Most Irish castles date from the 11th to 15th century. The Irish began to build fortifications in the form of castles soon after the Norman Invasion. Most of these medieval strongholds were subsequently occupied by invading lords who used them as defensive administrative headquarters. They are distinctly different to some of the royal castles or palaces found in Britain or continental Europe, in that Ireland has had no royalty for over a thousand years and so the castles served a more practical than symbolic role. The castles built in Ireland and Kerry were fortified homes for chieftains, or Anglo Norman settlers and were designed primarily for defensive purposes.

Ballinskelligs Castle

Ballinskelligs Castle is more commonly known as McCarthy Mór Castle. It is in fact a Tower House and was built in the 16th century by McCarthy Mór. It is thought that its purpose was twofold. Firstly to protect the bay from pirates and also from which to charge a tariff on incoming trade ships.

Ballycarberry Castle

Ballycarbery Castle overlooks the sea near the mouth of the Valencia River about 2 miles from Caherciveen. The present Ballycarbery Castle was built in the 16th century, although there had been an earlier building on the site since the 14th century. Oliver Cromwell`s troops severely damaged the castle in 1652 when it was attacked with cannons. Local farmers removed stones from the damaged castle for building. The castle is in ruins, and the whole back wall has fallen down. The castle was surrounded by a defensive wall, but more than half of it has gone. You can still see the arrow slits along the remaining parts of the wall. A staircase can be seen inside one part of the wall. The ground floor of the castle had several rooms, of which only one has roof and walls intact. There are two staircases up to the first floor, one of which is still in good condition. The second floor is not accessible, as the stairs were probably against the back wall which has gone.

The castle is in a pleasant location with views over the sea and surrounding countryside. It makes an impressive sight when seen from Ballycarbery Beach, especially at high tide.

Ballyheigue Castle

Designed by Richard Morrison in 1810, Ballyheigue Castle was built over the remains of a grand mansion, and home of the Crosbie family. Now mostly a shell, surrounded by a golf course which opened in 1996. It has been burned down twice, once by accident in 1840 and again on 27th May 1921 as part of the troubles and the destruction of buildings linked to British Imperialism. It is said that the household goods were removed and distributed amongst the community before the locals put it to the torch.

Local legend tells of Captain O`Donnell and his son, who explored and photographed Ballyhaigue castle during holiday, but it was in developing the film that they made the most fascinating discovery! There was a `figure` obscured by a square of light in one of the castle windows, wearing hose or boots and holding a sword. Astonishingly, tests showed that the figure was not the result of double exposure. Unfortunately, the photograph and negative were lost in transit, and try as he might, Captain O`Donnell failed to locate the picture. Advertising in papers and printed leaflets was futile, though he did receive interest from as far as Copenhagen. Why, he wondered, would the Danish be so interested?

Upon further investigation of old Kerry chronicles he discovered tale of the Golden Lyon, a ship of the Danish Asiatic Company, which had wrecked (by clever trickery on part of the Irish) at Ballyheigue in 1730. Sir Thomas Crosbie came to their `rescue,` salvaging their cargo, including chests of silver. Soon after, Sir Crosbie died and his wife, Lady Margaret, laid claim to his estate, including the Danish silver. The captain of the Golden Lyon hid his silver in the home`s cellar, until he could ship it back. This never came to pass, as a raid laid waste to the silver, only a fraction was ever recovered. Lady Margaret was implicated in instigating the raid, but she denied all knowledge.

Records state that the Danish Silver Raid took place on June 4 1731. Captain O`Donnell`s photograph of the phantom sailor was taken on June 4 1962. Does the sailor, therefore, appear on the anniversary of the raid to guard his hidden treasure?

Ballyseede Castle

Ballyseede Castle is set on a 30 acre site only 3 miles from Tralee. Ballyseede Castle was the garrison for the Earl`s of Desmond; the Fitzgerald`s, who refused to swear allegiance to the crown resulting in the Desmond Wars which took place over 300 years. The wars finally ceased in 1584 when Gerald; 16th Earl of Desmond, was beheaded in the estate at Ballyseede and his head exhibited in a cage on London Bridge. Access to the fully restored castle is via a winding carriage driveway. It is built over three floors with two curved bows to the front and a battlemented parapet. Inside the castle has large columns leading to a grand staircase, two drawing rooms with ornate plasterwork and fireplaces, a library and dining room. Today`s castle has been transformed into a 4 star hotel offering 23 bedrooms and suites in the transformed stable block and the main castle. Rooms in the main castle have high ceilings and four poster beds and the hotel also offers a number of rooms especially for families.

A ghost called `Hilda` is said to haunt the castle`s basement and each year on the 24th March she makes her presence known.

Carrigafoyle Castle

Carrigafoyle Castle can be found 2 miles north of Ballylongford on the south side of the River Shannon. It is situated in a channel between the mainland and Carrig island. The castle was built in the 1490`s by Conor Laith O`Connor-Kerry in a strategic position overlooking the shipping lanes that brought goods to Limerick. The walls extended into the water and made a dock capable of landing ships that were up to 100 tons. In 1580 the castle was attacked from land and sea by Sir William Pelham in the Desmond Wars. The castle is has never been repaired due to the amount of damage it sustained, but it has been made safe. It still stands today in ruins with parts such as the moat and outer wall still visible. The castle is accessed by a raised stone pathway which becomes inaccessible during very high tides so caution is advised. The castle is a national monument but has been left in its ruined state. The castle has been partially restored and various internal rooms and staircases are accessible. There are no visitor facilities, but this need not detract from the medieval experience of seeing the castle.

Gallarus Castle

Gallarus Castle was built by the FitzGeralds and is probably 15th century in date. It is one of the few surviving castles on the Dingle peninsula. It is a four-storey tower with a vaulted ceiling on the fourth floor; none of its battlements remain. Conservation works have been undertaken at the castle in recent years and the interior is fully accessible. The tower was accessed originally on the 1st floor and there was a two storey defensive structure to the front, now gone but evidence of it can be seen on the external wall. Restricted access for visitors with disabilities. No car parking at site. It is 6 miles from Dingle (R559).

Listowel Castle

Located in the town center of Listowell, the construction date of the earliest castle at Listowel dates to the 13th century but the present castle was probably built in the 15th century by the FitzMaurices. The castle stands on an elevation on a steep bank, overlooking the river Feale, above the location of a strategic ford. A substantial part of the front of the castle survives consisting of two large, square towers of four storeys, standing almost to the original height of 50 feet, connected by a wall of the same height and linked together by an arch on one side. A major program of conservation works has been undertaken at the castle including the provision of an external staircase to allow public access to the upper levels.

Minard Castle

Sitting prominently on a hill overlooking a gorgeous little bay with views across the Irish Sea to the Iveragh Peninsula, it is one of only three of the mid-16th century Fitzgerald castles built on Dingle Peninsula (Rahinnane and Gallarus being the other two) with substantial remains. The castle ruins consist of a rectangular tower house constructed from roughly dressed sandstone blocks laid in a strong mortar. Three stories of the castle survive, but it is believed that there was a 4th story or attic space above those. The first & second stories were vaulted. The strength of this castle was demonstrated when in 1650 Cromwell`s Army detonated charges at each of its corners yet the castle still stood. However, all occupants of the castle were subsequently killed and the structural damage done made the building uninhabitable. What is most striking about this castle is the fantastic location. It is situated on a piece of land stretching out into the sea in the parish of Minard, near Lispole.

Parkavonear Castle

The ruins of Parkavonear Castle stand on Aghadoe Hill in Aghadoe and overlook the lakes of Killarney. Built in the 13th century, Parkavonear Castle was erected after the 1169 invasion of Ireland by Anglo-Norman forces. It once had a church on its grounds. The castle`s original entrance was on an upper floor, so that the ladder used to access it could be withdrawn for battle. However, another entrance was made in its lower floor at a later date. The structure also once included wooden floors and a wooden roof, although these rotted and were removed. Parkavonear is unusual for an Irish castle because it is circular instead of rectangular. Only the stone structure of this castle is standing today. A staircase joins its two remaining storeys, and the first storey still has the ruin of its fireplace. The interior space spans several feet, and the walls are 6 feet thick. The remnants of a square earthworks wall stand around its keep, and a moat with two ditches surrounds it.
The castle is open and accessible to the public.

Rahinnane Castle

In the parish of Ventry, was the residence of the Knight of Kerry, who belonged to the Geraldine family. The castle was built on the site of an old ringfort. The ringfort was built up and a second added with walls of 20 feet, giving the appearance that there may have been a moat, although there never was one. Rahinnane Castle still has its very tiny, narrow, stone stairs, from the first to second floors, which can be (carefully!) climbed.

Ross Castle

Ross Castle is situated on the edge of Lough Leane one the lower lakes of Killarney National Park, 1.5 miles south of Killarney within the Kenmare Estate. Ross Castle was built by the O`Donoghue`s in the late 1400`s. At the time they were the ruling clan of Killarney and the surrounding area. Ross Castle is a square tower house with bartizans, or overhanging turrets, on two of the tower`s corners and two (of the original four) round towers. The castle is surrounded by parts of a square bawn or defensive wall. The castle has been refurbished in parts with the vaulted ceilings in the bed chamber being reconstructed using medieval techniques. Access to the bed chambers and parapets is via a circular stone staircase. The most important room of the castle is the Great Hall situated on the top floor with large windows, fireplace, kitchen and minstrels` gallery. The castle is open to the public from May until September by guided tour only with the highlights being the Great Hall, the reconstructed ceilings of the bed chamber and the wonderful views across the lake. Visitors also have the opportunity to see a collection of old furniture exhibited at the castle. Those walking the Kerry Way can stop at the castle as it is located along the route, it is also possible to take a boat trip to Innisfallen Island from the castle`s dock.