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Castles of Ireland (ROI)

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Irish castle history stretches nearly 1000 years, from the Norman invasions of the 1000s to the early 20th century. Ireland was a country to subdue, and to keep the population in check, castles were built to house the new ruling families and garrison their armies. The later castles were symbols of wealth and political power, architectural homages rather than military outposts.


Castles of Ireland is a Historical but also genealogical project Often we ask ourselves the question "who lived in these castles?". The castles are listed in the related sub-projects with the people who lived in the castle linked there giving us the opportunity to answer that question.

The scope of these projects is not just to list all castles of Ireland but also tell the history of the families who built, owned or lived in them.

Note. The lists below will be transferred to the Sub-projects as they are set up.



Castles first appeared in Ireland with the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th Century. The invaders set up earthen mounds called Mottes, which supported wooden towers on top, to mark out and defend their new territories which were handed out by Henry II. A D-shaped "bailey" was enclosed where domestic buildings were built.

By 1200 stone castles started appearing. Among the earliest were Dublin castle begun by King John in 1204. Hugh de Lacy built a fortification at Trim, and De Courcy built Carrickfergus. Other castles in this time were Maynooth, Kilkenny and Limerick. By 1250 much of the countryside had been taken over by Anglo-Norman knights - names such as FitGerald, Butler and Barry establishing themselves.

In the Southeast William Marshall built the earliest lighthouse at Hook Head. He also established several monasteries, castles and fortifications.

The Black Death and the Wars of the 14th C stopped this development, but from 1400 native Irish chieftains started building their own castles, having previously lived in enclosures called 'ringforts' and 'cashels'. Tower-houses of several storeys were built, and are very much what can be seen in the countryside today. Castle and Tower-house are often used interchangeably.

In the 1500s the Tudor monarchs began their mission to subdue Ireland in order to break the power of the old Gaelic and Norman families. Elizabeth 1st gave huge land grants to her favourites - known as the Munster Plantations because these were mainly in Munster.

With the arrival of the cannon castles became ineffective and were replaced with fortified manor-houses. These were often built onto existing tower-houses - for example Lemeneagh, Carrick-on-Suir and Donegal.

The end of the Elizabeth Wars arrived with the defeat of the Irish at Kinsale in 1601. This was followed by the exile of the Gaelic aristocracy in the "Flight of the Earls" and both contributed to the end of the old Gaelic order. This was followed by the Plantation of Ulster and Plantation Castles appeared.

Cromwell's campaign of destruction in the 1640s left most of the castles ruined by "slighting" - a big rent was made in one of the castle walls making it useless. Many of the ruins today are from this period.

Glossary of Castle terms

Tower houses

The tower house is not exclusive to Ireland. Similar "castles" are found along the Scottish Borders. They are also very similar to the castellated buildings seen along the Arno in Florence, and it is thought that their form came from mainland Europe. These buildings are one of the most distinctive features of the Irish landscape, with an estimate that in the region of 3,000 tower houses were constructed between 1400 and 1650

A statute issued by Henry VI in 1429 declared, ‘It is agreed and asserted that every liege man of our Lord, the King of the said Counties, who chooses to build a Castle or Tower House sufficiently embattled or fortified, wither the next ten years to wit 20 feet in length, 16 feet in width and 40 feet in height or more, that the commons of the said Counties shall pay to the said person, to build the said Castle or Tower ten pounds by way of subsidy.’ This piece of legislation, with its financial incentive, probably encouraged the popularity of tower houses, and also their uniformity of design

The tower house’s primary purpose (defensive or residential) probably varied - influenced by geographic and political circumstances. A typical building is rectangular and constructed of irregular stones, the walls more that four feet thick at the bottom and rising four or five storeys high. There is usually a single arch doorway with the large arched ground floor used for storage of food and livestock. Above the entrance was an opening called the Murder Hole, through which boiling liquids or arrows could be poured or shot in the event of an attack. Windows at this level were little more than slits although they were larger further up. The family lived on the tower’s top storeys with minimal comfort.

The Spaniard Cuillar wrote in 1588 ...

‘The Irish have no furniture and sleep on the ground, on a bed of rushes, wet with rain and stiff with frost…’

Half a century later the French traveller, M. de la Bouillaye le Gouz observed...

‘The castles of the nobility consist of four walls, extremely high and thatched with straw but to tell the truth, they are nothing but square towers without windows or at least having such small apertures as to give no more light than a prison. They have little furniture and cover their rooms with rushes, of which they make their beds in Summer and straw in Winter. They put rushes a foot deep on their floors and on their windows and many of them ornament their ceilings with branches.’

Round Tower

Irish round towers are early medieval stone towers. They are found mainly in Ireland, with two in Scotland and one on the Isle of Man. They may have been bell towers, places of refuge, or both.

Generally found in the vicinity of a church or monastery, the door of the tower faces the west doorway of the church. In this way it has been possible to determine without excavation the approximate site of lost churches, where the tower still exists. Round towers, also called drum towers, are more resistant to siege technology such as sappers and projectiles than square towers.

Examples (including those in Northern Island)

  • Aghadoe Kerry Munster
  • Aghagower Mayo Connacht - Second doorway inserted later at ground level
  • Aghaviller Kilkenny Leinster - Second doorway inserted later at ground level
  • Ardmore Waterford Munster - Has three string courses and a noticeable lean
  • Ardpatrick Limerick Munster - Barrow states that the Down Survey of 1655 marks the site with a tower of 3 stories with a broken top. Fitzgerald and McGreggor writing in 1826 state that it was a fine tower that "fell a few years since" A stump 3m tall at its highest point, surrounded by rubble from its collapse, is all that remains. Barrow speculates that some of the stones from the tower were used to build the nearby wall surrounding the cemetery, including one at the top of the entrance 1.07m long with a raised moulding that may have been the sill stone from the tower's doorway.

  • Ardrahan Galway Connacht
  • Armoy Antrim Ulster
  • Balla Mayo Connacht - Second doorway inserted probably later at ground level
  • Carrigeen (Dysert Monastery) Limerick Munster - Romanesque decoration around doorway
  • Castledermot Kildare Leinster - The conical cap has been replaced with battlements and the tower has been attached to a church (which was built later)
  • Clondalkin Dublin Leinster - Strengthened by a stone buttress, has a stone staircase to the doorway. It is the narrowest known tower with a base diameter of just 4.04 m
  • Clones Monaghan Ulster
  • Clonmacnoise O'Rourke's Tower, and McCarthy's Tower Offaly Leinster - Two towers a short distance from each other
  • Cloyne Cork Munster - The conical cap has been replaced with battlements
  • Devenish I Fermanagh Ulster - Climbable. Romanesque corbel heads below cap
  • Devenish II Fermanagh Ulster
  • Donaghmore Meath Leinster - Full height but without cap
  • Dromiskin Louth Leinster - A conical cap was added to what remains of the tower
  • Drumbo Down Ulster
  • Drumcliff (near Sligo) Sligo Connacht
  • Drumcliffe (near Ennis) Clare Munster Incomplete
  • Drumlane Cavan Ulster - Two indistinct carvings of birds can be identified 2 m up on the north side of the tower
  • Faughart Louth Connacht I - Only a single circular course of large stones remain
  • Glendalough Wicklow Leinster - Nearby Saint Kevin's Church includes a miniature round tower
  • Grangefertagh Kilkenny Leinster - Full height but without cap, located in the parish of Johnstown
  • Inish Cealtra (in Lough Derg) Clare Munster
  • Inishkeen Monaghan Ulster - The top has been sealed with brick and cement
  • Kells Meath Leinster Complete to cornice - Full height but without cap
  • Kilbennan Galway Connacht
  • Kilcoona Galway Connacht
  • Kildare Kildare Leinster - Climbable; the conical cap has been replaced with battlements; romanesque decoration around doorway
  • Kilkenny Kilkenny Leinster - Climbable; the conical cap has been replaced with battlements
  • Killala Mayo Connacht -There is a noticeable bulge about halfway up the tower
  • Killeany/Aran Islands Galway Connacht
  • Killinaboy Clare Munster
  • // Kilmacduagh (right) Full Size Image Galway Connacht The tallest standing of the ancient round towers. It has 11 windows (more than any other tower) and the door is 8m from the ground (higher than any other tower). Leans 1.02m from the vertical.
  • Kilmallock Limerick Munster - Only the lower 3 m of the tower is original, what stands above (tower of the Collegiate church) is a late medieval addition/reconstruction
  • Kilree Kilkenny Leinster - The conical cap has been replaced with battlements
  • Kinneigh Cork Munster - Has a hexagonal base and a sealed top
  • Liathmore/Leigh Tipperary Munster - Discovered in 1969; only the 2.6 m foundations remain (unusually deep for an Irish round tower)
  • Lusk Dublin Leinster - Full height but without cap; is attached to a church (which was built later)
  • Maghera Down Ulster - Stump with a large hole in the side
  • Meelick Mayo Connacht Incomplete
  • Mollaneen (Dysert O'Dea Monastery) Clare Munster
  • Monasterboice Louth Leinster
  • Nendrum Down Ulster
  • Kilcullen Kildare Leinster
  • Oran Roscommon Connacht - Largest base diameter of any known original Irish round tower at 6 m
  • Oughter Ard Kildare Leinster
  • Ram's Island Antrim Ulster
  • Rathmichael Dublin Leinster
  • Rattoo Kerry Munster - Includes a Sheela na Gig a figurative carvings of naked women displaying an exaggerated vulva.
  • Roscam Galway Connacht - 7 levels of putlog holes clearly visible
  • Roscrea Tipperary Munster
  • // Scattery Island Clare (right)Full Size Image Munster - Complete to cornice, with a partially truncated cap Doorway is at ground level
  • Seir Kieran Offaly Leinster
  • St Mullin's Carlow Leinster
  • St Patrick's Rock (near Cashel) Tipperary Munster - Attached to a church (which was built later)
  • Antrim Round Tower. Steeple (near Antrim) Antrim Ulster
  • Swords Dublin Leinster - Has a deformed top floor, which is topped by a stone cross
  • Taghadoe Kildare Leinster
  • Timahoe Laois Leinster - Romanesque decoration around doorway
  • Tory Island Donegal Ulster
  • Tullaherin Kilkenny Leinster
  • Turlough Mayo Connacht

Reference -


Use the find option from your browser to find names of a castle or person in the list.

Historic Buildings of County Carlow

Historic Buildings of County Cavan

Historic Buildings of County Carlow

Historic Buildings of County Clare

Historic Buildings of County Cork

Historic Houses of County Donegal

Historic Buildings of County Dublin

Historic Buildings of County Galway

Historic Buildings of County Kerry

Historic Buildings of County Kildare

Historic Buildings of County Kilkenny

Historic Buildings of County Laois

Historic Buildings of County Leitrim

Historic Buildings of County Limerick

Historic Buildings of County Longford

Historic Buildings of County Louth

Historic Buildings of County Mayo

Historic Buildings of County Meath

Historic Buildings of County Monaghan

Historic Buildings of County Offaly

Historic Buildings of County Roscommon

Historic Buildings of County Sligo

Historic Buildings of County Tipperary

Historic Buildings of County Waterford

Historic Buildings of County Westmeath

Historic Buildings of County Wexford

Historic Buildings of County Wicklow



  • dolmen, or portal tomb
  • dolment, also called a portal tomb megalithic buriel chamber
  • flanker towers - see Rathfarnham Castle, County Dublin
  • Murder Hole - through which boiling liquids or arrows could be directed in the event of an attack.