Several thousand castles were built in Ireland in the Middle Ages. With native Irish fortifications being different from the rest of Europe, it was not until the 12th century when Norman/English incursions into the island that castles were being built.
While some large-scale castles exist, most of the remaining medieval fortifications found in Ireland and Northern Ireland are smaller tower houses that were designed for a family to live and be protected. Here are ten of our favourites you can visit in Ireland.
1. Trim Castle
The largest Norman castle in Ireland, much of Trim Castle dates to the 12th and 13th centuries. Its main keep is a twenty-sided tower.
2. Blarney Castle
Built in 1446, Blarney Castle is located near the city of Cork. It is famous for its legendary Blarney Stone, which people will kiss to get the Gift of Eloquence.
3. Cahir Castle
Built in 1142 by Conor O’Brien, Prince of Thomond, Cahir Castle lies on a rocky island on the River Suir in Co. Tipperary. It is one of Ireland’s largest and best-preserved castles.
4. Rock of Cashel
This fortress has been the traditional site for the Kings of Munster since the Early Middle Ages. In the year 1101 Muircheartach Ua Briain, king of Cashel, gave the Rock of Cashel to the Church, and the site was soon converted into a medieval cathedral.
5. King John’s Castle
Located along the River Shannon in the town of Limerick, this castle was built by the order of England’s King John around 1200. It is one of the best-preserved Norman castles in Europe, while archaeological research has found a Viking settlement on the site.
6. Carrickfergus Castle
Built by John de Courcy in 1177, Carrickfergus Castle is one of the most impressive medieval sites in Northern Ireland. After being used as a military fortress until the 20th century, many of its modern additions were then removed to restore the castle’s original Norman appearance.
7. Ballyportry Castle
This 15th-century Gaelic tower house has been restored and its six floors are now used as a hotel.
8. Dunluce Castle
While the picturesque Dunluce Castle has been a ruin since the 17th century, it can still be explored.
9. Ross Castle
Located in southwest Ireland, Ross Castle was built in the 15th century by the ODonoghue Ross chieftains. Standing five stories tall, it is considered a good example of an Irish tower house.
10. Redwood Castle
Located in central Ireland, this castle was first built by the Normans around 1200. It was expanded in the 14th and 15th centuries and, while privately owned, it is open to the public during the summer months.
Honourable mention goes to Dunguaire Castle, which was built in the early 16th century.
Visitor information for Castles in Ireland and Northern Ireland
Trim Castle – run by Heritage Ireland
Blarney Castle – privately owned
Cahir Castle – run by Heritage Ireland
Rock of Cashel – run by Heritage Ireland
King John’s Castle – Shannon Heritage
Carrickfergus Castle – Northern Ireland Environment Agency
Ballyportry Castle – privately owned
Dunluce Castle – Northern Ireland Environment Agency
Ross Castle – run by Heritage Ireland
Redwood Castle – privately owned