added  during the 19th century.

Related reads: Visiting Dublin? See our guides to the best castles in Dublin (and the finest castles near Dublin)

14. King John’s Castle (Limerick)

King John’s Castle

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You’ll find King Johns Castle on King’s Island in the heart of Limerick City where it overlooks the River Shannon.

Similar to Dublin Castle, King John’s is also situated on a site that was home to a Viking settlement.

The construction of the castle was ordered by King John during 1200 and it is now widely regarded as one of Europe’s best-preserved Norman castles.

You’ll catch brilliant views from high up on the actual battlements themselves. Those who make the short climb will be treated to a 360 panorama of the city and the River Shannon.

15. Cahir Castle (Tipperary)

Cahir Castle

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The incredible 13th-15th century Cahir Castle, which was once the stronghold of the Butler family, is widely regarded as one of the best-preserved castles in Ireland. It can be found on a rocky island on the River Suir in Tipperary.

The castle was skilfully designed to be a state-of-the-art defensive castle and, over the course of many years, it was rebuilt and extended. It wasn’t until 1599 that the castle reached its current state.

A visit to Cahir Castle will immerse you in the eventful history of the castle, from when it was built from 1142 by Conor O’Brien right the way up to when it was declared a national monument.

16. Belfast Castle (Antrim)

Belfast Castle

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The fairytale-like Belfast Castle can be found on the lower slope of Cave Hill country park in Belfast City.

Those that visit Belfast Castle can admire views of the city below while also checking out a variety of plant and wildlife, from long-eared owls and sparrowhawks to Belfast’s rarest plant, the Town Hall Clockto.

Although there have been a number of castles in the city, the current structure on Cave Hill was only constructed in 1862 and it boasts a Scottish Baronial architectural style.

This is arguably one of the best castles in Ireland if you’re looking for a castle that’s still mostly in its original state.

17. Carrickfergus Castle (Antrim)

Carrickfergus Castle

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Few Irish castles are as well known as Carrickfergus Castle. You’ll find it in the town of Carrickfergus in Antrim, on the shores of Belfast Lough.

The castle was built in 1177 by John de Courcy and, over the years, it saw plenty of action. In 1210, Carrickfergus was seized by King John. In 1689 it was involved in the week-long ‘Siege of Carrickfergus’.

Later, in 1760, it was looted by the French. Then, in 1797, it was used to contain prisoners of war. Visitors can take a ramble around the castle and explore what was once a medieval stronghold.

18. Bunratty Castle (Clare)

Bunratty Castle

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Bunratty Castle is a tourist favourite, thanks to its close proximity to Shannon Airport, which makes it the first stop for many tourists flying into that corner of Ireland.

As you walk around Bunratty Castle and gaze up at its vast walls, it’s hard to not be knocked a little with the knowledge that the ground you’re walking on was once frequented by Vikings in 970.

The current Bunratty Castle was built in 1425 and it’s said to be one of the most complete castles of Ireland that remains standing today.

19. Ross Castle (Kerry)

Ross Castle

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Ross Castle in Killarney is up there as one of the best castles Ireland has to offer, thanks to its location in the stunning Killarney National Park.

This 15th century structure can be found perched on the edge of a lake, a stones-throw from Muckross Abbey. It was built by O’Donoghue Mór and, according to legend, his spirit lies in slumber beneath the nearby lake.

It’s said that on the first morning of May every 7 years, his spirit circles the lake on a white horse. You can easily visit Ross Castle while driving the Ring of Kerry.

20. Lismore Castle (Waterford)

Lismore Castle

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Lismore Castle in County Waterford is another of the many Irish castles that tends to get overshadowed by the ‘big boys’, like Trim and Kilkenny.

Lismore was constructed in 1185 by Prince John to guard the nearby river crossing and it originally housed Lismore Abbey. The castle is now home to some magnificent gardens that stretch across 7 lush acres.

You can head for a ramble around the extensive gardens while soaking up some spectacular views of the castle and the surrounding countryside at the same time.

Interestingly enough, the castle is available to rent out exclusively… I can’t even begin to imagine how much that’d set you back, but it definitely wouldn’t be cheap!

21. Ashford Castle (Mayo)

Ashford Castle

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If you read our guide to the best castle hotels in Ireland, you’ll have seen me bang on about the very swanky 800-year-old Ashford Castle.

Once a privately owned medieval castle, Ashford is now a luxury hotel and is part of the celebrated ‘Leading Hotels of the World’ group.

Now, you don’t have to stay here to visit – you can enter the grounds (for a fee) and head for a ramble.

Previously owned by the Guinness family, Ashford Castle featured heavily as a backdrop in the movie the Quiet Man, starring Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne, along with nearby Cong.

22. The Rock of Cashel (Tipperary)

Rock of Cashel

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The Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary has graced the cover of a million postcards. Often referred to as ‘Saint Patrick’s Rock’, it’s believed that it was here that Ireland’s Patron Saint converted King Aenghus in the 5th century.

The Rock of Cashel, which was once the seat of the High Kings of Munster, can be admired from afar when you’re just entering the town, and you can also explore it on a guided tour.

Although many of the buildings that remain in place today date back to the 12th and 13th century, the history of the site upon which it stands stretches back much further. This is well worth a visit when you’re exploring County Tipperary.

23. Doe Castle (Donegal)

Doe Castle

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You’ll find another of the lesser-known castles in Ireland on the edge of Sheephaven Bay in Donegal.

Doe Castle was constructed during the early 15th century by the O’Donnell’s. Not long after, in the 1440s, Doe was ‘acquired’ by the Macsweeney’s and it became their stronghold.

Boasting an impressive location right by the water, Doe Castle is tucked away in a quiet corner of Donegal and it’s one of many Irish castles that gets missed by tourists.

24. Knappogue Castle (Clare)

Knappogue Castle is located just outside of Quin village in the Shannon Region of County Clare, a handy 24km from Shannon Airport.

The castle is a tower house that was built in 1467 and it became the seat of the MacConmara family some time later, in 1571.

If you’re visiting, it’s worth booking into the castle banquet which takes place frequently throughout the year.

25. Malahide Castle (Dublin)

Malahide Castle

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Malahide Castle in County Dublin is one of the best castles in Ireland if you go off online reviews.

It’s the castle that I’d visit the most in this guide as it’s a shortish spin from where I live and, like many of the Irish castles in this guide that I’ve visited numerous times, it never fails to impress.

Malahide Castle was built on the orders of the Norman knight, Sir Richard de Talbot, after he was awarded the land in 1174 by King Henry II.

Although I’ve never done the tour, the grounds here are beautifully maintained and a ramble around Malahide Castle and gardens is one of the more popular things to do in Dublin.

26. Leap Castle (Offaly)

Leap Castle

Photos by Gareth McCormack/ via Failte Ireland

Leap Castle is widely regarded as the most haunted castle in Ireland. Legend has it that a lady in red prowls the castle with a silver blade at night.

Another reason the castle is believed to be haunted is due to a discovery made in the early 1900s. A secret dungeon was found behind a wall in the chapel that contained hundreds of human skeletons.

Grim to say the least! Read more about one of the most haunted castles in Ireland in our guide to Leap Castle (not for the faint-hearted!).

27. Minard Castle (Kerry)

minard castle and beach

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You’ll find Minard Castle on the scenic Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, a short drive from Dingle Town.

The ruins of Minard Castle sit on a grassy hill that overlook a secluded bay (one of many on the peninsula) and offers gorgeous coastal views.

The castle dates back to the 16th century and it survived a lengthy attack from Cromwell’s forces in 1650.

Although this is one of the smallest castles in Ireland in our guide, it’s always worth a visit as you’ll often have this area all to yourself.

28. Athlone Castle (Westmeath)

Athlone Castle

Top right photo: Ros Kavanagh via Failte Ireland. Others: Shutterstock

Athlone Castle in County Westmeath is located at the heart of Athlone Town, a short walk from Sean’s Bar – the oldest pub in Ireland.

Like many Irish castles, Athlone Castle is perched at the side of a river – in this case, it’s the powerful River Shannon.

Athlone Castle dates back to the 13th century and it played a pivotal role in protecting the busy Athlone River crossing.

29. Adare Castle (Limerick)

Adare Castle

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Another of the best castles in Ireland if you like to go off reviews is the impressive ruins of Adare Castle in Limerick.

Located on the edge of Adare Town, Adare Castle was built during the 12th-century on the site of an ancient ring fort.

The castle boasts a strategic position on the River Maigue’s banks and, like numerous Irish castles, it was constructed in the Norman style.

It’s position on the river allowed its rulers to keep control of the traffic that was zipping in and out of the Shannon Estuary.

30. Enniscorthy Castle (Wexford)

Enniscorthy Castle

Photos courtesy Celtic Routes via Failte Ireland

Enniscorthy Castle in County Wexford is another of the more overlooked castles in Ireland.

The first castle to be built on this site was built in 1190 by Philip De Prendergast, a French Norman knight.

Prendergast’s descendants lasted here until 1370 when Art MacMurrough Kavanagh attacked Enniscorthy Castle and reclaimed what was his ancestral land.

Fast forward to the 1798 Rebellion and Enniscorthy Castle served as a prison for the United Irishmen.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that Enniscorthy Castle managed to get a bit of peace when it became the residence of the Roche family.

31. Slane Castle (Meath)

Slane Castle

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You’ll find Slane Castle in County Meath on a 1,500-acre estate in the heart of the magnificent Boyne Valley, where its been since the 18th century.

Interestingly enough, Slane Castle has been home to the same family since it was built. The Conyngham’s have lived in the castle from when it was first constructed to the present day.

I’ve heard great things about the tour of Slane Castle. Visitors can get an insight into the history of the castle while also hearing about the many concerts that have been held there over the years.

32. Blackrock Castle (Cork)

Blackrock Castle

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Blackrock Castle in County Cork is one that tends to get missed by many exploring the county. This impressive structure is a handy 2km from Cork City, where it’s sat right next to the River Lee.

This castle dates to the 16th century and it was originally built to protect upper Cork Harbour and port from intruders.

Fast forward a few hundred years later and the castle is now home to an international award-winning science centre that’s open to the public. There are heaps of permanent and visiting exhibitions that you can have a nosey at here.

33. Donegal Castle (Donegal)

Donegal Castle

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And last but by no means least in our guide to the best castles in Ireland is the mighty Donegal Castle.

You’ll find it standing proudly in Donegal Town. This is one of my favourite Irish castles as it’s evidence of what can be achieved with careful restoration.

Donegal Castle was built in 1474 by the O’Donnell’s. However, over the years it fell to ruin. In fact, it decayed for two centuries until it was restored in the 1990s – it’s now one of the most impressive castles in Donegal.

What Irish castles have we missed?

I’ve no doubt that we’ve unintentionally left out some famous Irish castles from the guide above.

If you have a place that you’d like to recommend, let me know in the comments below and I’ll check it out!

FAQs about the castles of Ireland

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What are the best castles in Ireland for tours?’ to ‘What Irish castles can you stay in?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

How many castles are there in Ireland?

It’s believed that Ireland is home to over 3,000 castles. Some, like Ashford Castle and the Rock of Cashel, are huge fortresses and tower houses, while others are tiny, like many of the ones you’ll find in our guide to castles in Dublin.

What is the most beautiful castle in Ireland?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, in our opinion, Dunluce Castle, Dunlough Castle and Trim Castle are three of the most beautiful Irish castles.

Which is the oldest castle in Ireland?

Killyleagh Castle in County Down (1180) is said to be the oldest inhabited castle in Ireland. Castlegarde Castle in Limerick (1190) is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Ireland.

Which is the best castle to visit in Ireland?

Although the topic of the best castles in Ireland is open to debate, you won’t be disappointed with a visit to Trim Castle, Dunluce Castle, Kilkenny Castle and Ross Castle.