Irish Castles in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands & Midlands
Fancy tracing your Irish roots? Does your family name have a connection to an Irish Castle?
Well then, you’ve got the perfect excuse to visit Ireland. Maybe your roots can be traced back to an Irish Castle in the Midlands of Ireland and its Hidden Heartlands, where one family dreamed of scientific discovery and sought out the wonders of the universe or maybe your ancestors took part in a Siege. No visit to the Midlands of Ireland is complete without a visit to one of its many historic Irish Castles. Some are enchanting and fairy-like filled with character and charm, while others are said to be haunted!
Birr Castle, County Offaly.
Surnames: Carroll, O’Carroll; Parsons; Rosse
The Story: Birr Castle was once the ancestral seat of the O’Carroll princes of Ely. In 1680, the O’Carroll’s swapped Ely with lands of a comparable size in Maryland in the United States, then a British Colony. The castellated bulk of Birr Castle houses a fascinating family – the Earls of Rosse. Over the centuries their passions – for astronomy, technology, science and horticulture – have been indulged and shared with the world. First stop is the Leviathan, the huge telescope built in the 1840s that was for a long time the biggest in the world. The earl’s wife, meanwhile, was a pioneering photographer and their son experimented with electricity. Their interests are honored in the Science Centre. Later generations were gardeners, creating the enchanting grounds that still lure visitors with rare plants, a lake, fernery and formal gardens.
Athlone Castle, County Westmeath.
Surnames: O’Conor; De Gray; Grace
The Story: Athlone Castle was first built to defend the crossing point on the River Shannon by King Turlough O’Conor and evolved into a bold defensive structure over the centuries. A stone castle was built here in 1210 by the Anglo Normans & King John’s Irish justiciar, Bishop John de Gray. From 1569-1672 it was the headquarters of the President of Connacht. Athlone Castle was occupied by Col. Richard Grace, Governor of Athlone during the first Siege of Athlone in 1690 and also played a vital role in the second Siege of 1691. For almost 300 years it served as an extension of the military barracks.
Parke’s Castle, County Leitrim.
Surnames: Parke, O’Rourke
The Story: Parke’s Castle is a restored plantation castle from the early 17th century which is picturesquely situated on the shores of Lough Gill. It was once the home of Sir Robert Parke and his family. The Courtyard grounds at Parke’s Castle contain evidence of an earlier 16th century Tower House structure once owned by Sir Brian O’Rourke who was executed at Tyburn, London in 1591. The Castle has been restored using Irish oak and traditional craftsmanship.
Leap Castle, County Offaly.
Surnames: O’Bannon; O’Carroll; Darby
The Story: Through turbulent centuries, Leap Castle kept watch for the lords of Ely O’Carroll and still stands fortress-like on its perch overlooking a vast stretch of the Offaly countryside. The O’Bannon clan, under chiefs of the O’Carroll’s, were the first owners of Leap Castle. Before the first stone was laid, blood was spilled at the site of the castle. It was the stronghold of the O’Carroll’s of Ely until 1649 after which it was handed over to the Darby family until the 20th century. Now the home of Sean Ryan, Leap Castle is reputed to be Ireland’s most haunted castle, with a Murder Hole, The Blood Chapel and the Red Lady who roams the halls. When this dagger carrying lady is coming your way you’ll know as the room will suddenly become immensely cold – So cold that it reaches your heart.
Suggestion for an overnight stay at a Castle Hotel in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands –
Kilronan Castle, County Roscommon.
The Story: The secluded, luxury Kilronan Castle hotel is majestically set on the shores of Lough Meelagh in County Roscommon. The castle is surrounded by over forty acres of breathtaking Irish scenery, lush green pastures, ancient forests and historical points of interest. One of Ireland’s most luxurious Castle Hotels, Kilronan Castle is the ancestral home of the Tenison family and the legendary Colonel King Tenison. It is one of a few Irish castle estates that can trace its history back to royal families.
How exactly can you go about putting together the pieces of the family jigsaw in Ireland?
Your research begins with you and your immediate family. Ask questions to family members to try to establish approximate dates (of births, marriages and deaths) as well as names (forenames and related family names) and places of residence. This information will point the way to relevant records on your family tree. Consult old photographs on which names and dates may be noted, newspaper clippings, old letters, family Bibles as well as family gravestones. Religious denomination is also important in determining which records are relevant to your research.
There are numerous centers for genealogical research in Ireland. In Dublin, the National Library, National Archives and General Register Office are all key sources, with the National Library and National Archives both providing free advice from trained staff.
Although a census of the Irish population was taken every ten years from 1821 to 1911, the earliest surviving Census is for 1901. The 1901 and 1911 Census and fragments from the 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 Census are freely searchable online in the National Archives.
The Ulster Historical Foundation is another non-profit organization, specializing in family history research and who can assist with tracing family records (including birth, death and marriage records).
Our blog is intended only as an introduction to tracing your family’s roots in Ireland and it’s far from an exhaustive guide. We suggest using many other resources along the way – books, websites, places, people – where you can find out more or get expert assistance. It can be a challenging journey tracing your family roots, with many winding country roads along the way and we hope we’ve helped a little by pointing you in the right direction.
For a private chauffeur drive tour to learn more about your Irish heritage and to explore the places your ancestors came from or to schedule that long awaited family reunion coach tour of Ireland, contact Specialized Travel Services ……. even if you don’t have a blood line connection with an Irish castle we’ll ensure to give you a superior welcome to the Emerald Isle.
Specialized Travel Services offer wonderful Irish Castle tour packages for a memorable vacation in Ireland – We can tailor make any of our private tour itineraries and customize the packages to fit your requests and your budget – Whatever you’re looking for in a vacation, Ireland has something for you.
Here is a sample of some of our Irish Castle Vacations –
Note: Featured image at the top of the blog is of Roscommon Castle, County Roscommon. © Tourism Ireland
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