Howth Castle | Dublin

Howth Castle

Up until recently, I had never heard of Howth Castle, despite going to Howth Village more times than I can remember. Judging from the reactions I had from some Dubliners, I was definitely not the only one oblivious to its presence. This 700 year old castle is literally hiding in plain sight on the peninsula of Howth.
You see, when you exit Howth Dart Station, you instinctively take a left, in the direction of the harbour. Next time go against your instinct and take a right until you reach the estate’s impressive stone gate entrance. It would be a shame to miss this estate, scene of a pirate legend and of one of the most famous monologues in Irish Literature.

Howth Castle

From the time you pass under the entrance gate, it’s a good 10 minute uphill walk until you see the castle. It’s an impressive sight.  Notice the layers of history in all the parts that were successively added to the structure through the ages.
There has been a Howth Castle since 1180 on the edge of Howth village but nothing is left from that original timber building. The oldest parts you can see today date back from the mid-15th century.

What’s fascinating is that the same family has been living here since 1180 thus making Howth Castle one of the oldest residential castles in Ireland, if not Europe. The Lawrence Family has been carrying all sorts of stories and traditions over 35 generations. One in particular involves a lady pirate, Grace O’Malley. Back in 1576, she wished to visit the castle but when she knocked on the doors, she found them shut tight. The Lawrence Family was too busy having dinner to receive her. Strongly offended, she orchestrated the kidnapping of the family’s young heir in retaliation. After much discussion, Grace and the Lawrence came to an agreement. She was to bring the boy safe home on the condition that the castle doors must always be open and that an extra seat must be set at the table for any unexpected guests. It is said that the family still honours their promise even to this day. Do you reckon I could show up tonight for a bite?

Howth Castle

If you’re interested to know more about the castle and the Lawrence family, you can take part to a tour between the months of April and September, on Sundays.
To be found also inside the castle is the National Transport Museum of Ireland as well as the cosiest cafe I ever did see. It is located in the courtyard. As soon as I stepped inside the Castle Cafe, I felt like I had been transported to someone’s private garden, albeit with a grandiose castle background. Little white cast iron tables and chairs are scattered on the lawn and there’s also seating available in the adorable conservatory. I heard they make scones everyday fresh out of their aga. It sounds absolutely heavenly, I’m dying to try them out with some yummy jam. They also serve afternoon tea in this idyllic setting.

Howth CastleHowth Castle

Outside the castle, you still have plenty to explore in the 250 acre gardens so hold on to your boots. First you’ll stumble upon the Deer Park Golf. At the time of my visit (early June), it was completely covered with buttercups which was ever so cheerful. I immediately had the urge to cross the field and walk towards the sea until I reached the park’s edge. Through the trees, I was surprised to see spreading in front of me Howth harbour and its tiny seafood restaurants. It’s a crazy thought, Howth Castle demesne had been here all along, only hidden by a handful of trees. I could see below the streets I had trodden, oblivious to the amazing treasure that was lying so close.
This sudden change of perspective made me feel a bit dizzy. What else have I not noticed around me? I had missed a bloody castle, after all!

Howth CastleHowth Castle

After spying on the village like a creepy puppet master for a while, I set off in the direction of the golf club’s bar. Near the parking lot, I watched a lone golfer practising his swing. Surely, he must have felt like the luckiest golfer alive facing the epic view over the peninsula’s entrance.

Behind the building is the start to the Rhododendron Walk. It goes through a forest of, you guessed it, rhododendrons. It looks so out of place, almost jungle-like, you would not necessarily expect to find a setting like this in Ireland.  The forest paths are covered with the trees’ exposed twisting roots, I felt like I had just been transported in the film Legend. I don’t think it would have totally surprise me to catch a glimpse of a unicorn in between the foliage.
Note that the rhododendron trees bloom from May to June so make sure to plan your visit around that time to experience the place to its full potential.

Howth Castle
At the start of the walk, you can go straight and climb steep steps that will lead you to the top of the Rhododendron hill. It might take a little effort but believe me the pay-off is worth every steps. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that there you will find one of the most stunning views in Dublin. In my opinion, it ranks as high as the view from Killiney Hill. It sweeps over Howth Castle, Howth Harbour and the Ireland’s Eye. You can even see the Poolbeg Chimneys on the left!

Click here to read my post on Killiney Hill

Howth CastleHowth Castle

Now if you’d rather not climb any steps, you can take the path on your right to explore the forest grounds. There you’ll find an impressive dolmen, the 2nd heaviest in Ireland. It’s nicknamed Aideen’s Grave after a young widow who died of a broken heart following her husband’s death at the battle of Gabhra (AD 184). Unfortunately as romantic as this legend sounds, it can’t be true as the stone was dated at least 300 years older than the historic battle.

Howth CastleHowth Castle

Another fictitious love story was set among these trees. Indeed, it is here that Leopold Bloom proposed to Molly in James Joyce’s Ulysses. This is the scene of the most recognisable monologue in the book. Amongst these striking trees, she said yes she will yes. Who wouldn’t really?

See also: Drimnagh Castle, if you’re looking to visit another castle in Dublin

Howth Castle

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Howth Castle – website 
Howth Demesne
co. Dublin

Opening Hours
Tours of the castle are available on Sunday afternoon from April to September, you can book your ticket here.

Admission
The demesne is free to roam while the entrance fee to the castle starts at €50

Dart
Howth Station

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Russborough House & Parklands | co. Wicklow

Russborough House
One golden afternoon in the late Autumn, I took the 65 bus to county Wicklow. I got off at the end of the line, in a town called Blessington. It wasn’t my first time here, actually. I had stayed here for a couple of days in the Avon Ri Lakeshore Resort a few years back. It is a group of self-catered townhouses on the shore of the Blessington Lakes. I have fond memories of the place and I would totally recommend it if you’re looking for a base to explore Wicklow or if you simply want an escape from the city. The lakes are the perfect setting for invigorating country walks.
Coincidentally, the Avon Ri is also the start of the Greenway Walk, where I was headed that morning. This is the trail that leads directly to Russborough House. This Irish Stately House had been on my list of places to see for a really long time. I had read that it was one of Ireland’s most beautiful houses and I was dying to see it for myself.
Greenway Walk
The Blessington Greenway trail is a pleasant one hour and half walk (one way) on flat, well-maintained paths. They follow first the shores of the lakes then they go through wild woodlands. Half-way through, I felt my shrivelled urban lungs expand and fill themselves with the crisp cold Autumn air of the morning. Dry leaves were crunching under my feet and the pine trees wrapped me with their musky silence.
At the end of the trail, a stoned arch marks the entrance to the Russborough demesne. It opens to a long avenue bordered with trees which leads directly to the 18th century house. Its 210 metre-long facade (the longest frontage in Ireland) embraces a phenomenal view of valleys, mountains, lakes and, of course, sheep.
I sat down on a bench to take it all in (and to recover from the previous long walk).
Revived by my surroundings, I then headed to the ticket office and booked a tour inside the house. The tour was to start in an hour which left me a bit of time to explore the house’s grounds.
Russborough House
The courtyard is home to many artisan and craft stalls: a blacksmith, a candle-maker, a woodturner and a ceramicist. There, you will find also Ireland’s Bird of Prey Centre and if you’re lucky you might catch a show of falconry. It was a bit late in the year so I wasn’t. I didn’t feel too lucky either when I found out that the walled gardens were closed that day.
Nonetheless, I continued my exploration, walked by the maze and stumbled upon one of the previous owners’ grave, the 4th Earl of Milltown and the Countess. I also found a fairy trail and admired Lady’s Island where a little red Japanese bridge spans over a delightful brook.
But time was a-ticking and I headed back to the gift shop where the tour was to start. A friendly lady with a mellifluous germanic accent took our small group in the first room of the house. The dining room.
Russborough House
There, the long mahogany table had been laid out with silver candle holders, gilded porcelain plates and tiny crystal glasses for the sherry. Our tour guide set the scene and depicted the lives of those who once called Russborough home. It all started with Jospeh Leeson, 1st Earl of Milltown who asked Richard Cassels to design and build the house in 1741. Richard Cassels was one of the most prolific architects in Ireland of the time. He was a master of the Palladian style of which Russborough is a fine example.
The estate stayed in the Leeson family until 1914. It passed in the hands of a couple more owners then was finally acquired by Lord and Lady Beit. They were looking for a place to house their vast art collection.
The couple resided here until their final days (Lord Alfred Beit: 1994, Lady Beit: 2005) but they opened part of the house to the public, in the late seventies.
The life of the Beits at Russborough was eventful, to say the least. They’ve gone through: 4 robberies (one of them was even labelled ‘the biggest art robbery in history’ at the time), 1 forced occupation by the old IRA, 1 fire and 1 ghost. But not everything was gloom and doom, the couple actually had mostly a happy life here. They were renowned socialites and received many illustrious guests. Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful, Jackie Kennedy, Fred Astaire and Coco Chanel to name a few.
Having noticed some books on the Mitford Sisters in the gift shop (I used to be obsessed with them!), I asked the tour lady if there was any connections with Russborough, could they have been guests here too?
To my absolute delight, she informed me that the sisters were actually cousins of Lady Clementine Beit!
Russborough House
Russborough House
Russborough House
While learning about the life of the Beits, we had moved from one room to another. We passed the boudoir, the entrance hall, the reception room and my favourite, the library. As it happens, the favourite of the lady of the house too! Lady Clementine was a “mad bibliophile and adored being surrounded by books“. I couldn’t have thought of a better place for that as the walls were covered in books and the sofa near the chimney looked ever so inviting.
One thing that really impressed me throughout the whole visit was the ceiling and the wall plasterwork. The flamboyantly rococo stucco work was a speciality of the Lafranchini Brothers and if you see some in a Palladian house in Ireland, chances are they worked on them.
Russborough House
Russborough House
Russborough House
We climbed the equally ornate staircase to access the second floor. There the rooms are more plain, the showstopper here is undoubtedly the mesmerising view from the bedroom. My eyes got lost on the horizon and I couldn’t help thinking about the person waking up to this, every morning. They must have felt the luckiest human in the world!

Looking for more Wicklow gardens to visit? Head to my Wicklow section 

Russborough House

RUSSBOROUGH HOUSE PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Russborough House & Parklands – website
Blessington
co. Wicklow
Ireland

Opening Hours
see website

Admission
General €12 / Concession €9 / Child €6 / Under 5 Free

Bus
65

BLESSINGTON GREENWAY WALK PRACTICAL INFORMATION

The trail starts at the Avon Ri Lakeshore Resort and ends at Russborough House. Distance one way is 6.5 km which takes about 1.5 hour to complete. The trail’s grade is easy.

Drimnagh Castle | Dublin

Drimnagh Castle

Did you know that the only castle with a flooded moat left in Ireland can be found in Dublin? You’d think with such a title, the castle would also be ‘flooded’ with tourists. Not quite. It is a bit of a locals’ secret probably due to the fact that it’s located rather far off the tourist track. In fact, the castle was completely unknown to me despite having lived in Dublin for 8 years! It is located in the capital’s South West suburbs, in a residential area called Drimnagh.

Drimnagh Castle

Case in point, when I finally visited this Norman Castle earlier this year, I practically had the whole place to myself bar a group of kids from the primary school next door. I had unfortunately just missed the tour guide but the helpful volunteers in care of the grounds kindly let me in and provided lots of information.

Drimnagh Castle was built around 1215 by the De Bernivale (sometimes spelt Barneville and later anglicized as Barnewall). They had received the land in recognition for their services during the Crusades and the invasion of Ireland. They resided here for 400 years.

See also: Love Irish Castles? Check out this Norman Castle just outside Dublin

Drimnagh CastleDrimnagh Castle

The castle you see today had been updated throughout the years: the main castle on the right of the tower dates back from the 15th century, the tower was built in the 16th, the porch and the stairway in the 19th and various buildings were added during the last century.

It also holds the title of being the longest inhabited castle in Ireland but by the mid-1980s it had completely fell into ruins. Thankfully the local community and An Taisce (The National Trust for Ireland) intervened and brought the place back to its old glory. They even added a beautiful 17th century-style garden.

Drimnagh CastleDrimnagh Castle

Inside the castle, the piece de resistance is without a doubt the Great Hall. It has a gorgeous red and black tiled floor, an imposing mantelpiece and curious carved oak figures adorning the walls. Back in the day, the hall had a dual purpose of sleeping quarters cum living room. During the day, the mattresses were replaced by tables and benches.

Drimnagh Castle is certainly a charismatic place and it won’t surprise you that it was used as a shooting location for several productions among which The Tudors and Ella Enchanted.

See also: Killruddery and Powerscourt Estate were also filming locations for the TV show The Tudors.

Drimnagh Castle

DRIMNAGH CASTLE PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Drimnagh Castle – website
Long Mile Road
Dublin 12

Admission
General €4.50 / Students & OAPs €4 / Children €2.50

Opening Hours
9am-4pm (Mon-Thu)
9am-1pm (Fri)

Bus
18, 56A, 151

 

Kylemore Abbey | co. Galway

Kylemore Abbey

Seeing Kylemore Abbey roll out over the horizon when you drive down the N59 is something that must be experienced once in a life-time. A few years ago, My friend and I were road tripping in the Connemara when we both simultaneously gasped and squealed at the sight of the castle standing majestically over a mirror-like lake. This is the kind of stuff fairy-tales are made of.

You can visit the ground floor of the castle where you’ll learn of its history. It was built in the 1860s by Mitchell Henry, a wealthy London doctor, for his wife Margaret who fell in love with the region. They lived there very happily and had 9 (!) children. Alas, their story took a tragic turn when Margaret died of a fever during a trip to Egypt. Inconsolable, Mitchell built a Gothic Church and a mausoleum in honour of his wife, which you can still visit today in Kylemore. He left the premises, pained by the memory of his wife too present there. The castle was then acquired by the Duke and Duchess of Manchester who had to let it go a few years later due to gambling debts.
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore AbbeyKylemore Abbey

This brings us to 1920 and the current owners of the estate, the Benedictine nuns. They were looking for a new home after their Belgian monastery was destroyed in World War I. They found it in Kylemore Castle which then became Kylemore Abbey. They still live there today, living off admissions, donations and the handmade goods they sell at the gift shop.
Kylemore AbbeyKylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey

Unfortunately, I wasn’t as enthralled by the rooms of Kylemore Abbey as I was for its outside. For me the true gem of the estate is the Victorian Walled Garden. Nestled between hilltops, the abbey gardens are a stunning example of Irish landscaping. Inside the stone walls, you’ll find a vegetable garden, orchards, glasshouses and the Head Gardener’s house. The latter’s period rooms are beautifully laid out in pastel hues. I can’t start to imagine the life led by those who took care of this land, an oasis between lake and mountains.
Kylemore Abbey

KYLEMORE ABBEY PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Kylemore Abbey – website
Connemara
co. Galway, Ireland

Admission
General €13 / Seniors €10 / Student €9 / Children under 10 Free

Opening Times
9.30am-5.30pm (Every Day, Mar-Nov)
9am-7pm (Every Day, July-Aug)
10am-4.30pm (Every Day, Nov-March)

Quinta da Regaleira | Lisbon

Quinta da RegaleiraQuinta da Regaleira

When I saw Carrie’s post on her visit to Quinta de Regaleira, I knew I needed to check this magical place out for myself; surely it couldn’t be real, it was some photoshop trick or something.
So when I had the chance to visit Lisbon at the beginning of this year, a trip to Sintra, where Quinta da Regaleira is located, was high on my priority list.
Sintra, if you’ve never heard of it, is this little town, a mere 40 minute train journey away from Lisbon. While it is a picturesque little village very stairs-y and colourful, it is also weird in the way that it is surrounded by so many fairytale castles.
It was my aim to visit as many palaces as possible but that was without taking into consideration my unfit state, the rain and my propensity to take things a little bit too easy. Basically I got caught in a rainstorm in a middle of ascending a hill, trying to reach the Palacio de Pena just before closing time. Moral of the story: take the bloody bus when you see it.

Quinta da Regaleira

Luckily though, I made one wise decision and that was to visit Quinta da Regaleira upon my immediate arrival to Sintra. And I’m happy to report Carrie’s pictures were telling the truth. Quinta da Regaleira is truly a magical place. What I liked about it the most is it’s not only magical in a fairytale kind of way, it also has a dark and creepy side. When I got a first sight of the palace above the wall from the street, I had the feeling that I was facing the Portuguese Manderley. Maybe it was the January chill or my vivid imagination, but I couldn’t help shiver a bit.

Quinta da RegaleiraQuinta da Regaleira

Although owned for many years by the Regaleira family, the estate became the oddity it is today when a Brazilian millionnaire bought it and with the help of an Italian architect, remodeled the place after his interest in the occult during the first decade of the 20th century. He drew his inspiration for the garden features from secret societies like the the Freemasons, the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucians while also using symbols from Alchemy. The result is one of the most enchanting and mysterious place I ever seen, it kinda made me wish to be 10 again and have a massive hide-and-seek party.

Quinta da RegaleiraQuinta da RegaleiraQuinta da RegaleiraQuinta da Regaleira

The gardens are laid out on a hillside, they feature underground tunnels, grottoes, fountains, ponds, turrets and a chapel. But the pièce de résistance is without a doubt the Initiation Well, which is inspired by the masonic rites. As you go down the spiral staircase, you can see on the bottom of the well, the Knights Templar’s cross.

Quinta da RegaleiraQuinta da RegaleiraQuinta da Regaleira

Unfortunately the house felt a bit like a disappointment after the amazement of the gardens. The actual features, feminine frescoes, beautiful tilework and intricate woodcarving, offered an interesting contrast to the dark character of the gardens, and while they were certainly pleasing to the eye, I couldn’t help but be a little underwhelmed by the use of the rooms. They were some objects displayed under glass and architecture drawings you could flick through, but nothing quite captured my imagination as the otherworldly landscape outside.

With that being said, I visited Quinta da Regaleira in January and as I understand it many rooms were closed as well as the balcony which I would have loved to stand on and enjoy a panoramic view on the estate. So my advice would maybe skip the indoors during Winter season if you’re in a hurry, unless you have a thing for romantic wall paintings, they’re really quite beautiful.

Quinta da RegaleiraQuinta da Regaleira
Quinta da RegaleiraQuinta da Regaleira

Top tip: Bring a torch or some powerful source of light to explore the underground tunnels. The one leading up to the Initiation Well is lit up with fairy lights but the rest are dark as the soul of the tea. I didn’t have any light on me but was adamant to try to explore one of them near the pond, it only took a few steps until I freaked out… yep, definitely not the adventure backpacker travel blogger you were looking for here.

Quinta da Regaleira

Practical Information

Quinta da Regaleira – website
Rua Barbosa do Bocage, 5
2710-567 Sintra
Portugal

Opening Hours: 10am – 5.30pm (Nov-Jan) / 10 – 6.30pm (Feb-Mar & Oct) / 10am – 8pm (Apr-Sep)

Train: Sintra Station

Admission Fee: Adult 6€ / Concession & Children >14yo 4€ / Children <9yo Free / Children <14yo 3€

Trim

trim castle 8
trim castle 2

A mere 45 minute car journey from Dublin, you’ll find one of the most famous castles in Ireland, heck the world! If this imposing building looks familiar, this is no coincidence as Trim Castle was the star alongside Mel Gibson in Braveheart.
Standing next to its walls, you’ll sure feel small and images of epic battles will start to crowd your mind. Trim Castle played a major role in the Norman invasion of Ireland. It took 30 years in the 12th century for Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath, to build this fortress, making it the largest Cambro-Norman Castle in Ireland. No wonder it served as the Norman centre of administration, as its monumental walls would have disheartened the bravest of warriors.

Today, Trim Castle seems lightyears from this bloody page of history as tourists and locals alike wander about in the surrounding greenery. The quaint little town at its foot is equally worth a nosing around. You’ll be enchanted by the cute cottages’ pastel facades; and the pubs decorated with massive geranium pots serve as the cosiest shelters against the drizzle and the fog.

Whatever you do, don’t miss out on petting some cute donkeys! You’ll find them in a field further down the river Boyne, let yourself guide by the heehaws!

trim castle 7
trim castle 11
trim castle 14
trim castle 12
trim castle 5
trim castle 1
trim castle 13
trim castle 10
trim castle 15

Practical Information

Trim, County Meath (map)
Bus from Dublin: Bus Eireann 111
Castle Admission: Adult 4€/ Senior 2€/ Child, Student 3€ / Family 10€
Castle Opening Hours: Nov-Jan, Weekends only, 9am – 5pm / Feb-15 March, Weekends only, 9.30am – 5.30pm / 16 March – 30 Sep, Daily, 10am – 6pm / Oct, Daily, 9.30am – 5.30pm
The Castle is closed the weekend before Christmas and before New Year’s eve.