Irish Castles On The Wild Atlantic Way
Have you Irish Roots?
Fancy tracing your Irish roots? Does your family name have a connection to an Irish Castle? Well then, you’ve got the perfect excuse to visit Ireland. The desire to know who we are and where we come from – where we belong – is a strong one, and the more remote we are from it the more we want to know about it.
Castles along the Wild Atlantic Way
There are lots of authentic Irish Castles to explore along the Wild Atlantic Way – With stunning views, dramatic landscapes and blasts of fresh, sea air, these historical castles put the wild into the Wild Atlantic Way…… and what would be wilder than if you were descendant of an Irish Castle in Ireland……
Blarney Castle, Blarney, County Cork.
The Story: Blarney Castle was rebuilt in the 1470s by Cormac ‘the strong’ Lord of the MacCarthys of Muskerry, whose descendants were said by Queen Elizabeth I to have the gift of the gab. She accused them of speaking a load of Blarney to her, and hence the tradition of kissing the Blarney Stone to receive the gift of eloquence!
Bunratty Castle, County Clare.
Surnames: Muscegros; De Clare; McNamara; MacConmara; O’Brien; Studdert; Gort.
The Story: Robert De Muscegros, a Norman, built the first defensive fortress (an earthen mound with a strong wooden tower on top) in 1250 at Bunratty. His lands were later granted to Thomas De Clare who built the first stone castle on the site. The present structure of Bunratty Castle was built around 1425 by the powerful McNamara (MacConmara) family but by 1475 it had passed through marriage to become the stronghold of the O’Brien Clan, High Kings of Munster and later Earls of Thomond. This castle was besieged and taken by confederate forces in 1646, and then the last residents, the Studdert family, moved to a newer residence in 1804. The castle was saved from ruin in 1954 by Lord Gort with reconstruction of a roof and battlements, and the interior restored to its original medieval splendor with Gort’s wonderful collection of 15th and 16th century hand carved furnishings and tapestries.
Dunguaire Castle, County Galway.
Surnames: Hynes; Martyn; Martin; Amptill.
The Story: Built on the picturesque shores of Galway Bay, in 1520 by the Hynes Clan, Dunguaire Castle has witnessed sieges, warring clans and renowned literary figures. The site marks the royal palace of Guaire Aidhne mac Colmain, the legendary king of Connacht and progenitor of the Hynes clan since the 7th century. In 1642 the Mayor of Galway Richard Martyn (Martin) acquired the castle and set about modernizing the building. The Martyn family remained in ownership until 1924 when Dunguaire Castle was purchased by the surgeon and poet Oliver St. John Gogarty, who established the castle as the meeting place for the leading figures of the Celtic Revival, such as W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Augusta, Lady Gregory, and John Millington Synge. The castle was acquired in 1954 by Lady Christabel Ampthill, who relocated to Ireland after the second world war and completed the restoration work started by Gogarty. Subsequently the castle became the property of Shannon Heritage, who manage numerous historic tourist attractions in Ireland.
Glenveagh Castle, County Donegal.
Surnames: Adair; McIlhenny
The Story: It’s not just Norman invaders who built homes to impress others. An Irish-born speculator, John George Adair, made a fortune in the US and returned to Ireland to build Glenveagh Castle near the Derryveagh Mountains in County Donegal in the late 19th century. His wife designed the beautiful gardens, and a later owner, wealthy Irish-American Henry McIlhenny, not only added to the castle but invited some of Hollywood’s biggest stars to come and stay, including Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo. The setting is breathtaking – 40,000 acres of glens, mountains and woods – and there’s even a herd of deer wandering the grounds.
Here is a suggestion for a special overnight stay at an Irish Castle on the Wild Atlantic Way –
Ashford Castle, County Mayo.
Surnames: De Burgo; Bingham; Browne; Guinness; Huggard.
The Story: While some of Ireland’s castles lie in ruins, the gorgeous Ashford Castle has been converted into a luxury hotel. Ashford has had many owners throughout its long life. It was built in 1228 as the primary stronghold of the powerful Anglo-Norman de Burgo dynasty. The castle remained under their ownership until 1589, when it was taken over by Sir Richard Bingham, governor of Connacht following the 16th-century Tudor conquest of Ireland. It was later gifted to Dominick Browne, one of the first Catholics to serve as Mayor of Galway, during the late 17th century, who updated the castle’s architecture by adding a French-style chateau. In 1852, Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness (of the famous brewery) bought the estate, extended the lands and renovated the building in the neo-gothic style. In 1939, Noel Huggard transformed the estate into a renowned country hotel. The Red Carnation Hotels group have since acquired Ashford Castle and offer guests a gorgeous blend of luxury and charm.
How exactly can you go about putting together the pieces of the family jigsaw in Ireland?
Your research begins with you and your immediate family. Ask questions to family members to try to establish approximate dates (of births, marriages and deaths) as well as names (forenames and related family names) and places of residence. This information will point the way to relevant records on your family tree.
There are numerous centers for genealogical research in Ireland. In Dublin, the National Library, National Archives and General Register Office are all key sources, with the National Library and National Archives both providing free advice from trained staff.
Although a census of the Irish population was taken every ten years from 1821 to 1911, the earliest surviving Census is for 1901. The 1901 and 1911 Census and fragments from the 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 Census are freely searchable online in the National Archives.
The Ulster Historical Foundation is another non-profit organization, specializing in family history research and who can assist with tracing family records (including birth, death and marriage records).
Our blog is intended only as an introduction to tracing your family’s roots in Ireland and it’s far from an exhaustive guide. We suggest using many other resources along the way – books, websites, places, people – where you can find out more or get expert assistance. It can be a challenging journey tracing your family roots, with many winding country roads along the way and we hope we’ve helped a little by pointing you in the right direction.
For a private chauffeur drive tour or a customized private tour to learn more about your Irish heritage and to explore the places your ancestors came from or to schedule that long awaited family reunion coach tour of Ireland, contact Specialized Travel Services ……. even if you don’t have a blood line connection with an Irish castle we’ll ensure to give you a superior welcome to the Emerald Isle. Fill in the Contact form or send an email request to: firstname.lastname@example.org
There are lots of legends and family stories behind Irish Castles – Maybe with the luck of the Irish you could be a descendant of one of these historical fortresses……and if not, they still make for wonderful photographs of your memorable vacation in Ireland.
Specialized Travel Services have some wonderful Irish Castle Packages to choose from and we can tailor make any of our tour itineraries to suit your specific requests and budget –
Note: Featured image at the top of the blog is of King John’s Castle, Limerick City. © Chris Hill and Tourism Ireland
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