From abbeys to castles, here are our 10 favourite medieval ruins in Ireland you need to visit in your lifetime.
As you navigate your way across this stunning isle, the countless ruins that dot the landscape serve as a constant reminder of Ireland’s fascinating, complex, and often turbulent past.
For centuries, these historic remains have been the source of much wonder and intrigue. Today, they stand as a final witness to an irrevocable past and provide visitors with an abundance of staircases, dead ends, and passageways to discover.
Here are 10 epic medieval ruins in Ireland to explore before you die!
10. Ballycarbery Castle – for crumbling castle ruins
First on our list is the atmospheric Ballycarbery Castle. Located on the stunning Iveragh Peninsula, just outside Cahirsiveen in County Kerry, the derelict remains of this once magnificent 16th-century stronghold now stand as a stark reminder of Ireland’s turbulent past.
Once belonging to the McCarthy Mór, the castle has a dark and bloody history and suffered considerable damage in 1652 when it was attacked by Cromwellian forces during the War of the Three Kingdoms.
Many visitors happen upon Ballycarbery by accident and fall for its moody appearance as the castle falls further into ruin. Without a doubt, Ballycarbery is one for the bucket list!
Address: Carhan Lower, Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry
9. Fore Abbey – for fascinating monastic history
Next on our list is the splendid Fore Abbey. Founded by Saint Feichin in the 7th century, the ruins of this beautiful Benedictine Abbey can be found in Fore, County Westmeath. Fore suffered frequent attacks and was burnt to the ground on multiple occasions by various raiders, including the infamous Vikings who referred to themselves as the “black foreigners” – a term which today has evolved into “black Irish“.
Many of the buildings that can be seen on the site today originate from the 15th century and it is reported that over 300 monks once occupied the abbey. We can only imagine what a hive of activity this place once was!
Address: Fore, Co. Westmeath
8. Tintern Abbey – for a Wexford wonder
Our next epic ruin is the sensational Tintern Abbey in New Ross, County Wexford. The abbey was founded by the Earl of Pembroke in the early 13th century and takes its name from Tintern Abbey in Wales.
Local legend tells that when the Earl encountered a life-threatening storm at sea, he vowed to set up an abbey if he reached land safely. Today, visitors to this amazing site can explore the enchanting abbey’s remains and take in the sublime natural beauty of surrounding Wexford.
Address: Saltmills, New Ross, Co. Wexford
7. Castle Roche – for haunting histories
Castle Roche is certainly one of Ireland’s hidden gems. This exquisite Anglo-Norman castle is located 10km from Dundalk, County Louth, and was once the seat of the De Verdun family, who built the castle in the 13th century. This hauntingly beautiful castle offers an eerie sense of calm to visitors despite its allegedly dark and bloody history.
A legend tells how Rohesia De Verdun offered her hand in marriage to the man who would build the castle to her liking. After marrying a willing suitor, she had her newlywed husband thrown from one of the castle’s windows to his death. The window was known thereafter as the ‘Murder Window’ and is still visible today.
Address: Roche, Co. Louth
6. Bective Abbey – for Braveheart fans
Number 6 on our list of medieval ruins in Ireland is the beautiful Bective Abbey, founded for the Cistercian Order in 1147 by Murchad O’Maeil-Sheachlainn, King of Meath. The ruins that can be seen today are made up of a patchwork of structures that date from the 13th to 15th centuries and overlook the River Boyne, just outside Navan in County Meath.
Bective became a significant monastic settlement in its lifetime; however, like many similar institutions, it was suppressed following the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII.
The abbey featured in the 1995 film Braveheart due to its castle-like qualities. An awe-inspiring film location if we say so ourselves!
Address: R161, Ballina, Co. Meath
5. Blarney Castle – for legendary eloquence
Blarney Castle is our next epic ruin and can be found in Blarney, County Cork. The current castle keep was built by the MacCarthy of Muskerry dynasty and dates from the 15th century.
The castle was besieged on multiple occasions, including during the Irish Confederate Wars and the Williamite War in the 1690s. Now, the castle is a partial ruin with some accessible levels and battlements. At the very top lies the legendary Stone of Eloquence, better known as the Blarney Stone.
When visiting this stunning site, don’t forget to take a trip to the top and hang upside-down from great heights to kiss the stone and be granted the ‘gift of the gab.’ You can tell us all about it afterward!
Address: Monacnapa, Blarney, Co. Cork
4. Jerpoint Abbey – for spectacular architecture
Onwards now to the ruins of Jerpoint Abbey, another stunning Cistercian abbey, this time founded in the 12th century, near Thomastown, County Kilkenny. This abbey was built around 1180 by Donchadh Ó Donnchadha Mac Giolla Phátraic, the King of Osraige.
Jerpoint is well-known for its intricate stone carvings, including those at the tomb of Felix O’Dulany, Bishop of the Diocese of Ossory, and one could spend hours exploring the site studying the figures that adorn its walls and tombs.
Address: Jockeyhall, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny
3. Muckross Abbey – for enchanting monastic grounds
The enchanting Muckross Abbey can be found in County Kerry and is situated in the middle of the tranquil Killarney National Park. The first monastery was reputed to have been established here by Saint Fionán in the 6th century. The ruins that can be seen today consist of the 15th century Franciscan friary of Irrelagh, founded by Daniel McCarthy Mór, and is now known as Muckross Abbey.
While you explore the charming grounds that the monks once walked, you may come across the iconic Yew tree, situated in the abbey’s cloister, which is said to be over 2,500 years old!
Address: Carrigafreaghane, Co. Kerry
2. Dunluce Castle – for Game of Thrones lovers
The iconic ruins of Dunluce Castle lie on the dramatic coastal cliffs of north County Antrim. The castle was originally built in the early 16th century by the McQuillans and overlooks the outstanding Mermaid’s Cave. Like many Irish castles, this one has witnessed a long and tumultuous history.
The only daughter of Lord McQuillan of Dunluce, Maeve Roe was imprisoned in the north-eastern tower by her father after refusing an arranged marriage. Whilst attempting to flee with her true love, their boat was dashed against the cliffs below, killing them both.
Eagle-eyed visitors will recognize this castle as the seat of House Greyjoy from the epic television series Game of Thrones.
Address: 87 Dunluce Rd, Bushmills BT57 8UY, Co. Antrim
1. Rock of Cashel – for an epic Munster fortress
Topping our list of medieval ruins in Ireland is none other than the breath-taking Rock of Cashel. Located in County Tipperary, this remarkable ruin dominates the landscape with such majesty. The site consists of not one but several stunning medieval structures, making this ruin even more epic.
Among the many gems that can be found at Cashel, a 12th-century round tower, 13th-century Gothic cathedral, 15th-century castle, high cross, and stunning Romanesque chapel are only a few. The chapel, known as Cormac’s Chapel, houses one of the best-preserved medieval frescos in Ireland.
Cashel is the alleged site of the conversion of the King of Munster to Christianity by Saint Patrick in the 5th century and was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several hundred years. We must say, they chose a truly epic setting!
Address: Moor, Cashel, Co. Tipperary