It is fair to say that Ireland is a country of castles as these stone fortifications can be found dotted across the landscape. Some have been restored, whilst others lie in ruin, but all offer a unique snapshot of Irish history.
Many castles across Europe were used by royalty to impose their mark on a particular area. This happened less in Ireland, which has had no royalty for over a thousand years. This means Irish castles were primarily used for defence to protect local chieftains. The small, narrow windows would have let little light in, whilst they also make excellent observation posts to monitor enemy advances. The castles were typically small, with only a few containing a great hall or a chapel, but some encompassed an entire settlement within their fortified walls.
The more opulent castles have been converted into luxury hotels, meaning that you can sample the life of a dignitary in days of yore. Meanwhile, there is a rich tapestry of myths and legends surrounding haunted castles, with many spooky tales to be enjoyed. These buildings have woven themselves within the fabric of Irish society, not only leaving an indelible mark on the countryside, but also affecting Irish culture and attitudes.
The vast majority of Irish castles were built between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, meaning that they are architecturally similar in style. However, the more elaborate castles are typically later, adopting the styles of the Georgian and Victorian periods.
Bunratty Castle and Blarney Castle are two of the most visited tourist attractions in Ireland outside of Dublin. Bunratty Castle is easy to reach due to its proximity to Shannon Airport. It is famed for its medieval-style banquets, which take place twice nightly. Visitors are cordially invited to dine with the Earl of Thomond within the fifteenth century castle, whilst entertainment is provided by performers in full medieval regalia. Meanwhile, Bunratty Folk Park allows you to sample life in Victorian Ireland as traditional Irish country cottages intermix with houses, shops and street scenes from that era. Furthermore, traditional practices such as farming and butter making are regularly demonstrated.
Blarney Castle is famous for the Blarney Stone and this tradition sees tourists flock to the area. Kissing the Stone grants a person the “gift of the gab”, a form of eloquence which is highly prized. The stone is located in the highest turret of the castle and reaching it requires a little gymnastics as you need to lie on your back and dangle over the edge of the wall in order to reach it. There is more to the castle than just the stone, though, as it is one of the most picturesque in the whole of Ireland. The beautiful garden which surrounds it is a delight, particularly in summer, and adds a sense of romanticism to proceedings, whilst nearby Cork is the place to stay if you fancy some nightlife. Cork hotels are always busy, especially at peak times, so it’s advisable to book well in advance.