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Republic of Ireland: The Best Castles

  • Trim Castle (County Meath): Trim, also called King John's Castle, restored as a "preserved ruin," is a massive Anglo-Norman structure. It was all but impregnable for 4 centuries (late-12th to mid-17th). Until it was abandoned and collapsed in the 17th century, it never underwent any significant alteration. For anyone with imagination, Trim is a visual gateway into medieval Ireland.

  • Cahir Castle (County Tipperary): One of the largest of Ireland's medieval fortresses, this castle is in an extraordinary state of preservation. Tours explain some fascinating features of the military architecture, and then you're free to roam through a maze of tiny chambers, spiral staircases, and dizzying battlements.

  • Kilkenny Castle (County Kilkenny): Although parts of the castle date from the 13th century, the existing structure has the feel of an 18th-century palace. There have been many modifications since medieval times, including the addition of colorful landscaping, and the old stables now hold numerous art galleries and shops.

  • Blarney Castle (County Cork): Despite the mobs of tourists who besiege it daily, this majestic tower house is worth a visit. While you're there, check out the Badger Cave and dungeons at the tower's base, as well as the serpentine paths that wind through the castle gardens. Need we mention the Blarney Stone? You sidle in under the upper wall with your head hanging over a 10-story drop. You kiss it. It's a thing people do.

  • Charles Fort (County Cork): On a promontory in Kinsale Harbor, this fortress's massive walls enclose a complex of buildings in varying states of repair. At the entrance you're handed a map and left to explore, discover, and almost certainly get lost in the maze of courtyards, passages, walls, and barracks.

  • Bunratty Castle and Folk Park (County Clare): This grand old castle has been well restored and filled with a curious assortment of medieval furnishings, offering a glimpse into the life of its past inhabitants. This is the first stop for many arrivals from Shannon, so expect crowds.

  • Doe Castle (County Donegal): This picturesque tower house is surrounded on three sides by the waters of Sheep Haven Bay and on the fourth by a moat carved into the bedrock that forms its foundation. It has a remote waterfront setting and sweeping views of the nearby hills.

  • Carrickfergus Castle (County Antrim): This well-preserved Norman fortress on the bank of Belfast Lough is huge and impressive, with an imposing tower house and a high wall punctuated by corner towers.

  • Dunluce Castle (County Antrim): These castle ruins surmount a razor-sharp promontory jutting into the sea. This was a highly defensible setting, and the castle wasn't abandoned until a large section collapsed and fell into the breakers.

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