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Exploring the Castles of Ireland

I started day two of our trip to Ireland with blood sausage. It was far less disgusting than I actually expected—not delicious by any means, but it wasn’t awful.

After that adventurous start to my day, Becky, Paula and I went in search of some castles. And with over 30,000 castles and castle ruins in the country[1], we were not disappointed.

Our first destination required quite the wild goose chase, but we finally managed to find Athlumney Castle near Navan. Athlumney was originally built in the 15th century, and then in 1649, the owners set it on fire to avoid having to surrender the castle to Cromwell’s forces.[2] Take that, Cromwell. There wasn’t very much about it in any of the guidebooks Becky had been reading, and we quickly discovered why—it’s locked up so you can’t even explore it. What a shame.

The same could not be said for Bective Abbey, the clear favorite for the day. Not only could we explore to our heart’s content, but there was nothing stopping us from from climbing all over the thing. It was like playing on a 12th century jungle gym, and we stayed for hours. Even then, I’m not entirely sure we saw everything. Something like this would be heavily monitored in the US—and cost an arm and a leg to get into—but it was free, and it literally sat in the middle of a farmer’s field. I loved it.

Next, we were off to the village of Trim to see Trim Castle, home of Hugh de Lacy and his son, Hugh de Barbara. (Just kidding. It was Walter de Lacy.) Trim Castle was built over a span of 30 years after King Henry II asked de Lacy to control Richard de Clare, who the king thought was getting a bit too big for his britches. Rumor has it that when Rick found out about this, he said, “Do you really think Hugh can boss me around?” And Hugh said, “I do, de Clare.”

We had fun wandering the grounds for a while before we took a tour of the keep, where we learned about how and why the castle was built. Did you know why spiral staircases in castles turn to the right? It’s because most men are right handed. As the knights defending the castle faced down the stairs, right-turning staircases gave them room to use their sword hand while simultaneously limiting the mobility of the attacker coming up the stairs. They also made some of the steps shallower than others to trip people up. How’s that for a stumbling block?

This castle is the reason for this doodle in my journal.
This castle is the reason for this doodle in my journal.

Our last stop of the day was Slane Castle. I don’t have more pictures of this one because they didn’t let us take any photos inside, but you can check out pictures of the interior on their website. Slane is one of those distinctly European places, where rich people live in castles and charge money for strangers to gawk at their living room. (To be fair, if I had a living room with a 30-foot painting of King George IV wearing a space blanket, I’d charge money to gawk, too). The family doesn’t live there much anymore, though, because they rent out the rooms to wedding parties and bands like U2 (more on that in a second). Instead, they live across the river in a house that’s as big as the castle and almost as old. Life is rough, man.

Apparently, the owners are buddies with Bono and the gang, and U2 has held several concerts at the castle. After they had their kickoff concert for a tour called “The Unforgettable Fire,” the castle caught fire and half of it burned down! They lost a lot of valuable art, but managed to save the 30-foot painting of King George IV dressed in a space blanket by cutting it out of its frame with a pocket knife. Lady Conyngham did it. What a woman.

Also, King George loved Slane castle so much that he had a straight road built to it from the nearest port so he could get there as quickly as possible.

Nope. That’s a lie.

He had the straight road built so he could get to his mistress, who lived at Slane Castle, as quickly as possible. And Mrs. Slane Castle—yes, MRS.—was married to a man who didn’t care that his wife was sleeping with the king because he got special privileges, like keeping a picture of the King dressed in a space blanket in his living room and fancy titles for his 27 kids.

Politics. They haven’t changed much since 1762, have they?

Click here to read more about my trip to Ireland with Becky and Paula.

[1] Enjoy Irish Cuture – Tourism site

[2] Ireland in Ruins – A blog about ruined castles and other sites

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Jess Friedman
Jess is a Canadian-American who’s always ready for the next adventure. She loves all things living, always has a million creative projects in progress, and polishes her nerd badge daily. She is passionate about helping families make and preserve treasured memories that strengthen bonds across generations. You can read more posts by Jess here.

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