Historic castles and stately homes make up a large part of Ireland’s culture and they are literally dotted across the entire landscape, found on clifftops and lakesides and in woodlands. We’ve put together a checklist of Irish castles and houses that everyone travelling to the Emerald Isle must visit!
Hillsborough Castle, Belfast
As Northern Ireland’s official royal residency and a guest house for prominent international visitors, Hillsborough Castle has witnessed some of the most significant moments in politics, from the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement to the signing of the Belfast Agreement. The late Georgian house was built in the 1770s by Wills Hill, who’d later become the 1st Marquess of Downshire, and is set amidst 100 acres of stunning gardens, woodland and waterways. Although this is where HM The Queen often visits, the castle offers guided tours throughout the year.
Dunluce Castle, County Antrim
Located on the coastal cliffs of north County Antrim, the now-ruined Dunluce Castle has a long and turbulent history. The castle’s earliest written record dates back to 1513, when it was owned by the McQuillan family before being sized by the MacDonnell clan shortly after in 1550. According to local legend, the castle’s kitchen collapsed into the sea along with seven of its cooks during a storm, but only one kitchen boy survived. Today, the castle is nothing more than ruins, but visitors can explore the centre of it as they are very well preserved by the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency.
Glenveagh Castle, County Donegal
Glenveagh Castle can be found in Glenveagh National Park, Ireland’s second largest National Park, just outside of Letterkenny in County Donegal. It’s thought that the castellated mansion house was built around 1870 by Capitan John George Adair who had designed the castle to resemble Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Those who visit Glenveagh and its grounds would say it’s a ‘paradise of nature’ as it sits on the banks of Lough Veag, surrounded by stunning gardens.
Castle Coole, Fermanagh
According to the National Trust, Castle Coole is ‘one of the greatest neo- classical country houses in Ireland’ that was ‘built to impress by the first Earl of Belmore.’ With an exterior of Portland stone and an interior furnished with marble fireplaces and leather door panels, the castle is guaranteed to impress visitors. Visitors can tour the house themselves and explore some of the luxurious rooms such as the State Bedroom which was literally furnished for a king. The State bed was commissioned for the visit of George VI in 1821.
Strokestown Park House, County Roscommon
Set on 300 acres or so, Strokestown Park House is a fine example of an 18th century Palladian villa. Strokestown Park is closely associated with the Great Famine as it was the seat of Denis Mahon, the first landlord to be assassinated during the peak of the famine period after forcing his tenants to emigrate. Today, the estate includes the National Irish Famine Museum. A local business consortium developed the Famine Museum and purchased the property from the Pakenham Mahon family in 1976 which led to opening the house and gardens to the public. Now, it’s considered as one of the finest privately funded restoration projects in Ireland.
Belvedere House and Gardens, County Westmeath
Belvedere House was originally built as a hunting and fishing lodge for Robert Rochfort, the first Earl of Belvedere. The house itself is stunning, but it bares witness to a dark history of jealousy and betrayal as Robert Rochfort was thought to have a desolate and cruel nature. Here on the grounds stands a prime example – the ‘Jealous Wall’, a wall which was built by the Earl to block the view of his brother’s house as he worried it outshone his own. Nonetheless, with its beautiful lake views and colourful gardens, it’s easy to forget about its dark past.
Birr Castle, County Offaly
Unlike the other castles listed above, Birr Castle is currently home to the Parsons family, descended from the Earl of Rosse. Residential areas of the castle are closed to the public, however, many of the grounds and gardens are open to the public. The castle gardens were originally landscaped around the lake in the 18th century and have since become well known for their beauty. The castle grounds are also home to Ireland’s Historic Science Centre which can also be visited.
Borris House, County Carlow
Not to be confused with Downton Abbey, Borris House is one of the most picturesque country houses in the whole of Ireland. Visitors can tour the house and learn about its history from the 15th century to this very day. The ancestral home of the MacMorrough Kavanagh family, Kings of Leinster, is now also a stunning venue for weddings and other types of events, offering breathtaking views of Mount Leinster, the Blackstairs Mountains and the Barrow Valley.