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Tourism in Ireland – Castles and Old Sites of Ireland

Undiscovered Ireland

Ireland and its still almost undiscovered side of ancient historic castles, ruins, buildings and sites is great and highly recommended destination. Some of the prehistoric sites are one of the oldest in Europe, even on the planet, reminding the different smaller versions of Stonehenge, the massive stones laid across each other would be the oldest. These places are hardly noticeable, as thousands of years of rough weather and climate of the North Atlantic. The tourism is the most of the year quiet, on some places even whole year, meeting just a few tourists who are mainly coming to experience cultural life.

Irish Castles – Top Castles of Ireland

Most castles you’ll see in Ireland are less than ostentatious; they were not built to be the royal palaces that you’ll find in Britain, as Ireland has had no royalty for a thousand years. Instead they were fortified homes for chieftains, or Anglo Norman settlers and were designed primarily for defence.
Many of these castles are medieval in origin, dating from the 11th to the 15th century. While some of the more elaborate and elegant castles you may find owe their origins to the flamboyant Georgian era or the neo gothic revival in the Victorian Age.

Ireland’s two most popular castles are Bunratty Castle and Blarney Castle, and these are also two of the most visited tourist attractions in Ireland, outside of Dublin.

Bunratty is located in County Clare, close to the River Shannon and Shannon Airport. This castle is famous for its medieval banquets that for many visitors to Ireland, from the United States in particular, present a great last night in Ireland before returning home via Shannon Airport. Bunratty Castle dates back to the 14th Century and once belonged to the O’Brien Clan, who were the High Kings of Munster. Today the castle forms the centerpiece of an excellent Folk Park outlining Ireland’s history with a recreated 19th Century Irish town.

Blarney Castle in County Cork is home to the famous Blarney Stone which, according to legend, bestows the gift of eloquence and Irish charm – or as we say; “the gift of the gab”. For years countless numbers of people have descended on this 15th Century castle and climbed its tall tower to kiss the blarney stone.

Most of Ireland’s large castle residences are now lavish castle hotels that have entertained dignitaries from Princes to Presidents.Ashford Castle and Dromoland Castle are two of Ireland’s leading and most luxurious hotels.

Situated on the banks of Lough Corrib in County Mayo, Ashford Castle is a majestic building of Victorian neo gothic architecture, though the castle’s history dates back to 1228 when it was founded by the Anglo Norman de Burgo family. The Guinness family also owned Ashford Castle and the castle has hosted the Prince of Wales George V and President Ronald Reagan on his state visit to Ireland.

Dromoland Castle also recently had a presidential visit from George W. Bush. Situated in exquisite grounds in County Clare; Dromoland dates back to the 16th Century and is the ancestral home of the O’Brien Clan and Brian Boru the last High King of Ireland. Like Ashford, Dromoland Castle offers the utmost in five star luxury and is steeped in historic character.

Two other historic Irish castles with a special interest of their own are Glin Castle in County Limerick and Ballygally Castle in County Antrim, both of which are reputed to be haunted castles.

Glin Castle sits on the banks of the River Shannon and this elegant 18th Century castle has been home to the Knights of Glin, the Fitzgerald family for over 700 years. But Glin Castle is also home to a friendly ghost, nicknamed Gerald.
Ballygally Castle is situated along the scenic Antrim coastline and dates back to 1625. The central tower of this stark and austere castle is said to be haunted and though there is a bedroom there, nobody has ever braved the full night.

You’ll find more detailed information on Ireland’s castles and Ireland’s visitor castles throughout this website, and we have put a number of suggested self drive itineraries that enable you to visit Ireland’s top Castles and add that touch of luxury to your Ireland Vacation.

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The most recommended destination to visit some of these old sites is west coast of Ireland, from the south whole the way up to the north. Especially Ring of Kerry, Connemara National Park, and Sligo.

Travel West Coast of Ireland – Wild Atlantic Way

West Coast of Ireland is one of the most beautiful and still un-touched places on the planet, where is very little tourism, probably because of its rough and tough weather conditions affected by Atlantic Ocean.  The weather is so unstable and rapidly changing, that in one minute there could be beautiful sunny day and 2 minutes later cold, wind with rain or hailstones.  You can find almost empty stunning beaches, walk over the top of the hills or be amazed by the beauty of Irish lakes.

Lively Galway may seem glaringly modern at times – a quarter of its population are students – but it is the only large city where one can routinely hear Irish spoken on the streets. The Latin Quarter, situated on the left bank of the River Corrib, is arguably Galway’s most colourful and culturally vibrant area. The city’s best-known and eclectic independently owned shops, pubs, restaurants and hotels are clustered here, as well as Galway’s Saturday Market, Galway City Museum and the internationally acclaimed Druid Theatre Company.

The remainder of Galway is (unsurprisingly, considering its age) a history and heritage treasure trove. To appreciate the city’s storied, bloody history, a guided tour with Gore of Galway is a good idea, recounting tales of hangings, plague, famine and indiscriminate slaughter.

Westport, defined by its pleasing Georgian streetscapes, also offers wide-angle photography bait like Clew Bay and the Croagh Patrick mountain range. It’s a designated Irish Heritage Town and, like Killarney, a frequent winner of the National Tidy Towns Competition and other civic awards.

When you can extract yourself from Westport’s tidiness, a good way to get the heart pumping is with Walking West, an association of qualified marine and countryside guides located in South Connemara, who lead mountain hikes, coastal walks, bog walks and island trips in the Connemara region, incorporating elements of culture, language and heritage.


Mullaghmore, home of world-class surfing. Image by Aonghus Flynn / CC BY 2.0.

Sligo County‘s connection to the sea is omnipresent. Its surfing, especially around Mullaghmore, is world-renowned, and waves swell to 15m high in peak season in late winter and early spring.

More serene diversions in Sligo include pubs, live music and restaurants and businesses that have embraced a locally sourced ingredient – seaweed. You’ll find seaweed in breads, salads and side dishes while dining in the area, but if that’s not enough, you can immerse yourself in the stuff at Voya Seaweed Baths in Strandhill. A 50-minute soak in a tub filled with hot, oily, greenish-brown Atlantic seawater and a bucket of hand-harvested, fresh seaweed is popular with athletes. The high concentrations of iodine in the seaweed fronds is said to be a cure for stresses and strains.

In nearby Grange, the Streedagh Spanish Armada Walk combines culture, maritime archaeology and the story of the ill-fated Spanish fleet that wrecked some 25 ships in the area in the 16th century while fleeing a failed invasion attempt on England – it’s unsigned, but a guiding company like Seatrails ( can help bring the breezy trail to life. The spectacular scenery is an added perk.

Windswept and rugged Donegal County may be an unconventional summer retreat, becoming positively grim in winter, but people that persevere to reach this northerly outcropping of Ireland are rewarded with elbow room and singularly beautiful scenery, like 600m-high Sliabh Liag (aka Slieve League), one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe.

Boat trips take people below the looming cliffs for the imposing view and a chance to spot dolphins, seals and even whales. Hardier souls are invited to take a swim in one of the coves. (Wetsuits provided.) Alternatively, the winding and spectacular drive to the top of the cliffs is rewarded with a breathtaking view of the sea and vast landscape. Steep hiking trails lead even higher up the cliffs.

Barely 15 minutes drive from Sliabh Liag is the Glencolmcille Folk Village, one of Ireland’s best living-history museums. The cottages, furnishings and artefacts are exact replicas of the dwellings and belongings of local people in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Grianan of Aileach, an ancient stone fort. Image by Steve Cadman / CC BY-SA 2.0

The wind gusts around the Grianan of Aileach Ancient Stone Fort (1700 BC), situated on a hilltop 250m above sea level are, frankly, disquieting. People wearing loose or billowing clothing will experience a sensation similar to a kite just before takeoff. The fort has been identified as the seat of the Kingdom of Aileach and one of the royal sites of Gaelic Ireland. Though the base is original, much of the fort has been reconstructed.

One of Donegal’s top cultural sites is the Doagh Famine Village, an outdoor museum dedicated to the period from the Famine of the 1840s through the 1900s and the present. The singular challenges of living in this harsh, remote region during a time of such hardship are sobering. Highly recommended are the guided tours, which are informative, thought-provoking, tragic, and yet funny.

Malin Head, the sunniest place in Ireland. Image by Grace Smith / CC BY 2.0.

For sheer bragging rights, Banba’s Crown on Malin Head, the most northerly point of the Irish mainland, is a good final stop on the Atlantic coast tour. Unexpectedly, this happens to be statistically the sunniest place in Ireland. And among the windiest. An appropriate end to this tour is a pint in Ireland’s most northerly pub, Farren’s Bar Slievebawn in Malin Head.



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