Evelyn Oliveira is a graduate of the University of Limerick, from Brazil, and her passion for Irish history has led her to visit over 80 ruins so far – here are her top 10!
If you’ve been to Ireland, you’ll know that there are countless things to see and do.
From the beautiful green landscape in the countryside to the lovely old towns, the country is a gem and can make even the most demanding tourists fall in love with all of its wonders.
You might have also noticed that you can find old ruins pretty much everywhere, in the middle of towns, on top of hills, by rivers, in farm fields, in graveyards, beside houses, everywhere!
In fact, there are over 1400 ruins (of castles, abbeys, churches, ancient sites, houses, mills, etc.) spread around the country (including Northern Ireland).
Coming from a country that has no Castles at all (thanks, Brazil!), I was obviously dazzled by the number of ruins I found here and it didn’t take me long to start a hobby that I like to call “Castle hunting”. So far, I have visited around 80 ruins (in County Limerick, Tipperary, Clare, Kerry, Cork and Galway), and counting!
I love the big restored ruins, like Blarney Castle or King John’s Castle, but my very favourites are the hidden/abandoned ones. There’s something very peaceful about seeing nature reclaim what’s been left behind and I love to be exploring places on my own, far from the crowds and the noise. That said, this is my Top 10 hidden ruins in Ireland.
1. Athassel Abbey, County Tipperary.
This was the very first ruin I visited, back in 2013, when I first came to Ireland. It holds a very special place in my heart and I’ve been there around four times since. Believe it or not, I always find things that I hadn’t spotted on the previous visits! Secret rooms, wall carvings and the landscape that changes with every season (pick Spring!).
The Abbey itself was built in the 12th Century and it is the largest medieval priory in Ireland! The river Suir is just behind it and it looks amazing when the water level is high enough to cover parts of the field where the Abbey is.
2. Fiddaun Castle, County Galway.
This 16th Century Castle is a must see if you’re ever in County Galway. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information about it on the internet, which makes it a bit tricky to find, but with a little bit of perseverance you’ll get there. Since it’s on private land and there’s no way to get to the Castle without crossing people’s property, you need to ask the owners for permission (they are super friendly) and guess what, they will give you a key to the Castle! In other words, you will have the entire place for yourself for a couple of hours. It has been restored a while ago and you can go all the way to the top and walk on the bawn (the defensive wall that surrounds the Castle), which is the only Castle that I’ve been to where this was possible.
3. Bishop’s Island’s Ruins, County Clare.
Bishop’s Island, in Kilkee, is the home of the ruins of a Church and a dwelling used by monks sometime between the 8th and 12th Century.
This is one of my absolute favourites, the church is made of dry stone and it is different from every other ruin I have seen. I admit it took me a while to find out more about it, but a few months ago I finally figured it out after doing some research using the Ordnance survey maps. It was in the news, around seven years ago, plans of building a cable suspension bridge connecting the Island to the mainland, but nothing has been done since. I’ve dreamed of visiting this site so many times I lost count. All I can do now is hope that one day I might be able to have a closer look. Remember to bring some binoculars with you if you’re ever in Kilkee!
4. Tyrone House, County Galway.
This early 19th Century house is incredible. It no longer has floors, doors nor stairs, mainly due to being set on fire by the IRA during the War of Independence in 1921. But that only gives the house a distinctive, gloomy character. Some say it’s haunted, and I like to think it is. I didn’t see anything but who knows, you might.
5. Rockstown Castle, County Limerick.
Rockstown Castle, which could have been built around the 15th Century, is one of the most amazing Castles I’ve been to. The name pretty much says it all, it’s on top of a rock, on a hill, which gives it a quite privileged (should I say breath-taking?) view of the countryside. Most rooms are accessible and the stairway leads you all the way to the very top, which is all covered by ivy and flowers.
6. Lackeen Castle, County Tipperary.
Built in the 12th Century, Lackeen is a beautifully restored Castle in County Tipperary. Due to the restoration, the stairway is intact, meaning that most of the floors are accessible. You can see the fireplaces in the main rooms, the garderobe (toilets back then), the latrine chute (that I like to call the auld poop chute), and you can climb the stairs up until the very top that will allow you to have a lovely view of the countryside. If you’re into haunted places, this is the Castle for you. Apparently, a Pooka, a shape-shifter-ghostly-creature, was caught by one of the O’Kennedys (original owners of the place) and brought to the Castle. Since then, many people have reported seeing ghostly creatures lurking around the Castle. I would’ve loved to have seen something, but I wasn’t lucky! Maybe you will…
7. Graystown Castle, County Tipperary.
Graystown Castle was an outstanding surprise find. Built sometime before the 15th Century, the ruins are located on top of a steep hill and are on the very edge of a cliff, overlooking the countryside and the nearby Quarry. Most of the floors have collapsed but nearly half of the Tower House is still up. The spiral stairway is partially destroyed making it impossible to reach the remains of the upper floors, which was unfortunate, as similar to Rockstown, the last floor is covered in ivy and flowers. I was lucky enough to go there on a good day and watch the sunset from the hill where the Castle is. It was a lovely experience.
8. Castle Otway, County Tipperary.
This is a mid-18th Century house attached to a medieval Tower house altered in the 19th Century. The owner of the land was very friendly and allowed me to visit the Castle (even jokingly asked if I was interested in purchasing it, oh if only I could!). The Castle and House were destroyed by a fire in the early 1920’s; reasons behind the fire include the Sinn Féin, a kitchen fire or ghosts up to mischief. Regardless of the reason, it’s safe to say that the Castle still looks quite dramatic facing the green fields that surrounds the slight hill where it is.
9. Ballygrennan Castle, County Limerick.
This is another 16th Century Castle that reminds me a lot of Fiddaun Castle in size. The site is huge and you could easily spend over an hour exploring (I guarantee you’ll still not see everything!). You can take a nice walk along the Morningstar River and get to the Castle. It is definitely one of the finest Castles I’ve been to. You can easily see the bawn surrounding the Castle and the Tower House still stands in all its glory. The upper floors and the stairway, though, have collapsed meaning you will only be able to access the ground floor. Don’t be upset by that, you’ll still have loads to see and do.
10. Carrigogunnel Castle, County Limerick.
This 15th Century Castle lies on top of a volcanic crag, near Clarina in County Limerick. The site is quite big, but the Castle in itself is in ruins. The place was destroyed following the second siege of Limerick in 1691. An enormous amount of gun powder must have been used to destroy the Castle as there are only a few walls standing and quite big bits of the tower can be found almost intact on the ground. Interestingly, the Castle was featured on the back of U2’s album “The Unforgettable Fire” back in 1985.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this list and that it might help you learn a bit more about some of the lovely ruins that we tend to overlook in our daily lives. But before you go off on your journeys, jot down a few tips.
- Bring an extra pair of shoes and socks (or wellies!)
- Be prepared to walk quite a bit
- Beware of farm animals and do your best not to disturb them
- Be careful when visiting the ruins as some of them haven’t been restored, meaning that safety could be an issue
- and last but not least, always ask the landowners for permission when visiting private properties and respect their privacy.
This blog is run by international students at the University of Limerick, Ireland. Evelyn graduated from her Master’s in 2016, but she loved Ireland so much she has stayed on with the Third Level Graduate Scheme! Follow her adventures on Instagram at irishruins
More Blogs by UL students