My name is William Martin and I’m of Irish ancestry. My grandparents arrived from Ireland in the early 20th century, but not with one another. My grandmother, Elizabeth Rafferty, was only 14 years of age when she landed on Ellis Island along with her older sister. My grandfather Joseph Martin had arrived a few years earlier in 1890. I spent my childhood years in a home very proud of its Irish culture, regaled with the legends and filled with the Celtic music and songs of Ireland. Like many children of immigrants, I have longed visit my ancestral soil.
Very little has intrigued me more about Ireland than its history of conflict and clan rivalries, its religious wars along with the mark they’ve left on the people and its landscape. One of the major marks left on the ground is castles. Ireland is littered with castles, old castles, ruined castles, castles forgotten, and castles renovated and converted into great hotels. It’s no blarney, there are hundreds of castles in Ireland so we will confine ourselves to just a couple of the more captivating. By the way that is blarney with a small B, Blarney with a big B is, of course, a castle in County Cork.
So, why don’t we get started with the a fore mentioned Blarney Castle. Blarney may be the most famous castle in all of Ireland. Countless visitors come each year to visit the gardens, castle, and of course, to kiss the renowned Blarney Stone. The original castle dates back to the 13th century but it was demolished and rebuilt in the 15th century. Blarney was the fortress home of the McCarthy clan and it is from here that Cormac McCarthy sent his evasive answers to Queen Elizabeth’s demands for submission. Elizabeth is considered to have originated the word blarney to describe all evasive answers and obfuscation.
The ruin of Leep Castle, in County Offally, is the ancestral home of the warlike O’Carroll sept. The castle safeguards a strategic mountain pass and from here the O’Carroll’s were the very last holdouts against English domination in the 17th century. Leep Castle is alleged to be haunted. Teige O’Carroll murdered his brother, a Catholic priest, at the altar of the castle chapel. Locals say, that after the castle was destroyed by fire in 1922, cartloads of bones were removed from the castle’s dungeons. Leep castle is off of the beaten path, even so, you can arrange a tour with the owner. A visit to this spooky castle is said to be a once in a lifetime experience.
Kilkenny Castle, also known as Butler Castle, is the ancestral home of the Butler Earls of Ormond. The castle was first established by William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, in the late 12th century at a fording spot on the River Nore. It was purchased by the Butler’s 1n 1391. Kilkenny Castle is among the most breathtaking in all of Ireland. Today the castle and grounds belong to the government of Ireland and is accessible to everyone. Every three years there is a Butler Reunion held at Kilkenny Castle where there is also a Butler genealogy archive. No visit to Ireland could possibly be complete without a stop at Kilkenny Castle.
I have only highlighted a handful of the many castles scattered throughout southern Ireland. Other significant castles of County Cork are Ballea Castle, Ballynamona Castle and Desmond Castle to name a just few more. Plan your Irish trip to include some or all of these marvelous cultural landmarks and you won’t go wrong. Erin go braugh.