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castles and cloisters - which to choose??

I admit it - planning our (next) spring trip to Ireland is proving a wonderful distraction from what is going on in the world and, yes, I'm having a lovely time with planning an amazingly detailed itinerary -- which brings men to my question. I love castles/historic homes - and my husband enjoys traveling to religious sites and we both enjoy history. Right now (after time in Northern Ireland and Dublin), we are tentatively planning to visit --

for me -Castletown House, Athenry, Emo Court or Charleville Castle, Tullynally Castle or Belvedere House, Russborough House
for him - Clonmacnoise, Corcomroe Abbey, Jerpoint Abbey, Tulsk Priory, Glendalough
for us both -Rathcroghan Royal Site , the Aran Islands/inishmor, The Irish Workhouse, Strokestown Park famine museum, Avondale Forest

question - is Kylemore Abbey worth a 2 1/2 hour drive, each way, given the other places we plan to see. if we do this, we will likely need to add a day and I'm not certain it's worth the drive and time.

Emo Court or Charleville Castle?
Tullynally Castle or Belvedere House?

would you suggest adding something I might have missed - or subtracting something for another time?

We will tentatively be staying in Longford (3 nites), near Doolin (3 nites), Mountrath (3 nites), and Blessington (2 nites),

thank you!!

Posted by
2920 posts

We had an amazing visit to Clonmacnoise from our 2 day base in Birr. We also enjoyed the exterior of the castle, history, science center and gardens of Birr Castle. The telescope in the castle garden made the Atlas Obscura book a few years ago. We loved our day trip to Clonmacnoise driving by working peat bogs along the way. We stayed in a B&B that was a converted stable right outside the castle wall and loved it. I can’t say too much for the actual town of Birr but we found it to be a great half way point between Dublin and the west coast to see the sites in central Ireland.

EDIT: Our B&B, converted from the castle stables. We were the only guests the first night and all of the doors to the unused rooms were left open when the staff left for the night. It was fascinating and eerie to peek in!

Posted by
173 posts

Birr castle has been added to our Mountrath sojourn! Our stopovers are based on reasonable proximity to sites we'd like to see - and because they sound interesting - a B and B, a castle, a manor house.. but who knows what will still be standing after this lost year of tourism ...and we may have to re-think in a few months. I did check and it looks as though there are several very nice b&bs in Birr - I will put it on my list of possibilities- and send many thanks -

Posted by
3318 posts

We try to have a nice mix of fortress type castles (like Trim or Cahir) and religious sights on our trips to avoid castle or cloister/abbey burn-out. We generally plan no more than 5 of each. Also, some castles are really just large houses, like a chateau and called castles. We tend to avoid those. Of the places you mentioned, I’d go with the castles strictly for the exterior architecture. My guess is the interiors are going to be fairly similar.

Posted by
173 posts

Thank you for suggesting that I try to 'classify' castles - I much prefer the furnished ones to the fortresses and have now taken Belvedere off our list.

Posted by
4 posts

I loved Kylemore Abbey. In addition to the home itself, there are lovely gardens and a miniature cathedral that the owner had built as a memorial to his late wife. It was part of a day bus tour that I took from Galway, so I did not drive myself, but Kylemore was definitely a highlight of my trip last year.

Posted by
686 posts

We were at Kylemore 2 years ago as part of a tour group. We had perfect weather and it was one of the nicest days of our two weeks. As the previous poster said, the gardens are lovely and extensive. And the miniature chapel a little jewel. Very nice gift shop and cafeteria style restaurant. Small museum about the property and the nuns who took it over from the original owners.

Posted by
5094 posts

Two trips to Ireland, including last year, have included western Ireland, Northern Ireland, and northeastern Ireland, but we’ve not visited the southeast. Many of the locations you listed are, frankly, unfamiliar. But if these are helpful on any level:

  • Both trips included trips to the Aran Islands, staying one night or more on Inis Mor. We took a ferry the first trip, but flew the second. Based on the speed, convenience, reasonable cost, and reliability when bad weather or rough seas delay boats, flying is definitely the way to go. Fly - you’ll be glad you did!

  • Outside of Doolin, we stayed just up the road in Lisdoonvarna. We’re glad we stayed there, and then you’re close to the iconic, awesome Cliffs of Moher, a popular site that’s a key visit to do while in Ireland.

  • If you have the opportunity to venture a bit north of Doolin/Lisdoonvarna, make time for a Hawk Walk at the Ashford Castle. You spend time with a trainer and your own Harris Hawk, learning about falconry and birds of prey, and sending it out for it to return to your gauntlet for a treat. Sign up for the Extended Walk, which also includes time with their Eagle Owl, the largest breed of owl, very cool.

Our favorite castles have been in France, Spain, Italy, Scotland, and England, and cloisters have been in France and Italy - so we haven’t seen the sights in Ireland yet. Hope you can fit them all in.