There’s something magical about approaching an old castle – you feel like you are either stepping back in time or into a fairy story. Ireland certainly has its share of dramatic castles, from medieval tower houses to Palladian style mansions or ruins perched by the sea!
For a truly unique day out, take your pick from these amazing castles in Ireland to visit with the kids – it will definitely be memorable, with the added benefit of a stunning backdrop for photos!
Castles in Ireland to Visit
Ardgillan Castle, Dublin
Although referred to as a Castle, the residence at Ardgillan is a large country-styled house built in 1738 with castellated embellishments. The house consists of two storeys over a basement which extends out under the lawns on the southern side of the building. The Castle has now been restored and the ground floor rooms and kitchens are open to visitors for guided tours.
As well as castle tours, you can enjoy the parklands in the Demesne, visit the Walled Garden, Rose Garden and Ornamental Gardens, take afternoon tea at the tearooms, find fairies on their fairy trail and enjoy seasonal events.
Ashford Castle, Mayo
Ashford Castle in Cong, Co. Mayo on the shores of Lough Corrib has a rich history extending back to 1228 and was once home to the famous Guinness family. It’s now a top 5 star luxury hotel and resort. In its time the castle has played host to many notable guests, including John Lennon, Oscar Wilde, President Ronald Reagan and Robin Williams.
Unless you are planning a stay at this top hotel, you won’t be able to see inside, but you can enjoy exploring the Gardens with a Parterre, a beautiful Walled Garden full of flowers, fruit and vegetables, and the long Terraced Walk and Broad Walk with views across the gardens. And then stop by Mrs Tea’s Boutique and Gift shop for refreshments and a browse.
Athlone Castle, Westmeath
Athlone Castle was first built during the 13th Century to defend the crossing point on the River Shannon and evolved into a bold defensive structure over the centuries. Elements of the original castle can still be seen today. The Athlone Castle Visitor Experience tells the story of settlement in this part of Ireland’s Ancient East, from the Neolithic period through Viking, and Medieval ages to modern life in Athlone.
During your visit you will discover tales of bitter battles fought, territories won and lost and hear stories of bravery. Prepare to walk in the steps of monks, kings, soldiers and generals. You hear these stories and the story of Athlone Castle through a series of modern exhibitions, authentic museum artefacts, interactive games and an intense 360º cinematic experience of the Great Siege of Athlone.
Aughnanure Castle, Galway
Aughnanure Castle near Oughterard, built by the O’Flahertys around 1500, is set in picturesque surroundings close to the shores of Lough Corrib. In 1546 the O’Flaherty’s motto “Fortune favours the strong” and the powerful Mayo O’Malleys Motto “Powerful by land and by sea”, were joined in the marriage of Donal an Chogaidh O’Flaherty and Grainuaile/Grace O’Malley.
Standing on a rocky island, the castle is a particularly well-preserved example of an Irish tower house. As you visit, you’ll see what is left of the banqueting hall, a watch tower, double bawn, bastions and a dry harbour. There are also seasonal events taking place during holidays at the Castle.
Ballycarberry Castle, Kerry
Situated near the waters edge at Cahirsiveen, you will find the impressive ruins of Ballycarbery Castle with an ivy-covered tower house, once home to the McCarthy Clan and built in the 15th century. It is probably the largest castle built on the peninsula of Iveragh and is still very impressive from a distance.
Though listed on the County’s historical buildings list, there are no gates or paths into the castle. As with any ruined building, take care near it.
Birr Castle Demesne
Birr Castle, home to the 7th Earl of Rosse, dates back to medieval times. The castle is open to the public from May to September for guided tours. The Castle Tour takes you through the main reception rooms of Birr Castle. Tours should be booked in advance. You can then enjoy visiting the Science Centre, the Great Telescope and the extensive gardens after your Castle tour. These are all open 362 days of the year.
Blarney Castle, Cork
Blarney Castle is one of Ireland’s most popular visitor attractions probably due to the fact that it is the home of the Blarney Stone, legend has it if you kiss the stone you will never again be lost for words.
Built nearly six hundred years ago by one of Ireland’s greatest chieftains, Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster, who is said to have supplied four thousand men from Munster to supplement the forces of Robert the Bruce at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Legend has it that the latter king gave half of the Stone of Scone to McCarthy in gratitude, what is now the Blarney Stone.
Bunratty Castle, Clare
Go back in time with a visit to Bunratty Castle in County Clare built in 1425. Complete with its own authentic medieval fortress, folk park with homes from the past for you to visit and see how people lived in the past, walled garden and fairy village.
At the fairy village let the little ones explore the miniature Bunratty Castle and mini replicas of the houses that surround the folk park. There’s also a new willow tunnel and willow hut in the surroundings of the magical forest trail.
An array of animals live at Bunratty who would love a visit including donkeys, sheep, ponies, deer, goats, peacocks and ducks.
Then spend some time at the Folk Park enjoying the village street complete with school, doctor’s house, pub and shops.
Cahir Castle, Tipperary
Standing guard in Tipperary over the River Suir, Cahir Castle is one of Ireland’s most impressive medieval castles. It has featured in a few films and TV series – parts of The Tudors were filmed here, as well as Excalibur and Moonfleet.
Explore this historic castle and all it has to offer with a guided tour around Cahir Castle, where you’ll discover everything about the powerful Butler family who owned it and learn more about the magnificent building itself.
If you’d rather stroll around the castle at your own pace you can watch audiovisual shows at your leisure. Mind the kids on the narrow stairs and on the castle walls if you climb up them.
Carlingford Castle, Louth
Carlingford Castle also referred to as King John’s Castle was built in the 12th century overlooking Carlingford Lough. Built by Hugh de Lacy, this dramatic fortress offers stunning views across the Lough towards the Mourne Mountains and it is said that King John of England stayed here for a few days in 1210.
The original Castle consisted of an enclosed D-shaped courtyard with two rectangular towers at the entrance. The eastern part of the Castle was built in 1261 with a number of rooms and a great hall.
There is a viewing area on the shore side of the Castle with lovely views across Carlingford Lough towards the Mourne Mountains in Co. Down and to the Irish Sea. Then head back into Carlingford to enjoy wandering its narrow streets with medieval buildings, for example, Taaffe’s Castle, a 16th-century tower house. There’s also Carlingford Heritage Centre, located in a medieval church, which has displays on local history as well as seasonal events.
Castle Hackett and Knockma Hill, Galway
Knockma Hill just outside Belclare in Co. Galway is a magical place to spend a day. It is reputed to be one of three possible burial sites for Queen Maeve and was home to Finvarra, King of the Connacht fairies.
The hill is partially covered in woodland and has fairy doors situated throughout. There is an easy walking route to the top which offers a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. And you can explore the ruins of Castle Hackett too.
Claregalway Castle, Galway
Claregalway Castle, probably built late fifteenth century is situated on the lowest crossing point of the River Clare before she flows through bogland into the Corrib. While commonly referred to as a castle, technically it is more accurately described as a tower house.
Claregalway Castle is now approaching completion of a ten year restoration and is open to the public daily June to September where with the help of a Castle guide you can walk the corridors of time and follow the history of the Castle from Norman times to its current restoration, experiencing the masterful woodwork of the great hall and the stonework that has stood against time, wars and strife for almost a thousand years.
Classiebawn Castle, Sligo
Although you can’t visit Classiebawn Castle as it’s privately owned, as you travel the coastal route from Sligo to Glencolumbkille, this striking castle appears. It’s a stunning sight, with Benbulbin behind and the ocean to the side of the Castle.
It was a former home of Lord Mountbatten, great-uncle to Prince Charles who was killed when his boat was blown up Provisional Irish Republican Army.
Visit the village of Mullaghmore and enjoy the stunning beach with shallow waters, perfect for kids.
Castle Island, Lough Key, Roscommon
Castle Island in the middle of Lough Key is a most romantic sight. There is reference to Castle Island in the annals of Lough Ce as early as 1184. During this time the park was called Moylurg and the Kings of Moylurg were the McDermotts, their official residence was on The Rock, now called Castle Island. As space was limited on this small island they had another residence on the mainland where the Moylurg Tower stands today.
You’ll enjoy the amenities at Lough Key Forest & Activity Park, including woodland walks and trails, Tree Canopy Walk high above the trees, Boda Borg, an Adventure Playground, and more.
Clough Oughter Castle, Cavan
Clough Oughter Castle dating back to the early part of the 13th century is part of the Marble Arch Geopark, and is situated beside the picturesque Killykeen Forest Park which has accessible nature walks. The castle itself sits on a Crannog (man made island) and so is only accessible by boat or canoe. You can rent canoes from Cavan Canoe Centre, they also offer guided day trips to the castle.
But if you don’t fancy a canoe trip, then you can view the castle from several spots. It eventually became the last remaining stronghold for the rebels during the Cromwell era, but sometime in March of 1653 the castle fell to Cromwell’s cannons. The castle walls were breached and the castle was never rebuilt after this point.
Enjoy a visit to the Marble Arch Caves and Geopark afterwards.
Doonagore Castle, Clare
Doonagore Castle is a round 16th-century tower house with a small walled enclosure located about 1 km above the coastal village of Doolin in County Clare, Ireland. Its name may be derived from Dún na Gabhair, meaning “the fort of the rounded hills” or the “fort of the goats”.
It is at present a private holiday home, meaning the public can’t visit, but it’s viewable from the main road and has an interesting history. In September 1588, a ship of the Spanish Armada was wrecked below the castle. 170 survivors were caught by the High Sheriff of Clare, Boetius Clancy, hanged at Doonagore Castle or on a nearby Iron Age barrow near Doolin called Cnocán an Crochaire.
Doolin is a cute little village with pubs and restaurants, famous for live music, there are sometimes early music sessions in the pubs which are perfect for children to listen or even join in. Walk down to Doolin Pier and enjoy the great views of the Cliffs of Moher, Aran Islands and Galway Bay.
Built by the O’Donnell chieftain in the 15th century, beside the River Eske, Donegal Castle has extensive 17th century additions. The fortified castle keep was widely regarded as one of the finest Gaelic castles in Ireland. Before he fled, during the Flight of the Earls, Hugh Roe O’Donnell was forced to set fire to his tower before it fell into English hands.
The Castle has been restored and is furnished throughout with Persian rugs and French tapestries. Information panels chronicle the history of the Castle owners from the O’Donnell chieftains to the Brooke family. There are guided tours taking 30 minutes.
NB Limited access for people with disabilities to the ground floor.
Duckett’s Grove, Carlow
Duckett’s Grove is a ruined 19th-century great house was formerly at the centre of a 20,000 acre estate that dominated the Carlow landscape for over 300 years. Even in ruin, the surviving towers and turrets of Duckett’s Grove Walled Gardens and Pleasure Grounds form a romantic profile making it one of the most photogenic historic buildings in Ireland.
After exploring the two recently restored Walled Gardens you can enjoy a visit to the Tea Rooms.
Dunguaire Castle, Galway
Dunguaire Castle is a striking castle located on the outskirts of Kinvara. It was built in 1520 by the O’Hynes clan, then by the Martyn’s of Galway before being bought and repaired by Oliver St. John Gogarty, the famous surgeon and literary figure, when it became the venue for meetings of the literary revivalists such as W. B. Yeats, his patron Lady Gregory, George Bernard Shaw, and J.M. Synge.
Today the restored castle gives an insight into the lifestyle of the people who lived from 1520 to modern times. From April to October they run Castle banquets with music and entertainment. Parking is across the road from the Castle.
Enniscorthy Castle, Wexford
Once home to Norman knights, English armies, Irish rebels, prisoners, and local merchant families, Enniscorthy Castle is located in Enniscorthy Town in the heart of County Wexford.
Children will love exploring the dungeons and the battlements of the castle and viewing the exhibitions as you move through the castle.
Tip: You can dress up as a knight at the Castle when you visit, and there’s also a great view from the roof.
Enniskillen Castle, Fermanagh
Enniskillen Castle, built almost 600 years ago, beside the River Erne, stands guard over one of the few passes into Ulster, and so has had a strategic role to play in history.
It has a 17th century Watergate with twin turrets and a museum in the Castle Keep. The Visitor Centre at the Castle boasts interactive quizzes, exhibits, movies, stories, and is free to visit.
You can also visit the Enniskillen Castle Museums, there are 2 museums at the Castle:
- Fermanagh County Museum, where you can find out about the history of Fermanagh, the county’s traditional rural life, local crafts and the celebrated pottery at Belleek
- The Inniskillings Museum, which tells the story of the town of Enniskillen’s two regiments, The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards.
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Johnstown Castle, Wexford
Johnstown Castle is a spectacular gothic Castle in Wexford and offers an amazing day out for all ages. It was built in the 1170’s and was first occupied by the Esmondes, a Norman family. In 1692, John Grogan acquired the castle and his descendantes owned it up until 1945 when it was presented as a gift to the nation. It is now run by The Irish Heritage Trust, Teagasc and the Irish Agricultural Museum who have worked together to open a new visitor experience which include castle tours.
The Castle is surrounded by beautiful ornamental gardens designed by Daniel Robertson, they offer walks by not one but three lakes, gothic statues, peacocks and other wildlife and a Victorian Walled Garden to discover.
The Irish Agricultural Museum is housed within the ground of Johnstown Castle and displays one fo the most comprehensive collections showcasing farming and rural life in Ireland with everything from tractors to kitchens!
King John’s Castle, Limerick
King John was the brother of Richard the Lionheart, associated with legends such as Robin Hood and the Knights’ of the Round Table. Built between 1200 and 1212 on an existing fortification, the Castle was extended many times in subsequent years.
In 1642 the Great Siege devastated Limerick and King John’s Castle. You can view the remains of a medieval garrison and soldiers quarters recently discovered close to the sallyport area of the castle. It has a massive gate house, battlements and corner towers perfect for exploring. The child-friendly interactive visitor experience gives insight into its turbulent history.
Leamaneh Castle, Clare
Leamaneh Castle is a ruined castle located between the villages of Corofin and Kilfenora at the border of The Burren. It consists of a 15th-century tower house and a 17th-century mansion built probably by Toirdelbhach Donn MacTadhg Ó Briain, King of Thomond of the O’Brien family, one of the last of the High Kings of Ireland and a direct descendant of Brian Boru. His great-grandson, Conor O’Brien married Máire ní Mahon, otherwise known as Máire Rúa (“Red Mary”), due to her flaming red hair, born in 1615 or 1616.
Unlike many of the castles in Ireland, Leamaneh is unmaintained and due to its poor state of repair not accessible. It is located on privately owned land but you can enjoy views over to the Castle from the nearby road.
Head into Lahinch and enjoy the long sandy beach perfect for sandcastle making and gentle paddling or even a spot of surfing if you are brave.
Lismore Castle, Waterford
While you can’t visit Lismore Castle itself as it is a private residence, you can visit and enjoy Lismore Castle Gardens, where you’ll find two historic gardens set within the castle walls, with spectacular views of the Castle and surrounding countryside. You’ll find ancient yew tree avenues, romantic meadows, fruit & vegetable beds, formal long borders & plenty of flowers and plants as well as pieces of contemporary sculpture to look at.
Your garden ticket will also give you access to Lismore Castle Arts, a contemporary art gallery, which displays temporary exhibitions of national and international artists.
NB due to the historic nature of the gardens and the naturally steep terrain of the ground, not all paths are suitable for wheelchair, or less mobile people.
Malahide Castle & Gardens, Dublin
Malahide Castle has a long and rich history and played a central role in Medieval Irish history. The oldest parts of the castle date back to the 12th century. The estate was home to the Talbot family for almost 800 years between 1185 and 1975, the only exception being the period from 1649–60, when Oliver Cromwell granted it to Miles Corbet after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland; Corbet was hanged following the demise of Cromwell, and the castle was restored to the Talbots. The building was notably enlarged in the reign of Edward IV, and the towers added in 1765.
There’s plenty to do at Malahide Castle:
- Take a guided tour of the castle
- Explore the Walled Botanical Gardens
- See a 400 year old tree at the West Lawn
- Enjoy shops and Avoca cafe at the Courtyard
- Visit the Butterfly House
- Have fun in the playground and exploring the grounds of the Demesne
Merlinpark Castle, Galway
Merlinpark Castle is a tower house and National Monument located in Galway, built for Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair (Turlough O’Connor also known as Turlough the Great) one of the last High Kings of Ireland in the early 12th century.
Combine your visit to the Castle with a walk in Merlin Woods and fun at Doughiska Playground.
Nenagh Castle, Tipperary
Built around 1200, Nenagh Castle was the main seat of the Butler family until 1391, before they moved to Kilkenny, partially driven out by the native clan of the O’Kennedys and their allies. It was here, in 1336, that a peace treaty was signed between James Butler, 1st Earl of Ormond, and a representative of the Irish O’Kennedy clan. Some 600 years later the original treaty was presented as a gift to President Kennedy during a state visit to Ireland in 1963, and is now on view in the J.F.K Library in Massachusetts.
Nenagh Castle has a 100-foot high cylinder-shaped keep with four storeys and stone spiral stairs to the top. There are 101 steps in all to the top. Access to the tower is through a passageway within the base of the wall. This has low head room and visitors will need to stoop to avoid hitting the stone above. All children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
The Castle is open for visitors from April to October with some limited winter hours.
Portumna Castle, Galway
Portumna Castle, on the shores of Lough Derg on the River Shannon, is an imposing example of Irish architecture of the early 17th Century. It was the main seat of the de Burgo family for over 200 years, and marks the transition from the medieval Tower House to the Renaissance style manor house.
Following a fire and the ravages of time, the castle became just a shell, but the Office of Public Works have undertaken conservation and restoration works, with the ground floor open to the public and housing an exhibition on the history and restoration, there’s a virtual reality presentation to help bring the story to life.
The castle is set in formal gardens, there’s also a walled kitchen garden at the side and an old shrub rose garden, all helping to re-create a sense of what it was like in the 17th century. Be sure to visit nearby Portumna Forest Park where you’ll find walks and forest trails and might even spot a deer running through the forest!
Rock of Cashel, Tipperary
The Rock of Cashel, Carraig Phádraig or St. Patrick’s Rock, is also known as Cashel of the Kings. It is said to be the site of the conversion of Aenghus the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century AD. Long before the Norman invasion The Rock of Cashel was the seat of the High Kings of Munster.
Two of the most famous people of Irish legend and history are associated with the Rock of Cashel:
- St. Patrick whom according to legend, arrived in Cashel in AD 432 and baptized King Aengus who became Ireland’s first Christian ruler.
- Brian Boru, he was crowned High King here in 990. He is the only king who was able to unite all of Ireland under one ruler for any significant period of time.
There is a paid car park below the Rock and there are toilets but no cafe on site. There’s an audio-visual show and exhibitions, and you can take a guided tour too.
Rock of Dunamase, Laois
The Rock Of Dunamase overlooks the valley of the O’Moores, just outside Portlaoise, County Laois. Spectacular views of the surrounding countryside made this a strategic place to build a fortress. When the Normans arrived in Ireland, Dunamase became one of the most important Anglo-Norman strongholds in Laois.
Despite the castle’s ruined state, visitors can get a sense of its former grandiosity and also have the opportunity to take in stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The Rock of Dunamase is now maintained by the Office of Public Works and is open to the public year round.
Trim Castle, Meath
Did you know that Trim Castle in County Meath took more than 30 years to build, back in the 12th century? It’s the largest, best-preserved, and most impressive Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland, and it’s a fascinating place to explore. The Castle is also famous as a backdrop to the Oscar-winning film, Braveheart.
It does get busy during summer months so best going earlier in the day. Access for visitors with disabilities is very restricted and some of the stairs in the keep are very steep and narrow, so hold onto smaller kids hands.