How many Castles are in Ireland?

The rugged landscape of Ireland, blanketed in lush green fields, banked by battered cliffs and dotted with castles and ruins, might feel like something from a made-up fairytale, but it’s actually a reality.

Obviously the modern 21st century Ireland we now live in also has bustling cities, motorway links and all the normal amenities you’d expect, but beyond city or town limits you’ll generally find memories of the past aren’t too far away.

Castles and castle hotels are ideal for Irish travel and experiences with a twist; Ireland has many throughout the countryside. Whether you’re looking for castle towers, romantic ruined castles, Irish castle hotels, castles of old Irish Chieftains, or even haunted.

Let’s dig into the numbers, the history and the stories.

How many Castles are in Ireland?

In Ireland, there are approximately 30,000 castles and castle ruins.

You can’t go far in Ireland without a beautiful view of a castle on the Emerald Isle. For such a small place, 30,000 castles is astounding, so if you’re looking for a cozy night away in a castle, a place to explore ruins, or somewhere to sit back and admire an ancient view, Ireland is the place to go.

The History of Irish Castles

Unlike other in other European nations, Ireland had no clearly defined royalty, so castles were usually built for Clan Chiefs or Anglo-Norman settlers as large fortified homes. This type of construction dated between the 11th – 15th centuries when they were numerous invasions and attempts to conquer Ireland. Essentially, castles were built by the rich and powerful.

Earthen Motes were first used by the Anglo-Normans as fortifications when they invaded Ireland. However, they soon discovered to protect their conquest, more extensive and robust holds were needed. 

A fine example of an Anglo-Norman castle is Ashford Castle in County Galway. Ashford Castle was built by the de Burgo clan in 1228. The de Burgo’s also created the most substantial castle in Connacht, the Ballymote Castle, which has over 300 years of violent history.

Years after this occurred, the Irish Chieftains copied the Anglo-Norman design and built their castles in a similar fashion. Examples include the Donegal Castle, built in 1474, and the Mac-Sweeney clan, who created the Doe castle also in the 1400s.

Why are Irish Castles Designed a Certain Way?

Locations of the castles were selected carefully with a strategic position in mind because the place played a huge part in who would win the battle. It was popular to build castles beside a river, on a hill, or around the coastline, so they were by the sea on one side. Many castles, such as the Donegal Castle and the Blarney Castle, were also built over the top of fortifications.

What was the First Castle in Ireland?

Because many castles were built in Ireland around similar periods, this is a tricky question to answer.

It can be difficult to accurately date when they were made and first occupied. However, one of the oldest castles in Ireland is Killyleagh Castle (with some parts of the construction dating back to 1180), located in Northern Ireland, in County Down.

John de Coury, a Norman, built the first fortifications on the site in a defense effort against the Vikings. At the time, the Vikings were still a very present threat. 

Trim Castle is another castle built in a similar period, sitting on the banks of the River Boyne, located in County Meath. Trim Castle was used as a Norman administrative hub, and it remains very much the same, with a few renovations.

Popular Tourist Attraction Castles in Ireland

Not every castle on the Emerald Isle is the same, and every remaining castle is slightly different now in 21st century Ireland.

Some are popular tourist attractions, where visitors can explore the history and legacy of the clans and families behind them. Others lay in ruin, desolate and crumbled on private land, whilst others have been renovated into high-end luxury resorts, hotels and spa destinations.

We’ve listed a few below for your own further exploration.

Blarney Castle:

Blarney Castle is located in Cork and is home to the Blarney Stone. Blarney Stone is a limestock block built around 600 years ago and carries the legend that anyone who kisses it is blessed with flattery, or that classic Irish “gift of the gab”.

It was built by King of Munster Dermot McCarthy and replaced a stone building that replaced an earlier wooden structure.

Blarney Castle is an excellent place to visit in the summertime because it is surrounded by countryside that you can explore. It also hosts live music events regularly, including orchestras, choirs, and local bands.

Slane Castle:

Slane Castle is famous throughout Ireland, amongst locals, but not for reasons you might think…

The castle, owned by the Conyngham family and first built in the 18th century, is famous for hosting huge outdoor concerts over the decades with stars including U2, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and more all playing across the years.

The castle also regularly hosts tours for tourists and visitors, but be sure to double-check beforehand.

Carrickfergus Castle:

Potentially competing with Killyleagh as the oldest castle in Ireland, Carrickfergus Castle was built by John de Courcy back in 1177 but was first mentioned in official records in 1430. Carrickfergus Castle also welcomes many tourists throughout the year and you’ll be able to quickly step back in time, just outside of Belfast where the castle is located.

Bunratty Castle:

Bunratty Castle is located in the center of Bunratty Village, Clare. Over the years this castle has hosted many well-known Irish families over the years, such as the O’Briens and the MacNamara’s. They had a herd of more than 3000 deer at one point in the grounds of the castle!

Dunluce Castle:

Dunluce Castle, situated on the rugged hills of the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland, regularly welcomes thousands of visitors every year. The castle was built by the MacDonnell clan in the 13th century and is famous for the legend of a kitchen (part of the castle) falling into the sea from the steep clifftop on which it rested.

Other famous castles to visit:

  • Ballynagowan/Smithstown Castle
  • Leameneh Castle
  • Knappogue Castle
  • Doonagore Castle
  • Dromoland Castle
  • Dysert O’Dea Castle
  • Blackrock Castle Observatory
  • Barryscourt Castle
  • Desmond Castle
  • Belvelly Castle
  • Macroom Castle
  • Dublin Castle
  • Howth Castle
  • Malahide Castle
  • Swords Castle
  • Ardgillan Castle
  • Rathfarnham Castle
  • Dalkey Castle
  • Drimnagh Castle
  • Clontarf Castle
  • Newgrange Castle
  • Belfast Castle
  • Inch Abbey
  • Narrow Water Castle
  • Audley’s Castle

If you plan on visiting Ireland, stay in or visit some of our famous castles to add another level to your travels.