Go off the beaten track and discover some of the island of Ireland’s lesser-known castles and abbeys and their magical tales.
There is a castle or abbey, intact or in ruins, around every corner on the island of Ireland. The best-known ones are magnets for visitors meaning it’s often hard to get the time and space to soak up their special ambiance. But there are many more that sit under the radar but offer equally magical experiences for the visitor. Here are a few to explore.
Ireland’s ancient clans have left their mark on the landscape. Among the most impressive of their strongholds is Grianán of Aileach, a circular fortress sitting high on a hilltop. The fort dates back to early history and is mentioned in Irish mythology and folklore.
One of the best-preserved friaries of its kind in Ireland, fourteenth-century Quin Abbey incorporates parts of the castle that stood there before it and some of its bastions still stand. There are stories of monks hiding gold in the nearby river but no-one has succeeded in finding the sacred loot.
Dating back to the sixteenth century, Enniskillen Castle is now home to the Fermanagh County Museum and the Inniskillings Museum. Perched on the banks of the River Erne, it’s a gateway to the history of the county and a landmark in the beautiful Fermanagh lake lands.
The seventh-century monastery Fore Abbey is known for seven wonders. These include the monastery built on a bog; the mill without a race; and the lintel stone raised by St Feichin’s prayers as well as tales of strange happenings on the site.
Once a strategically important Anglo-Norman stronghold, Dunamase was part of the dowry of Aoife, daughter of Diarmuid Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, when she married the Norman conqueror Strongbow in 1170. Hugely atmospheric, the ruins also afford great views over the countryside.
This Cistercian monastery was founded in the twelfth century and despite suffering great damage during the Cromwellian occupation it remains a fascinating building. Highlights include its impressive cloisters and many well-preserved stone carvings.
This three-storey tower house is typical of fourteenth- to fifteenth-century homes built by gentry on the island of Ireland. It overlooks Strangford Lough and has become known in recent years as a shoot location for Game of Thrones.