Visiting Irish Castle Ruins
Wherever you go in Ireland, there will always be a medieval
Irish castle ruin somewhere close by.
Visiting them can quickly become an obsession. When we
started this project, we had no idea just how addictive medieval castles would be!
Kinlough Castle, County Galway
Ballindiff Castles on the shores of Lough Corrib on an atmospheric November day.
Visiting castles is a great thing to do with kids. It
fosters the imagination and it creates lasting memories. Our kids love these
excursions and we would recommend them to anyone.
You become very
curious about the history of these places, and you wonder how people
lived back then and what was important to them. Great questions to ask!
There is a lot, of course, that you can find out online, but it is always worth asking older people in the locality about local stories connected with the place. The oral tradition is alive and well in Ireland, and can bring history to life.
Ballycurrin Castle in County Mayo
What You Can Expect To See
- Many castles found their demise after the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland.
Cromwell’s policy was to destroy the battlements of castles which of course
were crucial to their defence, as well as the spiral staircases. With both of
those actions, the castle was rendered useless. You will indeed find a lot of
castle ruins with broken stairs.
Ballysnahina Castle, County Mayo
- You will find little gems here and there, for example beautiful
cut-stone decorations like the ones above at Hackett Castle in County Galway.
- You’ll soon be able to identify the structure of these
castles, where the garderobes would
have been located, for example, and how they were drained, or where the oubliette was, or the great hall. Because the great hall in most Irish castles featured a central hearth well into the 16th century, the great hall was most often at the top of the castle, but there are exceptions. In fact, you will find that every tower house castle is unique in some way. There was no such thing as mass production back then!
- Look out for defensive features such as loop windows for archers and those that have been extended to accommodate muskets like the one above at the Desmond Castle, County Limerick. Look out for the battlements, the batter, the location of the entrance door and how that was defended, and try to imagine what life was like inside the castle walls.
- We have found a lot of castle ruins that are located on
working farms. You’ll see farm equipment parked against them, or parts of the
castle used as storage areas for agricultural items. The most extreme example of
this we have seen was a water tank located on top of a precious medieval castle
ruin that played a crucial part in Irish history and should, by all rights, be made a
national monument- the Desmond Castle at Lough Gur seen on the photo above.
Headford Castle, County Galway
Kiltrogue Castle, County Galway
What To Bring
Wellingtons and rain gear will come in useful most times of
the year. Some land can get very water logged.
Bring a camera, for sure!
It’s always advisable to carry a good ordinance survey map
of the area you are visiting. Spending those few Euros will be the best
investment ever as it helps you to locate little gems like castle ruins.
And don’t forget your picnic.
An Example Of A Castle Ruin
Moygara Castle near Monasterden, County Sligo is a fine example of an early Irish castle. When the site was captured by the Norman De Lacy family from the Gaelic O'Gara Clan early in the 13th century, there were already fortifications of some sort present. The Normans probably started the castle, but some fifty years later the site was recaptured by the O'Gara's who then managed to hold onto it until the late 16th century. Carbon dating results of the castle for different parts came back with dates varying between 1220 and 1650 suggesting that the castle was rebuilt after attacks, and modernized over the entire period of its' use.
What To Look Out For
Most castle ruins tend to be on private land. If you can
locate the landowner, it’s good to ask if it is okay to visit the castle. Some,
who perhaps take an interest in history, can be very forthcoming, others will
allow you in reluctantly, and there are many shades in between.
As always, treat the place with respect, leave no trace and leave everything in place.
Off you go and have some castle-fun and give us some social attention please if you enjoyed this page!
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