One of the most common questions that we get asked is ‘What are the best castles in Ireland’.
However, for one reason or another, we’ve never bashed out a guide to the best Irish castles… so, here we are!
In the guide below, you’ll discover the mightiest castles in Ireland, from cliffside ruins on the Antrim coast to medieval fortresses in Limerick.
The Best Castles in Ireland
- Classiebawn Castle
- McDermott’s Castle
- Doonagore Castle
- Clough Oughter Castle
- Dunluce Castle
- Kinbane Castle
- Cú Chulainn’s Castle
- Leap Castle (the Most Haunted Castle in Ireland)
- Tully Castle
- Charleville Castle
- Birr Castle
- Kilkenny Castle
- Dublin Castle
- King John’s Castle
- Trim Castle
- Cahir Castle
- Belfast Castle
- Carrickfergus Castle
- Blarney Castle (yes, it’s home to the Blarney Stone)
- Bunratty Castle
- Ross Castle (Killarney Castle)
- Lismore Castle
- Ashford Castle
- Blackrock Castle
- Slane Castle
- Glenveagh Castle
- The Rock of Cashel
1. Classiebawn Castle
You’ll find our first Irish castle in the village of Mullaghmore in County Sligo where it looks like something that’s been plucked straight from a fairytale.
Classiebawn Castle was built by Viscount Palmerston, who was once Prime Minister of the UK. Construction of the castle finished in 1874 and it was built primarily from stone from Donegal.
The castle passed through a number of hands over the years. Arguably the most notable moment in its history came when a relative of the Royal Family was assassinated nearby. Read more in our guide to Classiebawn Castle.
2. McDermott’s Castle
Our next structure is one of the most unique castles Ireland has to offer. You’ll find the very magical looking McDermott’s Castle in County Roscommon on the waters of Lough Key.
Lough Key is home to over 30 islands but none compare to one known as ‘Castle Island’. It’s on Castle Island that the ruins of McDermott’s Castle can be found.
If you read our guide to McDermott’s Castle, you’ll learn about the tragic incident that took place here many years ago between a young couple along with how you can visit during your trip to Ireland.
3. Doonagore Castle
I’ve visited Doolin on many different occasions over the years, but it wasn’t until my most recent visit in late 2019 that I visited Doonagore Castle in County Clare. The first castle here was built during the 14ht century on the site of a ringfort.
The castle that stands today dates to the mid-16th century and is what’s known as a tower house. Doonagore passed through many hands over the years. In 1588, a ship from the Spanish Armada crashed near the castle.
Although the 170 passengers survived, they were all hanged. Yes, all 170 were killed… Discover more about the incident and the history of the building in our guide to Doonagore Castle.
4. Clough Oughter Castle
Clough Ougther Castle is, in my opinion, one of the best castles in Ireland. It’s unique, surrounded by natural beauty and it has an interesting story attached to it.
You’ll find the castle in County Cavan, next to the picturesque Killykeen Forest Park. Over the years, Clough Oughter fell under the control of many different clans. It also fell under the control of the rebels.
In 1641, the castle was seized during the Irish Rebellion and it was turned into an island fortification. Interestingly enough, at one point, it was also used as a prison. Read more about it in our guide to Clough Oughter Castle.
5. Dunluce Castle
You’ll find the romantic aul ruins of Dunluce Castle perched on dramatic cliffs along County Antrim’s craggy coastline. A source of wanderlust for travellers the world over, castle don’t come much more unique than this.
According to legend, on a particularly stormy night in 1639, part of the castle’s kitchen next to the cliff face collapsed into the icy waters below.
The castle’s unique appearance and quirky legend have seen it receive enormous attention online in recent years. I’ve been here twice over the years and you can admire it from the outside or take a tour.
6. Kinbane Castle
Kinbane Castle is another unique medieval castle in Northern Ireland. You’ll find the castle on a little rocky promontory that juts out into the sea known as Kinbane Head.
It was built around 1547 and, although it’s now in ruins, is well worth a visit if you’re driving along the Causeway Coastal Route.
The ruins are isolated, the castle tends to get only a handful of visitors and the scenery that engulfs you as you walk around the ruins is absolutely breath-taking.
7. Cú Chulainn’s Castle
Yes, Cú Chulainn’s Castle! Dún Dealgan Motte (often referred to as Cú Chulainn’s Castle) in County Louth can be found on a ridge overlooking the waters of Castletown River.
According to legend, the mighty Irish warrior Cú Chulainn used Dún Dealgan Motte as a base when he was attacking the forces of Queen Meave of Connacht.
Other tales say that this was the birthplace of Cú Chulainn. If you’re visiting Ireland and looking for castles slightly off the beaten track near Dublin, get yourself here – it’s well worth the visit!
8. Leap Castle (the Most Haunted Castle in Ireland)
Leap Castle is widely regarded as the most haunted castle in Ireland. Legend has it that a lady in red prowls the castle with a silver blade at night.
Another reason the castle is believed to be haunted is due to a discovery made in the early 1900s. A secret dungeon was found behind a wall in the chapel that contained hundreds of human skeletons.
Grim to say the least! Read more about one of the most haunted castles in Ireland in our guide to Leap Castle (not for the faint-hearted!).
9. Tully Castle
Tully Castle is another medieval structure with a horrifically bloody history attached to it. You’ll find it in County Fermanagh on the southern shore of Lough Erne.
The castle was built in 1619 on land that was seized from an Irish family during the plantation and it was made into a home by a Scottish family called the Humes.
During the Irish Rebellion, the family that owned the land sought revenge. One of the owners, Rory Maguire, visited the castle with a group of men and killed 60 women and children and 15 men that were inside.
10. Charleville Castle
You’ll find Charleville Castle just outside Tullamore in Offaly. The castle was built in the 1600s and it’s incredibly well preserved. Legend has it that the castle is haunted by the ghost of a little girl named Harriet.
It’s said that Harriet died tragically in the castle in 1861 and sightings of her ghost have been reported many times over the years. A little girl ghost… bricks shat.
11. Birr Castle
There has been a fortress on the site of the mighty Birr Castle since 1170. Interestingly enough, the castle is still inhabited by the same family that bought it in 1620.
So, althought you can take a tour of Birr, the residential areas of the castle are not open to the public. One of the most unique features of Birr Castle is its giant telescope.
It was built in the 1840s and for many years it was the largest telescope in the world. Between 1845-1914, people from all over the world travelled to Birr Castle to use the telescope.
12. Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle is a place that tends to make it onto the itineraries of many of those visiting Ireland, with hundreds of thousands of tourists and locals visiting its grounds each year.
The castle here was built in 1195 in order to ensure the protection of a point of the nearby River Nore that was shallow enough for potential enemies to walk through.
The castle was given to the people of Kilkenny in 1967 for the fine sum of £50 and it’s now a major tourist attraction that boasts some finely-manicured grounds that are perfect for a ramble around.
13. Dublin Castle
When it comes to castles Dublin is best known for one (even though there are plenty more Dublin castles worth visiting). You’ll find it on Dame Street in Dublin City Centre on the site of a Viking Fortress.
If you’re visiting Dublin and looking to visit the castle, you can have a stroll around the grounds or take a peek inside the State Apartments, Medieval Undercroft and Chapel Royal.
I’ve been here recently and it’s well worth the visit! The Dublin Castle that stands today survived the devastation of the 1916 rebellion and the subsequent Civil War.
14. King John’s Castle
You’ll find King Johns Castle on King’s Island in the heart of Limerick City where it overlooks the River Shannon. Similar to Dublin Castle, King John’s is also situated on a site that was home to a Viking settlement.
The construction of the castle was ordered by King John during 1200 and it is now widely regarded as one of Europe’s best-preserved Norman castles.
You’ll catch brilliant views from high up on the actual battlements themselves. Those who make the short climb will be treated to a 360 panorama of the city and the River Shannon.
15. Trim Castle
Trim Castle, in my opinion, is the best castle in Ireland. I live an hour drive from this place and, no matter how many times I visit, it never fails to deliver that Good-God-it-really-is-incredible moment.
You’ll find Trim Castle on the shores of the ancient River Boyne, where it has been since 1176. Once the largest castle in Ireland, Trim occupies a 30,000 m² site in County Meath.
If you’ve ever watched the movie Braveheart with Mel Gibson, you may recognise Trim Castle as one of the castles used in the film. You can take a tour of the castle grounds and one of the towers, also!
16. Cahir Castle
The incredible 13th-15th century Cahir Castle, which was once the stronghold of the Butler family, is widely regarded as one of Ireland’s best-preserved castles. It can be found on a rocky island on the River Suir in Tipperary.
The castle was skilfully designed to be a state-of-the-art defensive castle and, over the course of many years, it was rebuilt and extended. It wasn’t until 1599 that the castle reached its current state.
A visit to Cahir Castle will immerse you in the eventful history of the castle, from when it was built from 1142 by Conor O’Brien right the way up to when it was declared a national monument.
17. Belfast Castle
The fairytale-like Belfast Castle can be found on the lower slope of Cave Hill country park in Belfast City. This is arguably one of the most unique castles in Northern Ireland, thanks to its stunning location.
Those that visit Belfast Castle can admire views of the city below while also checking out a variety of plant and wildlife, from long-eared owls and sparrowhawks to Belfast’s rarest plant, the Town Hall Clockto.
The tour of Belfast Castle is free and those that visit will be treated to an insight into the history of the castle, from the original building (which was located in the city) to the present structure.
18. Carrickfergus Castle
The mighty Carrickfergus Castle is arguably the finest (it’s definitely one of the most visited, anyway!) of the many castles in Northern Ireland. You’ll find it in the town of Carrickfergus in Antrim, on the shores of Belfast Lough.
The castle was built in 1177 by John de Courcy and, over the years, it saw plenty of action. In 1210, Carrickfergus was seized by King John. In 1689 it was involved in the week-long ‘Siege of Carrickfergus’.
Later, in 1760, it was looted by the French. Then, in 1797, it was used to contain prisoners of war. Visitors can take a ramble around the castle and explore what was once a medieval stronghold.
19. Blarney Castle (yes, it’s home to the Blarney Stone)
Blarney Castle tends to often be referred to as a ‘tourist trap’, but that couldn’t be further from the case. OK, if you’re only visiting the castle to see the Blarney Stone, then you may be disappointed.
However, Blarney has MUCH more to offer than a stone that gives the gift of the gab. The extensive grounds and the many unique features of Blarney make it a joy to visit.
Those that saunter around Blarney can visit the Witch’s kitchen, the magic steps, one of the only poison gardens in Ireland and plenty more. Discover what else it has to offer in our guide to Blarney Castle.
20. Bunratty Castle
Bunratty Castle is a tourist favourite, thanks to its close proximity to Shannon Airport, which makes it the first stop for many tourists flying into that corner of Ireland.
As you walk around Bunratty Castle and gaze up at its vast walls, it’s hard to not be knocked a little with the knowledge that the ground you’re walking on was once frequented by Vikings in 970.
The current Bunratty castle was built in 1425 and it’s said to be one of the most complete castles of Ireland that remains standing today. Learn more about this castle and the unique tours it offers in our guide to Bunratty Castle.
21. Ross Castle (Killarney Castle)
Ross Castle in Killarney is up there as one of the best castles Ireland has to offer, thanks to its location in the stunning Killarney National Park.
This 15th century structure can be found perched on the edge of a lake, a stones-throw from Muckross Abbey. It was built by a chap named O’Donoghue Mór and, according to legend, his spirit lies in slumber beneath the nearby lake.
It’s said that on the first morning of May every 7 years, his spirit circles the lake on a white horse. It’s said that those that see him will receive good luck for the rest of their life. Not bad for a little souvenir to leave Ireland with!
22. Lismore Castle
Lismore Castle in County Waterford is another of the many Irish castles that tends to get overshadowed by the ‘big boys’, like Trim and Kilkenny.
Lismore was constructed in 1185 by Prince John to guard the nearby river crossing and it originally housed Lismore Abbey. The castle is now home to some magnificent gardens that stretch across 7 lush acres.
You can head for a ramble around the extensive gardens while soaking up some spectacular views of the castle and the surrounding countryside at the same time.
Interestingly enough, the castle is available to rent out exclusively… I can’t even begin to imagine how much that’d set you back, but it definitely wouldn’t be cheap!
24. Ashford Castle
If you read our guide to the best castle hotels in Ireland, you’ll have seen me bang on about the very swanky 800-year-old Ashford Castle.
Once a privately owned medieval castle, Ashford is now a luxury hotel and is part of the celebrated ‘Leading Hotels of the World’ group. Now, you don’t have to stay here to visit – you can enter the grounds (for a fee) and head for a ramble.
Previously owned by the Guinness family, Ashford Castle featured heavily as a backdrop in the movie the Quiet Man, starring Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne.
24. Blackrock Castle
Blackrock Castle in County Cork is one that tends to get missed by many exploring the county. This impressive structure is a handy 2km from Cork City, where it’s sat right next to the River Lee.
This castle dates to the 16th century and it was originally built to protect upper Cork Harbour and port from intruders.
Fast forward a few hundred years later and the castle is now home to an international award-winning science centre that’s open to the public. There are heaps of permanent and visiting exhibitions that you can have a nosey at here.
25. Slane Castle
You’ll find Slane Castle in County Meath on a 1,500-acre estate in the heart of the magnificent Boyne Valley, where its been since the 18th century.
Interestingly enough, Slane Castle has been home to the same family since it was built. The Conyngham’s have lived in the castle from when it was first constructed to the present day.
I’ve heard great things about the tour of Slane Castle. Visitors can get an insight into the history of the castle while also hearing about the many concerts that have been held there over the years.
26. Glenveagh Castle
There are few castles in Ireland with a location that’s as mighty as Glenveagh Castle in Donegal. Built between 1867 and 1873, Glenveagh Castle is finely placed on the shores of Lough Veagh.
The castle’s location was inspired by the Victorian idyll of a romantic highland retreat. Surrounded by mountains, the castle offers breath-taking views of what is now one of the most beautiful National Park’s in Ireland.
Glenveagh Castle was designed by a lad named John Townsend Trench, for his wealthy owner, John George Adair. There are tours of the castle offered through peak season.
27. The Rock of Cashel
The Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary has graced the cover of a million postcards. Often referred to as Saint Patrick’s Rock, it’s believed that it was here that Ireland’s Patron Saint converted King Aenghus in the 5th century.
The Rock of Cashel, which was once the seat of the High Kings of Munster, can be admired from afar when you’re just entering the town, and you can also explore it on a guided tour.
Although many of the buildings that remain in place today date back to the 12th and 13th century, the history of the site upon which it stands stretches back much further. This is well worth a visit when you’re exploring County Tipperary.
What Castles in Ireland have we Missed?
People often ask ‘how many castles are in Ireland’ – the answer? There are LOTS! It’s believed that Ireland is home to over 30,000 castles in fact.
Some, like Ashford Castle and the Rock of Cashel, are huge fortresses and tower houses, while others are tiny, like many of the ones you’ll find in our guide to castles in Dublin.
We’ve left many Irish castles out of the guide above. Places like Malahide Castle, Dromoland Castle and Menlo Castle in Galway didn’t make the list, but not for any real reason!
I tried to fit what are, in my opinion, the best castles Ireland has to offer. If you think there’s a castle that needs to be added sharpish, let me know in the comments below!