From some of the world's most famous castles to an island monastery dating back to the 6th century (Skellig Michael in County Kerry), the South West of Ireland is home to a wide variety of ancient structures. These structures have not only stood the test of time they have gone on to represent the very essence of Ireland to people all across the globe. On this page we invite you to have a look at South West Ireland's most well known Castles and Ancient Settlements.
Originally built in 1210 and reconstructed in 1446, Blarney Castle holds its place as one of Ireland's best-known tourist attractions. From the folklore behind kissing the Blarney Stone to the extensive grounds and gardens surrounding the castle itself, there will always be a draw for people looking for people to discover Ireland's ancient history. Although the gardens are easy on the eye one section of them is what's known as a poison garden, featuring various poisonous plants such as wolfsbane, mandrake, ricin as well as opium and cannabis plants.
The castle itself, which is now a partial ruin, has survived a turbulent past—passing hands numerous times during different conflicts. Today Blaney Castle is owned by Sir Charles St John Colthurst, Baronet.
Full Disclosure: When visiting Blarney Castle, it is worth setting aside 3 to 4 hours to fully appreciate it. This is especially true in the summer months where the queue to get up the steps to see the Blarney Stone can be quite slow. The gardens alone would need a good chunk of time to explore properly. Comfortable shoes on the day would also be advisable.
Located alongside the River Shannon in County Limerick, on King's Island lies the 13th-century castle named St John's Castle. Dating back as far as 922, to a time when Vikings were the inhabitants of the island (Thormodr Helgason, the Viking sea-king, built the first settlement on the island), the actual castle was built in 1200 under the instruction of King John of England. Having taken over power of Limerick, from the Vikings in 1194, the castle was built to act as a guard from the Gaelic kingdoms to the west and other Norman lords invading from the South and East. Under the rule of King John, the city of Limerick went from strength to strength.
Part of the castle was irreparably damaged during the siege of Limerick. From 2011–2013 there was euro5.7 million spent in a huge redevelopment of the castle to improve the visitor facilities and today the King John's Castle stands as one of Limerick's proudest attractions.
The tour King John's Castle takes about an hour in total. For anyone with mobility issues be warned, there are a number of steep steps to negotiate.
Ross Castle, found on the majestic Lough Leane in Killarney National Park, dates back to the 15th-century. It was first built by the ruling clan of the time, O'Donoghues Mor, and later changed hands to MacCarthy Mor. It was one of the last castles to surrender power to English political leader Oliver Cromwell during the Irish Confederate Wars (between 1641 and 1653). The castle stood its ground until the British brought artillery via boat along the River Laune. In an amazing piece of foresight, there was an old Irish priphecy that read: "Ross may all assault disdain. Till on Lough Lein strange ship shall sail."
First build by Queen Elizabeth I in response to the people of Cork's demand for a structure to guard against pirates attacking ships entering the harbour, Blackrock Castle is a circular tower located on the water's edge. The foundation was laid in 1582 and the round tower was added in 1600. From this time, until it was destroyed by fire in 1827, Blackrock Castle was used by the City of Cork as a location for banquets and gatherings.
In 2007, Cork Institute of Technology and Cork City Council redeveloped the castle as a public astronomy center. There is also a highly rated restaurant and cafe on the ground floor.
Blackrock is a 10-minute bus ride from Cork City Centre (202 bus). This bus will take you from the city to the end of Castle Road in Blackrock, a 5-minute walk from the castle.
Skellig Michael, also known as Great Skellig, is a rocky outcrop island located 11.6 km to the west of the Iveragh Peninsula in Country Kerry. Sceilig Bheag (Little Skellig), its twin island is small and completely inaccessible. Skellig Michael is a world heritage site and was used as a monastic settlement by monks in the 7th century. Hollywood came calling to the island in 2014 when Episode VII of the Star Wars franchise chose it as a location for its final scene. The location was chosen for its otherworldly appearance thanks to its unique combination of Old Red Sandstone and compressed slate.
Visitors to Skellig Michael should be prepared for what is a very tough ascent to the summit. The stone steps can be dangerous when wet and there are no handrails. This ascent is only advisable for people free of any mobility issues.
Drombeg Stone Circle is what's known as Recumbent stone circle, one where a large monolith stone is lying on its side. This type of stone circle is only found in two locations on earth, near Aberdeen in Scotland and the south-west of Ireland. Drombeg Stone Circle is made up of 13 stones, the most westerly of these being the large Recumbent stone. All of the other stones have been set to slope towards the Recumbent stone. A 1957 excavation of the site found radiocarbon dating of items to date back as far as 1100-800 BC. In the centre of the circle the excavation also found evidence of a burial site.
Uragh Stone Circle stands near Gleninchaquin Park in County Kerry. The circle is made up of five small stones with a three-metre tall monolith standing beside it. Recently, the centre of the circle has been dug up, presumably by people looking for treasure of some kind.
Uragh Stone Circle is located in a very remote part of County Kerry. The easiest way to get there is to take the R571 West from Kenmare, after about 13 kilometers you will see a signpost pointing left reading "Uragh Stone Circle". Take this road to the end, you will be met by a gate, from here it's a short walk by foot.
Grange Stone Circle, located near Loch Gur in County Limerick is the largest in Ireland. Its near-perfect shape and the discovery of a posthole at its centre means that a rope was more than likely used to measure the diameter of the stones. Late Neolithic Beaker pottery was discovered during an excavation of the site. The 113 stones of the circle are not free-standing, they all rest upon one another and form a diameter of 150 feet.