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One thing first time visitors to Ireland are always surprised by is the amount of castles scattered around the country. Not limited to cities (although pretty much every city has one too), they are also dotted right across the rolling green landscape, in random fields, beside rivers, on top of hills, and just about everywhere else you care to look! Ireland’s relationship with castles stretches back for several millennia, from he wood and earth makeshift forts of the Celts to the Norman castles of the middle ages, to the lavish stately homes of Lords and Earls in the last few centuries. No matter which castles you end up visiting on your trip, you can be sure to get an insight into the fascinating history and characters of the country. Here are just a few to whet your appetite…
Of all of Ireland’s castles, Dublin castle is the most prestigious and most historically significant, despite only dating from the 18th century. Situated further up the street from Trinity College and a short distance from Christchurch Cathedral. It was once the seat of English power in Ireland until the Irish civil war in 1922. Today it is used for official events such as presidential inaugurations and military ceremonies. Within the castle grounds is the intriguing Chester Beatty Library, a treasure trove of eccentric and eclectic antiquities from all around the world, and a quiet park perfect for a spot of lunch.
The majestic Kilkenny Castle towers over the rest of the city and the river it sits on the edge of. Built in 1195 at the junction of several routeways and for many years was a symbol of Norman occupation, and notable owners include Richard de Clare (also known as the legendary Strongbow) and the Butler family. It has now been expertly restored and the grounds and gardens in particular are a favourite among Kilkenny residents.
Rock of Cashel
The Rock of Cashel is an intimidating and huge stone ruin on top of a steep hill, brooding over the town of Cashel. It looks especially spooky in mist, fog, or rain, and would make the perfect setting for a vampire movie! It was once frequented by Saint Patrick himself, and is probably the best example of medieval architecture in the country (and possibly in Europe). The buildings were built over several centuries and include some monasterial structures and some of the best examples of Celtic art in all of Europe.
Bunratty Castle is the quintessential Irish castle that most people imagine before the see one in real life. (Almost) on the shores of the Atlantic on the County Clare coast, it dates from 13th century and has been kept largely the same since then. Today it is the home of Bunratty Folk Park, an open air museum, and hosts medieval banquets that are an ever popular attraction.
Blarney Castle in county Cork is another hugely popular castle, for one particular reason; the Blarney Stone! If you feel brave enough, you can hang upside-down over a ledge and give it a kiss, and you’ll be rewarded with the ‘gift of the gab’ – or endless charm, in other words. The original castle dates from before 1200 and is definitely somewhere you’ll want to have your camera charfed up for.
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