There’re enough amazing castles in Dublin to satisfy a long-weekend of historical day-trips from the city.
The numerous, intriguing, castles in Dublin remind visitors not just of Medieval times – but also of Ireland’s time of subjugation within the British Empire.
Also, there’s another snippet of interest for visitors to Dublin who’ve ever watched the TV Series, the Tudors.
The series was filmed in Ireland, and many of the castles in Dublin are used as settings and scenes within the TV series.
Almost all of the Dublin castles below have featured in The Tudors, at one point or another. See if you can spot them!
Dublin Castle: The Colonial Significance of this Old, Irish Castle
It’d be foolish to write about the castles in Dublin without first featuring, well, Dublin Castle itself. Dublin Castle has huge cultural and historical significance in Ireland. It’s taken centre-stage in Irish politics for more than 800 years – from the times of the Normans to the days of British Colonial rule.
Like many of the castles on this page, Dublin Castle is used as a setting in the TV series, The Tudors. Some of the grand rooms, and the central courtyard, are used to represent the Vatican.
Anyway, to the history! The conquering Normans built a stone castle here in about 1180. Some twenty years later, the most accurate records tell of King John of England fortifying and strengthening the castle, finishing the moated fortress in 1230.
However, you’ll see little of the original Norman design today. In 1671, and again in 1684, huge fires ripped through the castle, destroying almost all of the Medieval buildings. Indeed, it’s a miracle that some small sections survived. Why? Back at that time, Dublin Castle was used as an armoury, and held enough gunpowder to fuel a phenomenal explosion.
After the two fires, as a concession to the castle’s heritage, the subsequent rebuild attempted to recreate the Medieval structure. For example, the present Upper Courtyard follows the original Medieval layout; and the 1830s Coach House is a neogothic (and rather Disneyesque) attempt to evoke the appearance of the old castle.
However, the only surviving ‘authentic’ Medieval structure is the round Record Tower, which dates to King John’s time. The Record Tower is also the only surviving remnant of the 4.6m thick stone walls which once encircled Dublin.
Back in Medieval times, the castle was sited in the South Eastern corner of old Dublin, and the thick city walls weaved around the old city (the river Liffey formed the northern limits of old Dublin: and was a natural defence against intruders). The city wall included no less than five formidable gatehouses; alongside many small towers and look-out points.
Only remnants of many of these old towers remain – and some never structures, such as the pastel-blue Bermingham Tower, were built on the bases of the old medieval stone-work. (In particular, the Bermingham was blasted to its base with another gunpowder explosion, and rebuilt in the c18th).
However, despite such a rich Medieval history, the significance of Dublin castle really lies in its role within the British rule of Ireland.
It was the nerve centre of British control of Ireland, from the early days of Britain’s imperial ambitions right up to the declaration of Irish Independence in 1921. The siege of the castle was a symbolic event in the Easter Rising of 1916, which precipitated the Irish War of Independence.
Nowadays, the castle has an important ceremonial function for the Irish State. Most Irish presidents – even to today – have had their inaugurations held within the castle.
Read other travellers’ reviews and opinions of Dublin Castle on TripAdvisor. . . (This is an affiliate link to TripAdvisor).
The Dinkiest of All Castles in Dublin: Swords Castle
Swords Castle can be found about 15km North of Dublin, on the outskirts of the evocatively named town of Swords.
Swords Castle is most famous for featuring in the TV series, The Tudors – this castle in Dublin was the filmset for a scene in series four, where the English lay siege to a French castle in Boulogne.
This brief appearance on the small screen is the crowning glory of an extensive programme of rebuilding and restoration which has been taking place within the castle over the past few years.
Swords was first built in the 1200s, and was a strong-holding for the Archbishop of Dublin. It’s a small little castle, which is arranged in a rough polygon of large, fortified walls, surrounding a central enclosure. The great hall, which would have been the prime attraction at the heart of the castle, has since been destroyed.
The entrance of the castle is via an impressive arched gatehouse, which has two imposing square towers on either side. The castle wouldn’t have been particularly strong in the face of attack – indeed, it’s been burned by fire on six separate occasions – but would have been intended to be a fortified home for the Archbishop.
Nowadays, you’re free to wander the castle and the nearby park.
The Most Endearing of All Castles in Dublin: Drimnagh Castle
The grey-limestone Drimnagh Castle is another of the smaller castles in Dublin. It’s located three miles from the city centre within the suburb of the same name. It, too, has a claim to fame as it’s been featured repeatedly in the TV series The Tudors.
As Seen in The Tudors: Some sections depicting the rooms of Hever Castle were shot in the innards of Drimnagh; and the steps leading into its moat were used to depict ‘Traitor’s Gate’ in the Tower of London.
Drimnagh (pronounced Drim-Na) is an interesting little spot, and it dates from Norman times. It was built in the early 1200s, and was the home of the de Berneval family, although it passed into the hands of other nobles. It came close to being demolished back in 1986, and was narrowly saved from destruction by conservationist Peter Pearson.
The castle has an impressive, beamed, Great Hall; and the entrance is through a grandiose front gate – a perfect arch topped by three tall windows. However, the feature that makes Drimnagh so special is its peaceful moat, which surrounds 2/3 of the castle. The moat is naturally fed by the nearby stream.
It’s an easy trip from the centre of Dublin city and is being extensively restored – but it isn’t really a major tourist attraction (it’s adjacent to a noisy all-boy’s school). However, the guides are knowledgable, the castle is interesting, and it is surrounded by lovely, well cared for c17th gardens, filled with delicate clipped hedges and a tweeting dovecote.
One of the Privately Owned Castles in Dublin: Howth, on Dublin Bay
The city of Dublin effectively overlooks a little bay: and, at the Northern-most point of the bay, upon a round little outcrop of land, you’ll discover the interesting spectre of Howth Castle.
Howth Castle is unique – of all these castles in Dublin, it’s the only one that’s still a family residence, and the home of the Gaisford St Lawrences. The family are relatively conscientious about opening the castle up to the public, but it tends to be only on special, advertised days, or for pre-arranged trips. Don’t just turn up and expect to be let in.
The family are keen the emphasise that the castle has been their ancestral seat for more than 800 years – it’s no lie, but it’s a little bit of a marketing twist. The blood-line of the St Lawrences really ended in the early c20th, passing on to the modern day Gaisford-St Lawrences.
Additionally, although fortifications have stood here since the 1200s, it’s a bit of a stretch to claim that people have always been living in a castle. The oldest sections which you can see today were finished in 1464 – although there were Norman fortifications upon this spot beforehand.
The castle is quite a hodge-podge of architectural styles and influences, which makes it an interesting insight into the architectural development of grand Irish homes. The oldest, still-visible structures include some interesting Irish ‘crow crenellated’ towers (see picture, below right) and the castle-keep.
These original buildings have been supplemented with halls and living rooms (c17th); additional towers and out-houses (c18th); and the rather ostentatious neo-gothic entrance gates (in about the 1840s).
In 1909, architect Sir Edward Lutyens was employed to renovate the castle and to make these various architectural styles coalesce; he eccentrically added on a further tower and the library building.
As well as being a melting pot of architectural styles, this castle also hosts a wealth of entrepreneurial activity. Out back, you’ll find a beautiful – and vast – garden filled with Spring-flowering rhododendron; and the place also hosts a cookery school.
Howth Castle is a good-deal more famous than most privately-held castles in Dublin and abroad. Why is it so well known? It’s almost undoubtedly because the castle is extensively featured in James Joyce’s novel, Finnegan’s Wake.
Planning an incredible trip to Dublin and Ireland?
If you’re coming to Dublin, or planning a visit to Ireland in general, I’ve written a host of information that I hope will be useful.
If you’re keen to stay somewhere in Dublin with a bit of character, there are a few hotels I’d definitely recommend.
One of these is Clontarf Castle (pictured, left) – an 1872 manor which was built on the site of a Medieval fortress. It’s very popular with visitors.
There are many other castle hotels around Ireland, too, if you’re interested.
I’ve also written guides to many other castles and areas in Ireland – including the ever-popular Kilkenny Castle.