Last updated on November 24, 2023
Ireland has a chequered and turbulent history. Especially in the Middle Ages, people were very busy raiding others, or protecting themselves from being raided.
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Every Irish clan had at least one castle, often just a square defence tower. Today you see them standing on practically every corner.
When the Normans took Ireland, they pushed the clans back and defended their newfound territory with – you guessed it – new castles. Norman castles are often particularly large, massive and impressively built. They can still be found in other European countries, but also in Ireland.
At the end of the Middle Ages, the new lords of Ireland, the English, had less need to build protective walls than to create magnificent and representative homes for their nobles. They had taken possession of most of the land and pushed the Irish clans even further back into the less fertile landscapes on the west coast.
Castles were elaborately rebuilt and extended and new mansions and palaces were built. Beautiful gardens were laid out and the magnificent houses were adorned with long picture galleries, ornately woven tapestries and splendid furniture and objets d’art.
The square fortified tower, the Norman fortress and the magnificent castle with its dreamlike garden – despite all their differences, they all have one thing in common: in Ireland, it’s simply a castle!
So if you see a sign somewhere in Ireland that points to a castle – it can be anything, a ruin or a magnificent castle!
Even if you’re not really interested in history, I highly recommend visiting one or two castles in Ireland on your motorbike tour and maybe even seeing one or two beautiful castle gardens. It’s really beautiful and just part of this country.
I have put together a colourful selection of castles in Ireland for you below – from castles to manor houses. By the way, I explored the castles on my own motorbike tours. We run a motorbike rental in Ireland, south of Dublin, during the summer months – see: www.easycruiser.tours. We also offer nice guest rooms (www.the-view-accommodation.ie).
1 Cashel Rock
Ireland in the early Middle Ages was divided into 4 kingdoms, Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connaught. These are still used in Irish usage today. Munster was the largest of the four kingdoms and covered the south, south-east and large parts of the Heartlands. The kings of Munster ruled for many generations from a castle on a rock that stood out clearly from the flatter surrounding countryside. The Rock of Cashel. Later the castle was given to the church and a cathedral was built in the middle of the castle, making it the seat of the bishop. This mixture of castle and cathedral is unique in Europe and Cashel Rock is now one of Ireland’s most important historic sites.
2 Kilkenny Castle
Once a wooden castle watching over the trade routes and the River Nore, later a stone castle and still later a magnificent aristocratic seat – Kilkenny Castle has gone through all the phases. The pretty castle stands right in the pretty old town of Kilkenny. The location on the river is beautiful and the castle grounds are freely accessible. The guided tour inside the castle is not too lengthy and really nice.
3 Cahir Castle
I am a self-confessed castle fan and Cahir Castle is one of my favourites. The Norman castle on the river is manageable in size, very well preserved and nice to walk around. The small tour inside is also fun. There is a free motorbike car park in front of the castle (!!!) and a good café directly opposite – the perfect place for a lunch break on the motorbike tour (see cover picture).
4 Blarney Castle
The town of Blarney is near Cork. The castle is actually just a large ruined castle, but it is set in a huge and very beautiful park. There is a second residential castle on the grounds. If the weather is nice, you can stretch your legs here. The castle tower is accessible. If you lie upside down on your back on the battlements and kiss a certain wall stone, you will be given the gift of speech – or so the legend goes. Thousands of tourists try it every year, I don’t know one it works every time… What gift? For the Irish, talking, negotiating and storytelling are very important – that’s probably where it comes from.
5 Bunratty Castle
Just outside Limerick you will find the small town of Bunratty. This was once a Viking trading post controlling the entrance to the River Shannon. The 300km long river was an important trade route for the Vikings. Later, an Irish castle was built here, which was developed into a mighty fortress as the importance of its inhabitants increased. The beautiful, high and massive castle has a very striking architecture and has been featured in numerous films. You can visit it and there is also a park with an open-air museum.
6 Powerscourt House and Gardens
Just outside Dublin, on the northern edge of the Wicklow Mountains, is the Powerscourt Estate. It was built and lived in by an English lord and was designed from the outset to represent and demonstrate the importance of its owner. This is not strictly speaking a Castle, but the term House is complete understatement, for we are talking about a residential Castle. The gardens are very extensive and apart from the obligatory rose garden and the fountain in the pond, there are also very beautiful parklands with old and partly exotic trees and there is also a Japanese garden.
7 Glenveagh Castle
In the wild northwest of Ireland lies the northernmost county of Ireland, Donegal. In the middle of Donegal there is a mountainous region which is also a nature reserve, the Glenveagh National Park. In the middle of the park, at the top of the mountain, there is a picturesque lake surrounded by green hilltops. This is Lough Beagh. On its shore is Glenveagh Castle. It also has a tower, or two to be exact, and walls, but was built as a dwelling house. There is also a garden-park with it. The small castle is very pretty and the location is fantastic!
8 Castle Ward
Strictly speaking, we are now in Northern Ireland, but still on the island of Ireland. Castle Ward has a castle and the remains of a castle on the same large and extensive park grounds on the edge of Strangford Lough. The old castle might look familiar to Game of Thrones fans, as Winterfell Castle was filmed here. You can find it under the name Winterfell on Google Maps today.
Ireland without at least one castle? Not possible! Here are a few castles to choose from that you can include in your motorbike tour in Ireland.
By the way: If you need a motorbike for this, then take a look at www.easycruiser.tours, which is our own motorbike rental south of Dublin.
With this in mind, I wish all steel-steed knights and damsels a wonderful trip to Ireland by motorbike!