Countless castles pepper Ireland’s landscape, some so crumbled and barren it’s clear they’ve stood for hundreds of winters, and some so thick with hanging tapestries and the wafting smell of mead, you’d expect to see a King’s carriage in the carpark.
Whether ruined or restored, you know those stone walls have seen some exciting things in the time they’ve been standing. Being a blog and not a building-sized book, though, we had to be selective when focusing on the fables of Ireland’s fortresses. So we decided to choose just one from each of the four corners of Ireland – with castles from film sets, album covers, medieval banquets and historic sciences. No better woman than our roving island visitor Sarah McNaughton to take us through them.
Rocks and Rockers in Northern Ireland: Dunluce Castle, County Antrim
Dunluce Castle sits along the Causeway coastline of Giants, of mysterious rock formations and cliffs shrouded with as much myth as mist. You’ll find it at the end of a rock bridge teetering on basalt cliffs – and you’d be right to think the spot precarious. In 1639, well before planning permission, the castle had to be abandoned when the kitchen collapsed into the sea. Other victims of the surrounding Atlantic were the crew of the Spanish Armada Girona, many of whom were buried in the adjacent church ruins of St. Cuthbert’s. More interesting findings lie beneath the castle: 25 metres down lurks the gaping Mermaid’s Cave, a massive cavern accessible by land and sea. No surprise then that the castle found its place in popular culture when legendary rockers Led Zeppelin used a photo of it in the inner gatefold of their 1973 album, Houses of the Holy.
Fancy staying in a castle nearby? Try Ballygally Castle Hotel in Antrim, Culloden Estate and Spa in Down, Castle Leslie in Monaghan, Belle Isle Castle in Fermanagh, or Crom Castle West Wing in Fermanagh.
Film Sets And Phantoms In The East: Huntington Castle, Co. Carlow
Film buffs might recognise this imposing granite castle from Stanley Kubrick’s flickering period drama Barry Lyndon. Huntington Castle has things you might expect of a 17th century castle: extensive gardens, palm trees over one hundred years old, an ancient Yew walk, and some you wouldn’t quite expect. Basement temple anyone? The temple, devoted to the Greek goddess Isis and consisting of 26 shrines, was built by The Fellowship of Isis, whose founders actually still live in the castle. With a few resident ghosts haunting the place for good measure, it’s fair to bill Huntington as quite an eclectic example of Ireland’s castles.
Fancy staying in a castle nearby? Try Clontarf Castle in Dublin.
Feasting Your eyes in the South:
Bunratty Castle, Co. Clare
If living and eating like a king is what you’re really hankering after, Bunratty Castle and its famous feasts might well be your kingdom. The idea is that by wandering the stone halls of tapestries, suits of armour and acres of a living medieval village, you’ll get a great taste for what castle life was like in the Middle Ages. The tasting continues at the Earl’s Medieval Banquet, held in the Great Hall and hosted by the Earl of Thomond himself. The evening starts with crossing a drawbridge (naturally!) to a mead reception, then a traditional four-course meal and live medieval music. Of course, it wouldn’t be medieval without someone being thrown into a dungeon, so expect one guest at your dinner to not get his or her dessert!
Starry Nights In The West
Birr Castle, Co. Offaly
Science is king at this 19th century fort. In the stables of Birr Castle you’ll find a Science Centre for watching the stars, with astronomical instruments, cameras and photographs from the 19th century. Most impressive of all is the Great Telescope; it was the largest telescope in the world for over 70 years and is thought to be the biggest historic scientific instrument still working today. The best combination of all this are the ‘Star Parties’ the castle hosts, where the public can listen to talks about the universe, have dinner and then engage in some stargazing. There’s plenty to see in daylight, too; the 125 acres of gardens include the world’s tallest box hedges, and a massive collection of exotic trees and plants.
Now, while we head off to metamorphasise our blog into a building-sized book, here’s just a taster of other historic buildings and castles in Ireland to keep you going! Enjoy!