Don’t miss these amazing castles in Connemara!
When you think of Connemara, castles probably don’t necessarily come to mind, but there are actually a few castles in and around the region. Many have been restored to their former glory over the years and are open to the public. Others are in ruins, but beautifully situated none the less. Why not explore them while visiting Connemara? It promises to be a great adventure with lots of photo opportunities.
A romantic tale and a superb day out
Kylemore Castle was built by Mitchell and Margaret Henry in 1868 and is now the abbey and home of the Benedictine community of nuns. The story of Kylemore Abbey is a remarkable one that spans over 150 years of tragedy, romance, innovation, education and spirituality.
Hidden in the woods you will also find the stunning Gothic Church built for Margaret Henry, the woman who inspired the building of the Castle in the late 1860’s. Her husband Mitchell Henry was an entrepreneur, surgeon, politician and social reformer who transformed this area of bog land in the desolate west into a virtual paradise of comfort and innovation in the 1800’s. Tragically Margaret died at the age of 45 while on holiday to Egypt in 1874. Henry returned to Kylemore where he lived until 1903 and was finally laid to rest by Margaret’s side, in the little mausoleum on the grounds of the Estate. The Benedictine Community opened a world renowned boarding school for girls and began restoring the Abbey, Gothic Church and Victorian Walled Garden to their former glory.
Today it is still a working Abbey where the sisters live, work, pray and welcome visitors from around the world.
Enjoy a day at this romantic castle close to Cong
Ashford Castle is located between Lough Mask and Lough Corrib at Cong, 45 miles north of Galway and bordering the Connemara region. It is situated between Lough Corrib and Lough Mask. The castle itself is of grey stone and is a combination of a Norman castle and French chateau. The Norman castle dates back to 1228 when it was founded by the de Burgo family. They were defeated in a battle in 1589 and lost their home to Lord Ingham governor of Connaught. In 1715 a French style chateau was added by the Oranmore and Browne family with and in 1852 its owner Sir Benjamin Guinness (of the brewing family) extended the estate to 26,000 acres planting trees and adding a further two Victorian extensions.
In the 19th century Arthur Guinness incorporated both the castle and the chateau into the one large building it is today. The castle has been totally renovated over the years and is currently a top-class hotel offering many country pursuits and luxurious surroundings. It has also welcomed many famous guests over the years.
Tour the castle near the shores of Lough Corrib
Aughnanure Castle is located on the N59 road, just 3 km from Oughterard town. It was built in the 16th century as a stronghold of the O’Flaherty clan. It lies in picturesque countryside surroundings and is close to the shores of Lough Corrib. The Castle is a particularly well-preserved example of an Irish tower house. Visitors will find the remains of a banqueting hall, a watch tower, bastions and a dry harbour. Guided tours are available.
A dramatic castle ruin on Connemara’s Wild Atlantic Way
Located at Bunowen in Ballyconneely, the dramatically sited Hill of Doon dominates the landscape of southwest Connemara. To the left of this hill is the ruin of Bunowen Castle. The “Ferocious” O’Flaherty Clan originally built a castle at the mouth of the Brandy River at Bunowen in the early sixteenth century. This was the seat of the western branch of this notorious family. Donal O’Flaherty married the pirate queen Grainne Mhaoil (Grace O’Malley) and they lived at Bunowen from about 1540 while raising three children. Grace left Bunowen circa 1550 after her husband was killed. The O’Flaherty castle was then occupied by the Geoghegan family and eventually, their descendant John O’Neill. O’Neill built a new castle residence at the foot of the Hill of Doon from the stones of the O’Flaherty castle at the mouth of the Brandy River, which he was unable to complete. There is no public access to the castle ruin, but it can be viewed across the bay from the Connemara Smokehouse on Bunowen Pier.
Oliver Cromwell’s Fort
An island fortress – be sure to get the guided tour
Oliver Cromwell’s Fort is located on Inishbofin Island about 5 miles off the Connemara coast. Inishbofin Island can be reached by ferry from Cleggan. The fort is perched on a rocky headland at the entrance to the harbour. The fort is now in ruins but much of the walls are standing. The fort was built in the 1650’s during Oliver Cromwell’s occupation of Ireland. Inishbofin Island occupied by his troops until the end of the 17th century. Cromwell’s forces used the fort as a detention centre for Catholic clergy those who were waiting to be transported to the West Indies.
Great river walks & woodland trails
The castle built in the 1750’s was originally home to the O’Flaherty clan who lived there until the end of the century. One of the notable residents was the wife of clan member Donal O’Flaherty, Grace O’Malley also known as Pirate Queen Grainne Mhaoil, a legendary pirate on the high seas. When her husband was murdered by a rival clan she took over as the head of the O’Flaherty family which was a great honor for a woman. In 1590 the ancestors of Richard Martin also known as “Humanity Dick”, the founder of the RSPCA, took over the castle and it was re-built in the 1700’s to be used as an inn.
Prince Ranjitsinhji Maharajah of Nawanager stayed at the castle in 1924 as guests of the then owners, the Berridge family. He fell in love with the area, the castle and the fishing so much that he decided to buy the castle and he returned once a year until his death in 1932.
Today, Ballynahinch Castle is a high-class hotel offering top quality stays along with many activities such as salmon fishing, walking tours, clay-shooting, fishing trips and island tours. The woodlands around the Estate offer over five kilometres of woodland, lakeshore and riverside walks and the Connemara Greenway, built on the old Clifden-Galway railway line, can also be accessed here.
A gothic castle overlooking Clifden Bay
Clifden was founded in 1812 by John D’Arcy. The D’Arcy family owned a very large estate, covering a large part west Co. Galway. Part of the D’arcy legacy was Clifden Castle, a romantic Gothic castle which is now a historical ruin. The castle ruin is located just below the Sky Road, overlooking Clifden Bay, approximately 2km from Clifden town. The location can be accessed by foot. Cars can be parked by the castle gates and the walking trail to the castle can also be accessed there.
Home of the legendary pirate queen Grainne Mhaoil
Renvyle Castle, a 13th / 14th century tower house facing the Atlantic on Connemara’s northern shore. The castle is believed to have been built by the Joyce Clan. Legend has it that a wedding of one of the Joyce’s was taking place at the castle and a rival clan, the O’Flaherty’s, interrupted the wedding and massacred all of the guests but one. That one guest escaped to give a recount of the attack and that the O’Flaherty’s had taken over the castle.
Around 1540, Donal O’Flaherty married Grace O’Malley (Granuaile) the famous pirate queen and they sometimes lived at Renvyle Castle when she was not away at sea. It is said the castle was partly demolished by Granuaile by a shot from a cannon while at sea. Grainuaile is buried in a castle in Louisburgh in County Mayo, just across the water from the Renvyle Peninsula.
Today, the castle ruins are not accessible to the public, but the nearby carpark offers an ideal spot for photo opportunities.
O’Brien’s Castle (Caisleán Uí Bhríain)
Hire a bike and explore O’Brien’s Castle on Inisheer
When visiting Inis Oírr (Inisheer) the smallest of the Aran Islands one of the first things you will see is O’Brien’s Castle. The Castle is located on one of the highest points of the island where it proudly watches over the beach, pier, village, and ruins below. The castle is thought to have been built in the 14th century making it one of the oldest ruins on the Aran Islands. By the 1580’s the castle was taken over from the ruling O’Briens of Munster after Connemara’s ferocious O’Flaherty Clan sieged and occupied the castle. Years later, circa 1652 the Aran Islands were given up to Cromwellian forces and the O’Flaherty’s were defeated. O’Brien’s Castle was taken yet again but this time it was partially destroyed. The new forces favoured other strongholds on the other Islands, leaving the Castle to fall into ruin. Today, it is still a sight to behold and can be photographed from the nearby roads.
An island fortress in the heart of Connemara
Hen’s Castle is one of the oldest mortared castles and oldest fortresses in Ireland. The castle takes up almost the entire island. It had a troubled history, being stormed and besieged many times, the most celebrated of these times was when the Pirate Queen Grainne Mhaol (Grace O’Malley) personally defended it. It continued to be occupied as a castle until it finally succumbed to the Cromwellian soldiers in 1654. In the nineteenth Century this historic ruin was vandalized and hundreds of its stones were removed to build houses in the area. The interior is now a mass of stones and weeds, but it is still a very impressive sight.