One of the things that struck me about the castles was that they just kind of appeared when you got close to them. You couldn’t see them from a distance – you would think given their size they would dominate the landscape but they really just melded into it. We were actually on our way to one and we drove right past without seeing it – when we realized we went too far we turned around and driving back exclaimed “It’s right there, how in the world did we miss it!” For me this just added to their allure.
Kilkenny Castle was the first one we toured. It had been painstakingly restored to its original grandeur. Walking throughout it there were photographs and descriptions showing the work that went into restoring it. I’m so glad the time and money was put into this. It would be such a shame for these places to go into complete disrepair, eventually to be lost forever. I enjoyed seeing the décor and furnishings as they would have been when it was occupied over eight centuries ago.
Lismore Castle was the grandest we visited. Much to our surprise this is still a private residence. Can you even imagine? Architecturally it is beautiful and quintessentially what you would expect a castle to look like. Although you aren’t able to go inside you are permitted to walk the grounds and gardens, which are impressive on their own. There is a charming area decorated as a fairy glen for children, sculptures throughout including two sections of the Berlin Wall, herb, vegetable, and perennial gardens, as well as beautiful trees and flowering shrubs.
I fell in love with Ballyscaggartmore Towers. This is the fairy tale castle me, the princess, dreamed of living in. While not a complete castle, the structures here capture the imagination. It’s nestled in a “fairy” wood sprinkled throughout with remnants of days long gone by.
Lough Eske in Donegal is a castle that has been converted into a five star hotel. We had the privilege of spending one night here. We just missed hobnobbing with actual royalty, Prince Charles was staying there the week before. It was wonderful! This does make you feel a touch like a princess. Not far from the castle is a wooded walk along a picturesque lake. It is so relaxing to be in such a decadent atmosphere.
Bunratty Castle is fun. You can wind your way up narrow staircases to see rooms throughout the castle reminiscent of the 15th and 16th centuries. I was happy we got to explore it when it wasn’t crowded because navigating through the narrow passages in a crowd would have been awful. It is part of a folk park that recreates the experience of a working 19th century village. You are able to get a sense of the class structure and see how things were done such as milling, printing, baking, and pottery. We also participated in a medieval dinner at the castle complete with traditional music and storytelling. It was a very entertaining experience.
It was great exploring the real deal – for now this princess will need to go back to daydreaming. Perhaps even some story telling inspired by another era.