Castles In Ireland

History of Castles in Ireland

Ireland is famous for its castles with many in ruin across the Irish countryside and others restored back to its formal glory either as a hotel or tourism location.

The classic design of castles didn’t reach Ireland until the medieval times, after the arrival of the Normans, replacing the lesser fortified designs such as the earthen mottes.

Who built castles in Ireland?

There was no royalty in Ireland that was seen in other countries in Europe so castles were mainly built as large fortified homes for Clan chiefs or Anglo-Norman settlers who were trying to conquer Ireland at the time with many of them dating between the 11th and 15th century. The castles were built by the powerful and the rich.

The Anglo-Norman first used earthen motes as fortifications when invading in Ireland but soon discovered bigger strong-holds would be needed to protect their conquest, the castles would take time to build. Ashford Castle is one of the finest examples of Anglo-Norman castles in Ireland and was built by the de Burgo clan in 1228. The de Burgo’s also built Ballymote Castle, the strongest in Connacht with over 300 years of violent history.

Years to follow the Irish Chieftains would copy the Anglo-Norman design by building their own castles, such examples being Donegal castle built-in 1474 or by the O’Donnell’s clan or the Mac-Sweeney clan building Doe castle in the 1400s.

The design of Irish castles

Most castles in Ireland were designed with the same basic fortifications in mind; a high wall surrounded an internal tower house.

Over the years castles in Ireland would be modified in design to suit the requirements of its current occupants. It wasn’t unusual for larger living quarters to be added to the tower-house or stronger fortified walls added.

The castle design would prove very effective in defending the occupants against veracious attacks by the warring enemy but also surviving hundreds of years to follow.

The location of castles in Ireland

In warfare, the strategic position plays a large part in who will win at the battle so the locations of castles were carefully selected with a strategic position in mind. It was common to build castles hill on a hill, beside a river, or along the Irish coastline and protected on one side by the sea.

Some castles were built over the top of fortifications that existed at the time such as the famous Blarney Castle and also the Donegal Castle.

Last updated March 2, 2020.

About the Author

Brian O’Neill
Camera shy Brian is a proud Donegal man and regular contributor to our site.