Located in strategic areas, such as on high ground or coastlines, where the countryside could be scanned for invaders. Irish castle ruins have borne witness to events that shaped the course of Irish history. Built and ruled over by powerful Irish clans for centuries, many met their demise during the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland in the 17th century.
Today it is still possible to get up close and explore these castle ruins, imagining the strength and glory they would once have projected in their heyday.
Below is a list of our five favourite Irish castle ruins you can see on a Vagabond or Driftwood Tour of Ireland.
1. Ballycarbery Castle
Location: Iveragh Peninsula (Ring of Kerry), Co. Kerry.
Once the largest castle on the Iveragh peninsula, it was originally surrounded by a mighty defensive wall, of which only half is left today. It is possible to explore the castle and climb the stairway to the first floor, and take in the spectacular views of the mouth of the Valentia river. The castle was built by the McCarthys in the 15th century. In 1652 the Cromwellian's laid siege and captured it, during which it obtained extensive damage. Over time local farmers have gathered the stones and rubble from the castle for their own use and ivy has crept up over this once great fortress. The views of the surrounding sea and mountains make this a perfect picnic lunch stop.
Donal McCarthy Robin Hood of Munster
Donal McCarthy was the illegitimate son of the last undisputed McCarthy chieftain of Ballycarbery castle. He was known for attacking the British occupiers and returning the land to the Irish. His unrivalled knowledge of the bogs and hiding places on the Iveragh peninsula gave him a great advantage for conducting his guerrilla warfare. All of which led to him becoming known as the Robin Hood of Munster. Eventually Donal stopped his rebellion, much to the relief of the British, who had such respect for his honour and bravery that they granted him part of the land that his father had once owned.
2. Rock of Dunamase
Location: Dunamase, Aghnahily, Co. Laois
Built in the 9th century, Dun na Mase was originally a Christian settlement before it was pillaged by the Vikings in 842. Ownership passed to the MacMurrough clan in the 12th century and then onto the O'Moures who occupied the castle right up until the Cromwellian invasion in 1649, when like many castle of the time, it was destroyed. Although now in ruins, visitors are free to explore the ruins and get a sense of what the place was like in its heyday of the 12th and 13th century. From its height, the castle boasts stunning views of the surrounding County Laois countryside.
Diarmuid MacMurrough The man who invited the English into Ireland
In the 12th century the castle passed into the hands of Diarmuid MacMurrough, king of Leinster. The man who is known for inviting the English into Ireland. It all started when MacMurrough kidnapped the wife of an O'Rourke chieftain. Not best pleased with MacMurrough taking his wife, the O'Rourkes combined forces with the O'Connors to drive MacMurrough out of the country. In order to regain his land MacMurrough sought the help of the Anglo-Norman King Henry II. Henry sent Richard De Clare, the Earl of Pembroke, who was also known as 'Strongbow'. Launching a military offensive, they regained MacMurroughs land and in return MacMurragh was obliged give to his castle and his daughter Aoife's hand in marriage to Strongbow. From this point onwards the British would always hand a foothold in Ireland. As the legend goes, the English were invited over for a wedding and stayed for 800 years!
3. Dunluce Castle
Location: Antrim Coastline, Northern Ireland
Situated on the stunning Antrim coastline is the striking Dunluce Castle. Fans of Game of Thrones might recognize it as the House of Greyjoy, in the hit TV series. First built by Richard Óg de Burgh in the 13th century, it was a stronghold of the MacDonnells that ruled in both Scotland and Ireland for a time. The castle was abandoned in 1639 by the MacDonnells when the kitchen (and the unfortunate kitchen staff) fell into the sea. To this day the castle is still owned by the MacDonnells, but managed by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. The castle is attached to the mainland by a bridge. There are guided tours of the castle, where you can learn about the fascinating history and myths surrounding this intriguing place.
Sorley Boy McDonnell Famous Warrior Chieftain
The Scottish McDonnell clan captured the castle in the 1600s and it was the famous warrior chieftain Sorley Boy McDonnell who truly left a mark on the castle. An ambitious man, Sorley Boys growing power in the area, drew concern from the British. Years of bloodshed would follow but eventually Sorley Boy agreed to the terms and conditions set down by Queen Elizabeth I and was rewarded with a shiny new aristocratic title, power and lands.
4. Blarney Castle
Location: Monacnapa, Co. Cork
First built in the 10th century, the castle that stands there today was built by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster in the 15th century. Eventually the castle was captured by the Cromwell forces in the 17th century. When they entered the castle after breaking the tower walls, they found everyone had fled through three underground passages. The castle was then acquired by the Jefferye's and passed into the hands of Colthurst family by marriage in the mid-19th century, who still own it to this day.
The Gift of the Gab
According to Irish folklore, anyone who kisses the stone receives the ability to speak with eloquence, or The Gift of the Gab. The legend is thought to originate from when Queen Elizabeth I commanded the Earl of Leicester to take possession of the castle from Cormac McCarthy. Whenever the Earl tried to negotiate the matter with McCarthy, he always managed to talk his way out in a most flattering way to the Queen. The queen was said to be so irritated (but possibly somewhat charmed!) that she remarked McCarthy was full of 'Blarney'.
5. Carrigafoyle Castle
Location: Near Ballylongford, County Kerry, Ireland
Once considered one of the strongest forts in Ireland and referred to as the Guardian of the Shannon because of its strategic location on the river, Carrigafoyle was a stronghold of the mighty OConnor clan for over 400 years. They were known to intercept boats as they made their way up the Shannon, and take part of their cargo as a toll. The castle itself rises to 26.4 metres with five floors, which are accessible to the public. The view from the battlements boasts stunning tranquil views of the Shannon and its surrounding area.
The Desmond Wars
The O'Connors continued their rule of Carrigafoyle Castle until the Desmond Wars in 1580. They came under heavy fire from both land and sea and on Palm Sunday 1580, the castle was eventually breached and everyone inside were massacred. This included 50 Irish and 19 Spanish soldiers who had come to help. This was considered standard military practise at the time, and was termed 'No Quarter Asked for, none given'. Only if the defenders had surrendered immediately when requested, could they expect clemency.
Our tours even stay in Castles!