There are no shortages of castles in Ireland. Sprinkled throughout the country they stand tall or as fallen remnants of the past. We visited three and found them to be both enchanting and daunting. Constructed by the hand of man as fortresses for protection, they are built on foundations of huge rocks, perched on the highest of hills, or dangle from the edge of a cliff.
The Rock of Cashel was the first on our agenda. We knew it was just off the road we were traveling and as soon as it came into sight we couldn’t get out of the car fast enough to let the exploration begin.
It was a lovely sunny day and even more than the majestic castle, the scenery around it drew us in as we viewed endless acres of green pastures with stone fences, grazing sheep and yellow daffodils.
Once inside the mighty fortress, we began to live and breathe the ancientness of our surroundings which dated back to the 4th or 5th century. This is where King Aengus ruled and in AD 432 was baptized by Saint Patrick to become the first Christian ruler of Ireland. Additions came in the 12th, 13th and 15th century in the form of a Gothic style church, with a hall of vicars and a huge room for the choir. Further exploration took us to the site of the original Saint Patrick’s cross and pictures of Queen Elizabeth and Philip visiting the castle in 2011. We did a self guided tour and watched an interesting film on castle life and history to conclude our visit.
Surrounding the castle was a very old cemetery, however we came across graves with dates as late as the 1950’s, one from 1997 and 2006. The stunning countryside was always beckoning our cameras.
Ross castle in Killarney was the next castle stop that we are so glad we did not miss. This tower like structure is next to a picturesque lake where people come to feed the geese, picnic and just enjoy the day. The guided tour here is not to be missed. Our well informed hostess, pointed out many features of “how to protect yourself in a castle,” including the square hole where you could dump hot water or grease onto an unwanted intruder, and the spike laden door designed to discourage trying to break through with your shoulder. Each room was another flight of steep, narrow spiral steps that had to be carefully navigated. We could only imagine fighting your way down them wielding a sword and holding on to the rope banister. She told us of life and times in the 12 to 1600’s with little light and less heat, candles burning at both ends and toilets that seated four people in a row.
There are no pictures to be taken inside, because of the very old and delicate pieces of furniture obtained during restorations. She said they actually had more furniture than what was ever in the castle while people were actually living there. I truly enjoyed the top floor or the “great hall,” as it reminded me of several books I have read about that time period and of course the classic “Camelot.”
Castle number three, located in Northern Ireland along the coast of the Giant’s Causeway, has been a defended site from as early as 500 AD. This was the one dangling from a cliff over the ocean and it is said that part of it actually fell off centuries ago. Dunluce Castle is an archaeological site as well as having much historical significance dating back to the 15th century and lived in as late as the 17th century. Also shown in the featured picture at the top of the blog, you can see the walk across bridge, formerly a drawbridge, that would close to the approaching enemy. The stone walls speak of kitchens, towers, fireplaces and great rooms.
A climb to the top of the tower reveals immense rock formations, and the impressive heights give fantastic views below.
Thankfully we did not have to use those steps to reach the castle. It was a chilly windy day, but an hour well spent, reaching in our minds to a distant time and place.
Three castles telling tales of days gone by, when life itself was extremely difficult with death and danger around every corner. It’s always fascinating to learn how people lived long ago, but appreciating the life we now have is something we must certainly cherish everyday.