There are hundreds of castles dotted throughout the island of Ireland.

Some are used for affairs of State, others are must-sees on Ireland’s tourist travel, and many more converted into the living quarters for eccentric artists or American actors. And while scores remain in ruin along the coastal shores north and south of the island, many more have been converted into luxury hotels and guesthouses allowing visitors to step back in time to sample a taste of castle living. Castle breaks are available and accessible throughout the country, here’s some of Ireland’s finest:

Dromoland Castle Dating back to the 15th century, Dromoland Castle was originally the ancestral home of descendants of Brian Boru, this luxury five-star castle hotel overlooks a glistening lake boasting amazing panoramics with adjacent championship golf course. Guests can enjoy a wide range of luxury breaks at the hotel, including gourmet fine dining options or a wellness weekend at the castle's five-star health spa with indoor heated pool. The hotel is situated just outside Limerick city and is regarded as one of the top luxury hotels Ireland has to offer. The castle grounds and woodlands are perfect for exploring on foot or on horseback. Horse Riding lessons are available at the nearby stables, while excellent fishing conditions can be taken advantage of on Dromoland Lake. Falconry, clay shooting, archery and tennis are also available at the hotel, while picnic baskets can be prepared for a day exploring any of the many local attractions nearby in Limerick or Clare. www.dromoland.ie

Waterford Castle Waterford Castle dates back to the fifteenth century and is located on Little Island, near Waterford City, encircled by the River Suir. According to tradition a Monastic settlement existed on the Island sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries. The Island’s seclusion was attractive to the Monks, however due to its strategic importance they came under frequent attack and were forced to move to safer quarters. Now Waterford Castle boasts 19 elegant bedrooms and country lodges, surrounded by 310 acres, which includes a championship golf course and several walking and nature tracks, where you are likely to encounter a variety of wild life on the estate such as deer, hare, foxes, swans and pheasant. Other activities include a family friendly playground, clay target shooting, archery, tennis or boules. The hotel also boasts excellent dining options and picnics can be organised within the grounds. www.waterfordcastle.com

Ashford Castle Dominating the village of Cong sits the former stronghold of the De Burgo clan, Ashford Castle. Built in 1228, Ashford Castle was extended in the 1700s and 1800s and then transformed into a first class hotel. Guests will enjoy sheer luxury at the hotel, whether taking afternoon tea on the super-sized sofas of the Drawing Room or indulging in the classic George V restaurant, where renowned cook, Stefan Matz is the executive chef. You can wander about the grounds of the hotel around the water’s edge of Lough Corrib and back through the hidden gardens that lie adjacent. A Lough Corrib ferry cruise departs from the hotel every morning. Fishing, archery and clay pigeon shooting, amongst a host of other outdoor pursuits are also available, including a must visit to Ireland’s School of Falconry, located in the grounds of Ashford Castle. www.ashford.ie

Clontarf Castle Just a stone’s throw from Dublin city centre, Clontarf Castle is located in the heart of ancient Dublin, where Brian Boru’s forces were victorious in the famous Battle of Clontarf in 1014. The Cromwell connected Vernon family resided here from 1649 through to the twentieth century, during which time George Frideric Handel was a regular visitor to the Dublin suburb. A castle has resided on the site in Clontarf since 1172, however, its current guise was built in 1837. Famous in Dublin as a showband venue, the hotel is now a stylish four-star hotel boasting excellent dining options and luxury hotel suites. The castle’s location is one of its major selling points as it sits within a couple of minutes’ walk from the coast and it is ideal for accessing either Dublin city centre or the airport. A short spin along the north Dublin coastline will take you to bustling villages of Howth or Malahide, which both boast a host of activities with fine bars and restaurants. One of Ireland’s finest golf courses, Royal Dublin, is just minutes from the castle gates. www.clontarfcastle.ie

Cabra Castle The ruins of Cabra Castle, which was decimated during the Cromwellian Wars, are located close to the town of Kingscourt in Cavan. The current Cabra Castle, formerly Cormey Castle, is also located in Kingscourt and was renamed in the 1820s by the residing Pratt dynasty. The castle was turned into a hotel in the 1960s and then underwent a major facelift in the 1990s as it was restored and opened as a luxury four-star hotel. Officially in Cavan, Cabra Castle is also very close to the border of both Meath and Monaghan. Fishing, horse riding, clay shooting and archery are available nearby, while Dun A Ri Forest Park nestles on Cabra Castle's doorstep. Nearby Lough an Leagh Mountain offers excellent walking trails and picnic areas, while UNESCO site Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth or the medieval town of Carlingford are very accessible by car. Cabra Castle also boasts a nine-hole golf course on the castle grounds. www.cabracastle.com

Kinnitty Castle Hotel Travel into the midland county of Offaly and enjoy some historic luxury at the stunning Kinnity Castle. Sitting at the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, Kinnitty Castle dates back to 1209 and is seated on 650 acres of parkland, including 60 acres of rolling lawns. Now renovated as a luxury hotel, you can experience the lavish medieval revival castle, drenched in original features and heritage colours, while the 13th-century regal atmosphere remains. Wander through the fine settings of the Library Bar, the Sli Dala Restaurant and the Drawing Room. www.kinnittycastlehotel.com

Adare Manor Castle This luxury five-star hotel and golf resort is situated in Adare Village on the grounds of an 840-acre riverside demesne. The castle and its surrounding are steeped in history, while medieval ruins are to be found throughout. Dining options cater for every level of foodie, with locally sourced ingredients used in all the hotel’s restaurants, and private parties can be arranged in the spectacular Library room, which dates back to the 1700s. Apart from enjoying a round of golf at the Robert Trent Jones Senior designed championship golf course, or a stroll around the stonewalled gardens and winding woodland paths, many more activities are available at Adare Manor, from wine and whiskey tasting to a wonderful hot-air balloon experience. www.adaremanor.com

Castle Durrow The stunning grounds of Castle Durrow are located less than an hour’s drive from Dublin. The castle dates back to 1712 and was transformed in 1998 into a luxurious castle hotel. Many of the original 18th and 19th century architectural features were intact and were carefully restored and repaired, while the plentiful bedroom accommodation of Lord Ashbrook’s luxurious home was lovingly and individually decorated and furnished by its new owner Shelly Stokes. The hotel is a haven for walking enthusiasts with many audio walking trail guides available to download as you explore the grounds and nearby villages and valleys. The quality dining at Castle Durrow is relaxed and very informal and overlooks the magnificent gardens. www.castledurrow.com

Ed Leahy

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