Ghosts and Telescopes: Amazing Irish Castles

When you envisage a castle-hopping holiday you might imagine exploring the fortresses of the Scottish Highlands, admiring French chateaux or touring English stately homes. An exciting alternative to these destinations, however, are the lesser-known but equally atmospheric Irish Castles that the Republic of Ireland has to offer.

Here are three very different strongholds that you will visit on our popular classic cruise of Ireland aboard Shannon Princess.

Irish Castles - Birr Castle Archway

Seventeenth-Century Splendour at Portumna

If symmetrical stone facades and grand formal gardens are your cup of tea, Portumna Castle in County Galway will blow you away. Arguably the most impressive of the Irish castles, this stately home sits at the northern point of Lough Derg. For Irish castle enthusiasts, its architecture offers an interesting example of the transition from fortified medieval strongholds to genteel Renaissance manors.


It was inhabited by the de Burgo family for more than two centuries, but fell into disrepair following fire and neglect. Luckily for us, the structure was salvaged by the Office of Public Works in 1968 and has since been restored to its former glory. Green-fingered guests aboard the Shannon Princess are always impressed by its geometric formal planting and its walled kitchen garden, which has been painstakingly reconstructed to provide the same vegetables, herbs and flowers that it supplied in the seventeenth century.

Irish Castles - Portumna Castle

Haunted Happenings at Leap

Leap Castle in County Offaly holds the impressive title of one of the most haunted castles in the world. Thousands of ghost hunters prowl its murky corridors every year in order to catch a glimpse of one of its many resident ghosts.

If you’re particularly lucky (or unlucky, depending on your opinion) you might encounter “It”, a rotting ghostly presence the size of a sheep with a decomposing face and a stench of sulphur and death; perhaps you’ll come across the Red Lady, who holds a dagger aloft in her hand; or maybe Emily and Charlotte, two little girls who play in the corridors and sometimes plummet from the battlements in a grisly replay of Emily’s ultimate demise at the age of 11.

One thing you can be certain of is an encounter with Sean Ryan, Leap’s eccentric owner, who will give you a personal tour and fill you in on its fascinating history.

leap castle - river shannon cruises

Mind-Boggling Science at Birr

Nearby Birr Castle has a very different ambience to that of Leap. The structure itself has seen many centuries of change and alterations since the medieval period, from the twelve-foot walls of the original motte-and-bailey castle to the octagonal Gothic Saloon added in the nineteenth century.What makes the estate stand out, however, is its pedigree as a testing ground for scientific innovation. The Third Earl of Rosse, who inhabited Birr in the 1840s, designed and built the largest telescope in the world within its grounds. For 60 years it was the only scientific instrument that could view the spiral formation of galaxies, and thus the castle became a Mecca for astronomers, scientists and engineers. Today guests can still view this incredible invention in the grounds of Birr.

If you’ve been captivated by these characterful Irish Castles, get in touch with our friendly sales team to book onto one of our Irish river cruises.

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