6 Fairytale castles in Ireland: myths and legends

6 Fairytale castles in Ireland

 

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.

 

6 Fairytale castles in Ireland
The walled Victorian gardens on the castle grounds at Kylemore

 

Kylemore Castle

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.

The construction of this residence began in 1867: it took a hundred men and four years to complete the work. Kylemore occupies approximately 40.000 square feet and consists of over seventy rooms. Inside there is a large ballroom, a billiard room, a library, a study, a gun room, 33 bedrooms and much more. The Abbey was on the land of Henry Mitchell until the family returned to England. The castle was then sold to the Duke and the Duchess of Manchester in 1909, but they also had to sell it because of their gambling debts. In 1920 the Benedictine Nuns bought the land with the Abbey, the castle and the wonderful Victorian gardens.

Kylemore Castle was heavily bombed during the First World War, and then rebuilt only thanks to the Benedictine community and the donations of private citizens.
This castle is perfect for our list of fairytale castles in Ireland also because of a very interesting legend. It is said that a beautiful white horse would rise from the waters in front of the Abbey every seven years. In 2011, some Kylemore Abbey staff members, on a particularly windy day, claimed to have seen a white horse on the lake’s surface. It was only white foam raised by the strong wind, but the “apparition” only fueled the legend. Kylemore is therefore often referred to as “Pol a Capall“, The Place of the Horse.
6 Fairytale castles in Ireland

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle is a Medieval fortress located near Cork, in the South of Ireland, not far from the River Martin. The scientists date it back to 1200, although nothing remains of the original wooden building. Around 1210 a stone fort was built, and subsequently destroyed in 1446. It was rebuilt again by Cormac Laidir MacCarthy, Lord of Muscry. Despite the siege of 1646 during the Irish Confederate Wars, the castle was returned to Donough MacCarthy, the first Count of Clancarty, after The Restoration.
Throughout history, Blarney Castle has often changed owners, until it got to the Jefferyes family. They built a more modest home right next to the castle, but it got destroyed in a terrible fire. It was rebuilt then as we see it today. The descendants of the Colthurst family, tied to the Jefferyes because of a wedding, still live at Blarney House. 
Blarney, unavoidable in our list of fairytale castles in Ireland, can be visited for 15 €. However, if you buy your tickets online, you will get a 1 € discount per ticket!
Currently, only a few of the rooms are accessible, and you can see the “Blarney Stone” on top. The legend claims that if you kiss this stone upside down over a sheer drop (beware, it is very dangerous!), you will be granted the gift of eloquence. Clearly the legend got particularly popular, because many world leaders, including Sir Winston Churchill, and celebrities like Mick Jagger or Laurel and Hardy, kissed the stone in the hopes of receiving the precious gift. For some, it’s only thanks to Blarney Stone if Laurel and Hardy became two of the greatest silent actors to make the transition into spoken acting!
6 Fairytale castles in Ireland

Classiebawn Castle

The Classiebawn Castle is a Victorian mansion. It was built by the Viscount Palmerston on an estate of about 10.000 acres on the Mullaghmore Peninsula in County Sligo. The castle as we see it today was expanded in the nineteenth century.
This magnificent manor was designed in the Baronial style and built with a beautiful yellow-brown sandstone, transported by sea from County Donegal. The tall central tower is dominated by a conical roof that immediately made us think of the tower in which Merlin the wizard and his faithful owl pet Archimedes were exiled, in the Disney version of The sword in the stone. Look, can you see his pointed hat up there?
Even this castle, like many others, has seen dramatic events and has changed owners over and over again, remaining empty for over thirty years. It was Edwina Mountbatten, Countess of Mount Batten of Burma, along with her husband, who fixed this beautiful building, providing it with electricity and a main water supply. After the death of his wife, Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, spent all of his Summers here, until his death. His ship was blown up by IRA in 1979. Someone says his ghost is still haunting the great halls of this castle, unable to find peace due to his violent death.
We have decided to add the Classiebawn Castle to our list of fairytale castles in Ireland, even if you can’t get inside. In fact, we recommend you to drive to the Mullaghmore peninsula. The area is spectacular, even (especially?) with a moody sky!
6 Fairytale castles in Ireland

Doonagore Castle

The first thing I thought when I saw Doonagore Castle, and that’s the reason why I had to add it to this list of fairytale castles in Ireland, was… the tower of Rapunzel. You would never say I’m slightly Disney-obsessed, right?

This manor dates back to the sixteenth century and consists only of a tower protected by a high wall. It is about one km away from the coastal village of Doolin, in County Clare. The name might have come from the Celtic “Dun na Gabhair” which means “the fort of the rounded hills”. It’s located on the top of a hill from which you can enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of Doolin Point. The tower was also used as a navigational point from sailors approaching the Doolin Pier.
Once there was an ancient fortress dating back to the fourteenth century on these lands, but there are no remains of that one. The present structure is a real cylindrical tower house, one of the three of this type located in the Burren region. The others are Newton Castle and Faunarooska near Fanore. Built with sandstone, it originally had four floors, a cellar and a mezzanine between the first and the second floor. The doorway was protected by a machicolation connected to the wall walk. Unfortunately today it’s a private residence and it is not possible to get inside (although I would have loved to see the inside of a cylindrical house!). The beauty of this clearly atypical castle and the location are worth a bit of your time anyway. After all … it’s pretty close to the Cliffs of Moher!
6 Fairytale castles in Ireland

Kilkenny Castle

In Italy when people say “Kilkenny” the first thing you think … is a nice pint of beer. Yet here we’re talking of a beautiful and impressive castle built in 1195 in a strategic point to control main roads and the Nore River. A symbol of Norman occupation, Kilkenny Castle has been an important element of the city defenses for the longest time.

The visit of the castle and the gardens will take at least a good couple of hours. The ticket costs 8 € for adults and can be purchased directly on site. Inside, it is possible to take photos without flash for personal use, but you aren’t allowed to shoot any kind of video.

You may be wondering why we put it in the list of fairytale castles in Ireland. Well, it’s not just beautiful… it’s also one of the most haunted castles in Ireland. Yes, you got it right! Over the years, paranormal stories about this castle have increased in number, and in some cases have been passed over from generation to generation. The same Kilkenny Castle management contributes to it: along the corridors in the castle you will find very disturbing photographs of haunted houses, castles and places in Ireland (some are particularly creepy).

Paranormal stories about Kilkenny have a common denominator: they are based on tragic historical facts that have actually happened on the castle grounds.
One of the bridges, John’s Bridge, collapsed after the flood of 1763, causing the death of 16 people. There are still some who swear that they have seen scary ghosts in this area trying to escape towards the castle to rescue themselves, repeating in an eternal loop their last moments on Earth.

Kilkenny Castle, which we have seen half hidden by the fog, is a spooky place: when there aren’t too many tourists and you are surrounded by silence, especially in the early morning, the ghost stories everyone is talking about will come back to scare you. After all, it seems that this castle, according to the locals, is some kind of catalyst that holds the souls of all the people who died on its premises.

 

6 Fairytale castles in Ireland

 

Dublin Castle

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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6 Fairytale castles in Ireland

 

32 Comments

  1. Marcie

    My Irish great-grandmother kissed the Blarney Stone when she was in her 80s! She told me about this when I was little and I remember thinking how gross it was to kiss a stone that so many others had kissed. But now, it’s high on my list of places to see! These castles looks gorgeous and much more intriguing now that I know the backstories!

    1. Oh gosh! Did she make it? I’d feel pretty scared and just like you I was grossed out thinking that so many others had put their lips on it! Yet Blarney Castle is a pretty interesting sight, and it’s not too far away from Cork and Cobh, so the area offers lots of nice places to go to!

  2. For me the most beautiful castle form the list of 6 fairytale castles is the Victorian Classiebawn Castle, it’s a stunner! The most interesting is the Tower of Rapunzel, Doonagore Castle. I wouldn’t like to stay overnight at Kilkenny Castle with all the paranormal stories! Your photos of the fairytale castles are wonderful.

  3. These castles are beautiful! I had only heard of Blarney Castle before because of the stone – and whilst I knew the myth, I’ve never been keen on kissing the thing myself as I can think when someone mentions it, is ‘eww, germs’. I’d hate to think how many had placed their lips there before!

  4. Marissa Abao

    I like all of the castles that you have featured. They are wonderful. I wish I can visit them all someday.
    I have seen photos of tourists kissing the Blarney Stone. Have you kissed it? The Doonagre castle reminds me of Rapunzel too. It looks fascinating! The location is perfect for a fairy tale movie.

    1. I haven’t kissed the Blarney Stone because I’m terrified of heights and it didn’t feel particularly safe… and… germs! We didn’t particularly feel like putting our lips on the stone where so many people had placed theirs! Oh the Doonagre Castle was also one of my top 3! It’s so underrated because you can’t get inside, but I still think it makes some great Irish photos and besides it’s also in a convenient location!

  5. Jenni Sheldon

    I have never been to Ireland but would love to go and spend some time in a castle that would be so cool. I think I would like to stay in the Kilkenny Castle as I like a good ghost story and if it is the most haunted castle I might get to see something spooky. Although I might not get any sleep!!

  6. Ambuj Saxena

    Love reading about the history behind a place and if the place is a castle, it’s even better! I loved reading up about all the castles but Kilkenny castle was the one that captured my imagination.. after all it’s the most haunted one! Though i have a weak heart but a nicely written description is always a good read!

    1. Me too! I love visiting places that have a history, and thus I always tend to write about them because I’m so excited when I find a good one! Maybe it’s because my mom is a history teacher? 😀
      I must confess… that walking through Kilkenny scared me half to death! It’s such a spooky castle!

    1. Haha Kilkenny was such a spooky castle! I was clinging to my husband and they added to it by putting all these photos of the most haunted places in the world, just in case you forgot that you might find ghosts in the area! 😀 Yet if you visit when there’s a lot of fog… you never know what you’ll find!

    1. Thank you Clare, I’m glad you like reading my articles! I always try to convey my emotions through them, even if it’s not always easy using a second language so I’m happy I’m not too bad at it! 🙂 I hope you get to visit Ireland soon, you’ll fall in love with this beautiful Country!

    1. You need to plan a trip there, you wouldn’t be disappointed! I have friends who live in Ireland, one in Cork and another one in Enniskerry, near Dublin, so I try to go visit them as often as I can. Yet because these last two years I’ve been so busy, I haven’t managed to 🙁 My friend in Cork tells me that the weather there during Summer is like a neverending Spring and I’m envying him so much! Here in Napoli it’s a furnace! 😀

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