There are hundreds of castles in Ireland. Not every one is amazing–it’s just not plausible. Some castles are more tourist traps than anything else, while others are so new looking that they don’t hold any of that haunting quality that commands crowds to their iron-wrought doors.
The list below is based on my personal experience with the castles in Ireland. The list is short because while I have driven by quite a few castles, I’ve only had the pleasure of stopping and touring a handful. I hope to change that during my next trip, but for now the list below is my comprehensive opinion on the castles I’ve visited in Ireland (and can still remember clearly enough to write about).
It needs to be old (
old as balls). I want the exterior of the castle to transport me back to a time I can barely understand. There needs to be a good amount of greenery as well as impressive stone work on the outside of the building. A tower or two wouldn’t hurt. Ruins or collapsing walls are my favorite bits. A good castle is one that makes your breath catch when you finally spot it from your bus/train/car.
Trim castle is one of the largest and most famous castles in Ireland. Surrounded on one side by the River Boyne and the other by the town of Trim, Trim castle is a history nerd’s delight. Trim castle is a square tower house, one of the ones you might picture when you think of an ancient Irish castle. It was built using dark grey stone, and is surrounded by both rolling green hills and thick curtain walls.
If you go on the guided tour, you can climb through all three stories of the inner-keep–including the roof. The views from the top are stunning–though be warned it can get quite windy. When I visited in 2015, it was raining, and when we finally made it to the top, the dark clouds from the storm were covering half of the city. It was awesome to watch the clouds roll on by while we learned about the history of the castle.
Trim is also known for its use in the movie Braveheart.
I’ve visited Bunratty castle twice out of my 5 trips to Ireland. Bunratty is a traditional square tower home, just like Trim. Unlike Trim though, it is not surrounded by walls or a river, Bunratty is surrounded by a castle park. In the park there are grazing fields for sheep, deer and mini-horses. Along with the castle there are several other old buildings to traverse through–with time periods ranging from the middle ages to the 18th/19th centuries– as well as a small row of shops and a cafe. Bunratty is the sort of place you could spend your whole day if you were feeling up to it. It’s immersive and perfect for wandering.
Much to my family’s astonishment, Limerick is one of my favorite cities in Ireland. I’ve been there twice now, and each time I’ve found myself drawn to King John’s Castle. It is not as large as Bunratty or Trim, but the museum and free-roaming capabilities of the castle more than make up for its lack of land.
King John’s Castle sits on the edge of the River Shannon. It offers stunning views of Limerick and the surrounding county. Once again, when I visited it was during a Spring storm. It was exhilarating, and slightly terrifying, to escape the rain in one of the explorable towers. I also really like this castle because it is one of the few in Ireland that you don’t have to go on a guided tour to explore. Sometimes I don’t want to be around others, or be forced on a certain path, so King John’s is the perfect castle for those who like a bit of freedom.
Malahide does not feel like a castle, not like how the others on the list do. While it does have spiraling towers that look like they were taken out of a picture-book fairy tale, the inside of the house looks more like a manor when compared to the traditional Irish castle. As it was lived in until around the 1980’s, Malahide is a working castle. It’s been upgraded to meet modern standards, and those upgrades have made the whole manor feel too new. While it still has its old touches, and ghosts that linger in the halls, Malahide is more for those that enjoy English manors.
The coolest part of the castle park and gardens is actually the ruins of the Ancient Abbey that precedes the castle. Now, if I was given a few hours to explore that part of the grounds, that would have bumped Malahide to near the top of my list. While I’ve listed Malahide as one of the worst I’ve been to, that does not mean it is a shit place to visit. I still had a nice time on the tour and exploring the little bit of Malahide (the town) as we could. It’s super easy to get to from Dublin, and all-in-all enjoyable, just a bit dull when compared to the other castles in Ireland.
Sometimes when you trust GoogleMaps it is to your detriment. CastleTroy is NOT a castle, it is a business park, which I would have realized if I’d done more than open GoogleMaps, type in ‘Castle’, and leave the hotel with only a location to base my activity on. To be fair, the walk from the River Shannon to the business park was quite nice. I made a pit-stop at Limerick University and was able to walk until my feet felt like falling apart. But just thinking about how I basically wasted my day searching for something that never existed still makes me cringe.
What are your favorite and least favorite castles in Ireland? Do you agree with me? Yes? No? Let me know in the comments below!
I have been to other castles in Ireland (Blarney for instance) but I don’t remember enough about my visit to be able to put it on my list–nor do I think I will ever really go to Blarney again. There are too many other amazing ruins to explore.
I’m slowly-but-surely getting back on track with my weekly Wednesday posts. Didn’t work this time…but I can’t always be perfect, yeah? Fingers crossed I write next week’s post on time 😉
Thanks for Reading!