Ross Castle is a formidable tower house on the shores of Lough Leane in Killarney National Park in County Kerry.
If you plan a trip to Ireland (even in your dreams), consider visiting an Irish castle. There are many places to add to your Irish itinerary, and a historical castle should be one of them.
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Ross Castle, also known as O'Donoghue Castle, is one of the most popular tourist attractions that really lives up to its reputation.
If you're interested in history and Irish legend, visiting a castle is the best way to spend your time!
In this post, we'll delve into the basic facts you need to know about Ross Castle, its lore, and a few fun stories.
If you're interested in visiting someday, I'm also going to break down several fun activity options you can enjoy while you're there.
It was first built by an Irish Chieftain, known as O'Donoghue Mór (which means Big O'Donoghue). A large rock in the lake at the entrance to the bay close to the castle is called O’Donoghue's prison. He probably kept his prisoners isolated on this barren rock in the middle of the lake.
The surrounding scenery is spectacular. The castle is magnificent in the summer months, or any time of year.
Location of Ross Castle
Ross Castle is located near the town of Killarney in County Kerry, in the farthest southwestern part of Ireland.
The castle is on an island called Ross Island, which is part of Killarney National Park.
It is surrounded by stunning scenery, and beautiful lakes, collectively known as the Lakes of Killarney. Plus Killarney town is a wonderful place to stay, with lots of amazing restaurants and pubs to experience.
History of Ross Castle
Like most places in Ireland, Ross Castle has a beautiful, rich history. In the Middle Ages, a man named O'Donoghue Mór built this castle.
The 1580s were tumultuous times for this castle. It was controlled by MacCarthy Mór during the Irish confederate wars and the second Desmond rebellion.
Ross Castle was reportedly the last hold out in Munster to resist the onslaught of Cromwellian forces.
Led by Lord Muskerry, the castle defenders believed in an ancient prophecy that claimed the castle could only be taken by an army arriving by boat or ship.
General Ludlow, who commanded Cromwell's forces attacking the castle learned of the old superstition. He therefore launched boats on Lough Leane. When the Irish saw they were being attacked by boat, the believed their fate was sealed and they were doomed to lose. They eventually surrendered to Cromwell's forces.
The Browne family, an aristocratic family of noble descent, ended up living in it in the 15th century after Cromwell's victory. Sir Valentine Brown and his descendants became the Lords of Kenmare and owned vast tracts of land in County Kerry.
Over the centuries the castle was involved in multiple wars and was eventually transformed into military barracks.
While there is much to be said about the history and how the castle transformed over time, I'll let you find out further details through your own visit or research! Otherwise, this little post would turn into a fact filled history lesson.
Defending your front entrance was an essential part of living in a castle. These historical stone structures needed their outer wall to act protectively.
The castle was built on an island in Lough Leane lake, with a fortified bawn and thick curtain walls to enhance its defences.
So, the O'Donoghues installed a machicolation, essentially a stone porch or balcony that jutted out of the front of the castle over the front door. This architectural structure allowed defenders to drop dangerous substances like boiling oil or heavy rocks from the top of the castle. onto any potential intruders
This defensive wall is how they ensured that even large groups who tried to rush the castle could be warded off.
Legends and Lore
Ross Castle is shrouded in local legend. It is believed that O'Donoghue, the builder of the castle, sleeps at the bottom of the lake.
It is said that he jumped from the window of the great hall on the top floor, and landed in the lake. He has slept there ever since.
Every seven years, on the first morning of May, he arises from the banks of Lough Leane and rides a magnificent white horse around the lake.
A similar legend exists around Lough Gur in County Limerick.
Anyone who sees this phenomenon is said to have good fortune for as long as they live. This makes it an entertaining spring destination to visit and participate in the tradition.
Killarney is situated on the world famous Ring of Kerry, and it's one of Ireland's most popular toursit destinations.
Here are some ideas for planning a trip to Killarney, and especially Ross Castle.
If you'd like to visit this 15th-century tower house, there are many options available for you to enjoy. Here are a few activities you and your family might enjoy while visiting this historic site.
The thing about historic sites is that they can be tough to understand without guidance from someone who knows more than you do.
Rather than doing your own research, why not sign up for a guided tour of the castle?
This castle is one of Ireland's official heritage sites and is in state care since the 1970's. The castle was a ruin at that time, but it has been beautifully restored. A tour of 15th-century Ross Castle is well worth the time.
Entry is included in the heritage card offered by the Office of Public Works. Tickets can also be purchased at the site, but keep in mind that this is a very busy site, with many visitors..
You and your family can take a family-friendly tour and learn all the detailed history from the early 15th century until now!
If you're a fan of hiking, why not hike around the castle? There's a beautiful hiking trail called the Ross Castle Loop.
It's free of charge, stunning, and another great family activity.
You can also wander around the beautiful gardens at Muckross House, which are truly worth seeing. Muckross Abbey, and Muckross Traditional Farms are also well worth a visit.
You can also hike to Torc waterfall, one of Ireland's most impressive falls.
Jaunting Car Tour to the Castle
Who hasn't dreamed about riding on a horse-drawn carriage? In Kerry, your carriage won't be a bejewelled princess variety, but instead you'll travel on a jaunting car.
Originally, these two-wheeled carriages were designed for a single horse, with a seat in front for the driver.
Passenger seats could be parallel and facing each other along the sides of the cart. This form of transportation was very popular in Ireland in the 19th century.
Embrace traditional transportation methods and immerse yourself in the historical landscape by trying a jaunting car tour. It is fun, memorable, and unique.
A boat tour is one of the best things you can do to relax while getting to observe the beauty of the castle and the scenery around it.
There's one particular boat trip called the Lakes of Killarney Cruise that you and your family could book.
Ross Castle Restaurant
If you need to grab a bite for lunch or dinner while in the area, there are many options for where to eat.
Ross Castle Restaurant, named after the castle, is said to have good coffee and ice cream if you need some refreshments or a pick-me-up.
Of course, this option depends on the timing of your trip, but sometimes you can find live music options in or around the castle.
If you visit Ross Castle Killarney, Ireland, you know you're visiting one of the best places to learn about Irish history.
It's a fascinating place to visit during the summer, but I highly recommend participating in the first day of May tradition. Maybe you'll see O'Donoghue on the edge of Lough Leane!
Let us know in the comment section below if you've ever visited Killarney.
Thanks for following my recipes and ramblings.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Mairéad -Irish American Mom
Pronunciation - slawn ah-gus ban-ock-th
Mairéad - rhymes with parade
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Thank you for the beautiful trip down memory lane - the Killarney Lakes and Ross Castle. I've been to all the places pictures and was amazed to think that Queen Victoria made the same boat trip as I through the lakes, but had to get out of the boat because the water was too low at one point- she must have been a real nature girl. Thanks again! beautifully done !!! MOLLY
Irish American Mom
Hi Molly - I'm delighted to hear yoy enjoyed this armchair tour of Ross Castle ans Killarney National Park, and that it brought back good memories of times you spent there. A nice trip down memory lane is always a good thing. Thanks so much for stopping by to check out this week's installment of my ramblings around Ireland.
All the best,