Our guide/driver, Owen Flynn, jokingly said that the Irish refer to a castle as an ABC: “another bloody castle.”
There is no shortage of castles, both ruined shells and loving restorations, in Ireland, with hundreds dotting the landscape. However, they are fascinating windows into another time and give insight into Ireland’s often turbulent history.
We visited six castles on our Taste of Ireland tour: the ruins of Ross Castle and Blarney Castle, the extensive restorations of King John’s Castle and Bunratty Castle, and Kilkenny Castle, used as a home of the Butler family until the 1930s; we stayed our final night in a hotel attached to Barberstown Castle.
Ross Castle, on the shore of scenic Lower Killarney Lake, came as part of a ride in a horse-drawn jaunting car through the forests of Killarney National Park, where we had the amazing experience of seeing and hearing a stag with a large set of antlers bellowing a mating call amid a herd of the park’s famous red deer.
Blarney Castle is surrounded by 60 acres of extensive gardens and parklands. I climbed the more than 100 narrow twisting steps to the top, leaned back over a 90-foot precipice and kissed the limestone Blarney Stone, hopefully bestowing me with the gift of eloquence. You be the judge.
We had a medieval dinner, where our only utensil was a knife, and sampled the fermented honey drink mead in Bunratty Castle, a large 15th-century tower house restored in the 1950s. A group of madrigal singers in period costumes provided after-dinner music in addition to acting as our servers.
King John’s Castle on the shores of the River Shannon in Limerick was the largest of the castles. A state-of-the-art visitor center gives an excellent and informative explanation of the castle’s history, which is closely linked to the beginning of the Norman conquest of Ireland in the late 12th century.