Some say that there are over 30,000 castles in some shape or form in Ireland.
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Whatever the actual number is, there’s no doubt that Ireland has its fair share of ancient castles.
When you think of the hundreds of years of Irish history that includes the construction of castles and other fortresses created not only by the Gaelic clans to protect themselves from invaders but additional castles and towers built by the invaders themselves, it’s really not at all surprising.
While many of Ireland’s castles are tourist attractions — Blarney Castle in Co. Cork, Bunratty Castle in Co. Clare, King John’s Castle in Limerick and Trim Castle in Co. Meath comes to mind — there are several castles dotted across Ireland that have been renovated and now serve as a unique form of self-catering accommodation.
Here are 5 self-catering castles suitable for both couples and larger groups.
The latter option works out well if you are interested in sharing the expense of a castle stay in Ireland between friends and a few other families.
Some of the castles mentioned in this blog post are also popular wedding destinations.
Turin Castle, Kilmaine, Co. Mayo
While the early history of Turin Castle has been lost, it is believed that it once belonged to the powerful House of de Burgh (Burke), a family that ruled Connacht for centuries and who adopted many of the ways of the Gaelic clans.
They also happen to be the same dynasty that founded Galway City.
The one most responsible for building the defensive tower was possibly Richard de Burgh, whose father arrived in Ireland in 1185 with King Henry II of England.
Richard was widely known as “The Red Earl.”
In fact, a building called The Hall of the Red Earl is named after the said Richard, which was unearthed in Galway City several years ago.
Turin wasn’t the only castle built by the de Burgh family.
Some research claims that this area had the highest concentrations of castles in all of Connaught by the middle of the 16th century.
The castles were built strategically by the de Burghs for defensive purposes and to hold on to their power in the West of Ireland as sheep farmers who sold hides, meat, and wool to Europe.
The castle, now run by Brendan and Marnie Farrell, was abandoned for over 200 years but today, it is a wonderful self-catering accommodation that is suitable for up to 12 people.
Some of the highlights of this five-story ancient tower house include the Great Hall, no doubt a place where the family ate and entertained guests, like many of the Anglo-Norman royalty at the time.
The room contains a huge stone fireplace with a vaulted 20-foot ceiling.
Several bedrooms decorated in the medieval style add to the charm of this unique accommodation.
Explore all the nooks and crannies in this fascinating place and truly take a journey back in time. You’ll find all the conveniences of 21st-century life here, too.
Expect to pay €3,400/$3,707 US/£2,904 Sterling/$5,020 CAD/$5,784 AUD for 12 people for a week’s stay at the 7-bedroom, 5-bath Turin Castle (self-catering).
Shorter stays are also available at certain times of the year.
You can book directly on the castle website or on Airbnb.
Nearby Attractions: The Quiet Man Cottage Museum, Cong, Connemara National Park, Lough Corrib islands, including the island of Inchagoill where Saint Patrick is said to have spent time.
Nearest Town: Ballinrobe
Helen’s Tower, Bangor, Co. Down
Helen’s Tower, located in the rolling hills of County Down, is an entirely different kind of stay but will still give you the experience of staying in a castle.
The charming 3-story stone tower, which is suitable for two people, is located in the woods of the Clandeboye Estate and is considered a 19th-century folly.
The building, in the Scottish Baronial style, was originally built between 1848 and 1850 as a famine relief project on the orders of Frederick Temple Blackwood, the 5th Baron of Dufferin and Clandeboye.
It was named after his mother Helen, who died at age 43.
It was originally intended as a lookout tower but later became a shrine to her memory and to the poems that she wrote.
Those and the writings of other poets are engraved on metal plates, which can be found in an octagonal room on the third floor of the castle.
An exact replica of this tower can be found in Thiepval, Northern France, called the Ulster Tower.
It is dedicated to the men of the 36th Ulster Division who died at the Battle of the Somme and who trained on the grounds of Helen’s Tower before going off to fight in World War I.
A cool feature of the tower includes a spiral stone staircase, a rooftop reading room, and unique furnishings from the early 20th century.
Helen’s Tower is now managed by the Irish Landmark Trust.
Rates at the castle are currently £330 Sterling/€386/$421 US/$570 CAD/$656 AUD) for two nights.
Annesgrove Miniature Castle, Castletownroche, Co. Cork
Feel like a royal when you stay in this miniature medieval castle designed in 1853 to impress visitors to its larger nearby property called Annesgrove House and Gardens.
Located in the quiet County Cork countryside about 16 km (about 10 miles) outside of Mallow, this renovated Gothic-inspired miniature castle has electric central heating throughout, a wood-burning stove, and all of the other modern conveniences you’d expect from a rental property.
Perhaps the most enticing part of Anne’s Grove Miniature Castle is the narrow winding stairway that leads to the bedroom.
While staying at Annesgrove Miniature Castle, be sure to check out the estate and gardens nearby.
The estate once belonged to the Grove family.
The walled garden, formerly an orchard, is where you’ll find native and exotic species like Himalayan rhododendrons blended together into the natural landscape.
Rates at Annesgrove Miniature Castle, also managed by the Irish Landmark Trust, are around €380 ($414 US, £324 Sterling/$561 CAD/$646 AUD) for two nights.
Ballynagowan Castle, Kilshanny, Co. Clare
Also known as Smithstown Castle, this 16th-century tower house was once the home of Murrough O’Brien, the 1st Earl of Thomond and 1st Baron Inchiquin, more commonly known as the Last King of Munster.
Before O’Brien died in 1551, he willed the castle to his son Teige (pronounced “Tyge”).
Over the years, many notable people visited Ballynagowan Castle, including Red Hugh O’Donnell, an Irish nobleman who ruled a Gaelic kingdom known as Tyrconnell (now present-day County Donegal).
Like many other Irish castles at the time, Ballynagowan Castle was attacked by Oliver Cromwell’s army in 1649 and for the next several decades, it would serve as the seat of army generals and other powerful people.
The castle sleeps up to 8 people.
Some of its unique features include a Great Hall, the large kitchen/dining room featuring a beautifully carved 17th-century table, as well as The Minstrel’s Gallery, which overlooks the Great Hall.
Three-night stays are required at the castle. Rates in 2021 were $1,900 US (€1,742, £1,488 Sterling/$2,574 CAD/$2,964 AUD). Current rates are not available.
Ballybur Castle, Cuffsgrange, Co. Kilkenny
This five-story tower house in Cuffsgrange, Co. Kilkenny was once the ancient seat of the Comerford family.
The castle, which was one of three castles in the area owned by the family, was built around 1588 under the watchful eye of Richard Comerford.
The family occupied the castle until 1654 when John Comerford, son of Richard, was banished to the West of Ireland, losing his castle to a man named Brian Manseragh during the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland.
According to owner Mhairi Gray, the notorious Oliver Cromwell blew the top off the castle with a canon.
Up until the mid-19th century, there is little known about the goings-on at the castle, but no doubt it was a place of great activity when the Comerfords lived there.
Historians have said that it was a place noted for its entertainment and grand events given the social standing of the family at the time.
Even the Papal Nuncio Cardinal Giovanni Rinuccini is said to have stopped by Ballybur Castle on his way to nearby Kilkenny, Ireland’s confederate capital at the time, where a grand reception was waiting for him.
An ornate rosary that the cardinal presented to Richard and Mary Comerford is now part of the Rothe House & Garden’s museum collection.
Today, Ballybur Castle is a beautiful old castle that welcomes couples and groups.
It consists of a ground-floor kitchen fully equipped with many modern conveniences.
The first floor includes a master bedroom and bathroom, and on the second floor, you'll find a dining room with a medieval stone fireplace, and a long dining table with church pews as seating.
The third-floor chapel room is now a bedroom.
It was once the family’s own private chapel, and on the fourth floor, you’ll find a drawing room and ramparts.
Up to 10 people can easily stay at Ballybur Castle, with rates per night from $957/€857/£749 Sterling/$1,296 CAD/$1,492 AUD.
The Coach House, also on the property, is available for rent too. It sleeps up to 15 people.
If you don’t want to go self-catering all the way, Gray recommends some local eats, including the Aran Artisan Bakery & Bistro in Kilkenny, the Caféface Patisserie for a delicious sweet treat, and for dinner, the famous Kyteler’s Inn, established in 1324.
Have you always wanted to stay in an Irish castle? Well, now’s the time to plan it.
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