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Should you visit the hidden Drimnagh Castle in Dublin?

by Roberto
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In the working class neighbourhood of Drimnagh in Dublin city, there lies an unexpected castle. It’s location is even more so, tucked away obscurely behind a local school. Possibly owing to its obscurity, its a castle that will prove a real treat for any visitor. The Drimnagh Castle staff provide intimate tours of the renovated castle and grounds, and its a world away from what you get in Malahide Castle and Dublin Castle. It is also the only Irish castle which still has a water filled surrounding defensive moat.

How to find Drimnagh Castle

Drimnagh Castle is located about 10 km (6 miles) outside Dublin city centre in the city’s suburbs. The very frequent bus, the 123, arrives in Drimnagh from O’Connell Street or Dame Street in about 25 minutes. You can get your tickets onboard the bus, and the fare is €3. Having the correct change is also recommended, as buses in Dublin don’t give change. Jump off at stop 2102 on the Drimnagh Road, and from here walk down the Long Mile Road. You’ll know the road by how long it looks. The castle is hidden behind Drimnagh Castle Primary School which will be on your right.

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Drimnagh Castle History

Drimnagh Castle was owned by the Barnwall family. The Barnwalls were an Anglo-Norman family who won great favour with the English crown. The De Bernevals as they were known at the time, fought in the battle of Hastings in the 11th century, and helped Strongbow in his 1172 conquest of Ireland. However all were slaughtered bar one, a Hugh de Berneval. In 1215 he was granted lands in the region of Drimnagh and Terenure in Dublin. So they built a lovely timber castle there, which of course was burned down by the unwelcoming Irish. In 1280, a stone castle took its place, and the moat which still surrounds it, was dug and supplied with water by the bluebell river.

For four centuries the Barnwalls called the castle home. It saw its last major improvements in 1614, when a lot of defensive installations were installed including the tower. Only for all this to be undone by the removal of the drawbridge in 1780. Passing through many hands over the few centuries before the 1900’s it landed in the hands of the Christian Brothers, who ran the adjacent school. Notorious in Ireland for their heavy handed abuse of students, they treated the castle in the same way.

The Restoration

When the site came into the hands of the state and they recovered it from the pigeons, it was in great disrepair. With a name like a superheroes alter-ego, the castles savior was a man named Peter Pearson. He swung into the castle like Tarzan, using a rope to cross the moat. Reports that he yelled like Johnny Weissmuller while doing it are unconfirmed.

The site took six years to renovate and was opened to the public in 1991. Many craftsmen employed their craft to bring the castle back to its former glory. To the day, the castle is maintained by local FAS workers, bringing employment to the community.

Drimnagh Castle

My Visit

To visit Drimnagh Castle you must do so by guided tour. Tours only run Monday to Thursday from 9 am till 3 pm on the hour. On Fridays they take a half day. Where do I apply? Tours cost €6 per person and cash is king, as the digital money revolution hasn’t reached here yet. Barter may also be accepted.

I turned up one quiet afternoon to tour the castle. On arrival there was no one in sight and only after 5 minutes did I come upon an employee. My asking about the tour led to some confusion it seemed. He sought out some colleagues and after a few moments consultation decided he was doing the tour. With that much uncertainty your expectations can’t be too high can they?

Yes they very much can. The renovation and upkeep of the castle is a community supported project, and having inherited the castle in a dire state, they have since worked wonders to get it to the appearance it has today. My guide had a vast knowledge of the castle and a passion that I have rarely seen in attractions of this type. As I was the only person on the tour it had a novelty factor too. There’s nothing to compare to a one to one tour.

Drimnagh Castle

Drimnagh Castle Tour

The tour takes you through the various buildings of the castle. Don’t expect lavish furnishings, the castle is a representation of what it looked like through the middle ages. You survive walking under the murderhole; hide out in the undercroft as the residents did during attack; and trip up the spiral stairs of the tower as attackers have! At the castles heart is the Great Hall, which now plays host to weddings and events, as it most likely did so many years ago. Its the castles centerpiece; the elaborate floor tiles are from St Andrews Church in Suffolk Street in Dublin, and the impressive roof is constructed of strong Roscommon oak. The balcony above evokes memories of jesters and musicians entertaining the folk within. Along the walls are the craftsmen’s greatest achievements; a series of carved wooden effigies of the various characters who called this castle home.

Drimnagh Castle Great Hall

As with every good Irish castle, Drimnagh Castle has its own ghost story. Eleonora Barnwall’s story is one of loving the wrong man (an Irish scoundrel instead of the cousin she was betrothed to) and when it all ended in a broken heart and much death, she too found her way to the grave of her Irish rebel, and lay there till she perished. I guess she’s still looking for that lost love of hers in the castle.

If you are contemplating a Drimnagh Castle wedding (I mean who doesn’t want to get married in a castle), why not get in touch with the castle here.

The Medicinal Gardens.

The medicinal gardens are a top class feature of the castle, and are also included in the tour. They are the passion of the aforementioned workers, who as well as developing unusual structures here, keep the gardens in an exemplary condition. The gardens are styled in that of a parterre. Of French origin, this formal styling is usually of hedging, which is arranged in a symmetrical fashion. Here we see four squares, and all manner of unusual flowers and plants.

Another prominent feature is the hornbeam alley, which is a path surrounded by trees, so as the lady of the house could keep her pretty pale colour. At the end was an area that was completely sheltered. It looked the perfect place to sit and read.

Drimnagh castle
Drimnagh Castle
Drimnagh Castle
Drimnagh Castle

Herbs are still grown here as they once were, and the tour guide was again very knowledgeable of the gardens. He was also kind enough to give me some lemon balm to take with me. As we parted ways, I was invited to walk around the gardens for as long as I liked.

If you think you recognise the castle, its perhaps because you were a fan of the show The Tudors, which filmed here. Or of the movies the Abduction Club and Ella Enchanted. Can’t say I’ve seen the last personally.

Make the most of your trip

If you were to think it’s not worth making the trip for the castle, then consider this. The 123 bus route passes near some of Dublin’s finest attractions in Kilmainham Gaol and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

The Irish Museum of Modern Art is housed in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. Widely regarded as the finest building of the 17th century in Ireland, it is as much an attraction as the art within. Designed by James Butler, its inspiration was Les Invalides in Paris. The sculpted gardens are among Dublin’s best. Entry to the grounds and the art exhibitions are free, except special exhibitions.

Museum of Modern Art, Dublin

Kilmainham Gaol is infamous for the part it played in Irish history. Opened in 1796, many leaders of the various rebellions leading up to and including that of 1916, were imprisoned and ultimately executed here. As a tour it’s fascinating, to witness the petty crimes that many people found themselves here for, and indeed to walk the floors and cells. You can visualise the hardships of prison life at the time. Admission to the Gaol is €8 and visit is by guided tour only.

Should my visit to Drimnagh Castle have wet your appetite, then why not take a look at some of the other castles in Dublin. Dalkey Castle is undoubtedly the city’s most entertaining. Click the link for my blog.

Drimnagh Castle
Drimnagh Castle

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