Ireland, the green heart of Europe, is the land of fairies, elves, leprechaun and legends. We visited it several times but with every trip we discovered something new: surprises here are always around the corner. With a national heritage of more than 30,000 fortified buildings of various sizes to mark a landscape made of dramatic cliffs and luscious vegetation, it would take months to visit everything. That’s why we have prepared a list of dream castles in Ireland… according to us. By combining the dots on a map you will find that it is a real “loop road trip” to visit the best castles in Ireland. You can decide whether to dedicate about ten days to this itinerary or if you want to stay longer. You will need to rent a car, but don’t worry, journey times from one city to the other are on average 2:40h. The only exception is the return trip from Mullaghmore to Dublin. It takes about three hours to get back to the capital from Sligo County.
Kylemore Castle, best known as Kylemore Abbey, was founded in 1920 on the grounds of the Benedictine Monastery in Galway County, Connemara, one of the areas in Ireland that we loved the most. The castle was initially designed as a private residence for the family of Henry Mitchell, a wealthy London doctor. When his wife Margaret bought the land near the Abbey, the family decided to move to Ireland.
Dublin Castle is one of the most important historic buildings on the island. However, this is not the only reason why we decided to add it to our list of fairytale castles in Ireland. Apparently, this building has a rather tight connection with the legend of Samhain.
The Dublin Castle was a Gaelic circle fort, a structure that was supposed to serve as a fortification for the citadel that was growing at its feet. The hills surrounding Dublin were often frequented by Pagan sects, guided by the so called “Druids“. It is believed that they began to celebrate Samhain’s rituals as a means of protecting their followers from the evil spirits that infested the Earth immediately after the harvest season.
The Druids thought that during the Halloween night, the veil that separates the land of the living and the land of the dead grew thin, allowing these spirits to cross it. Early deaths in this period were always attributed to some attack by a malevolent spirit, and that is precisely why the Druids were venerated. They had, according to popular beliefs, the power to send back the ghosts to the land of the dead.
As we were told by our guide during the Ghost Tour in Dublin, people gathered in the fort among the hills for the ritual. Huge bonfires were lit here to chase away the ghosts, and the Druids blessed the fire, so every torch brought into every house was going to protect it from the evil spirits. Often people carved faces in the pumpkins, and placed candles inside: they used them to walk around at night during the Samhain period, to avoid any aggression by malicious spirits.
Samhain’s most popular legend is about a man named Jack. At Halloween, he convinced the Devil to climb up a tree. Jack then carved a cross on it, trapping the Devil between the branches. To let him down, he asked never to be tempted again. Yet once he died, Jack was not allowed access to Heaven: he had tricked too many people in his life. The Devil, still offended by what he’d had to endure, didn’t let him in Hell. So Jack’s ghost was forced to wander on Earth, with only one candle in a pumpkin to guide him into the darkest nights.
Looking for more Ireland inspiration? Here’s a useful guide to the best places to visit!
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