The Essential Guide to Dunguaire Castle, Ireland

Ireland's most photographed castle

Dunguaire Castle at sunset
••• Sunset at Dunguaire Castle on the shores of Galway Bay in Ireland.

Perched on the shores of Galway Bay, Dunguaire Castle is one of prettiest fortresses in Ireland. The stone tower house has a long history stretching back to medieval times and has inspired some of Ireland's greatest writers.

Hike the area, visit the museum or dress up for a themed dinner — here is everything to do on your visit to Dunguiare Castle:

History

Dunguaire Castle was first built in 1520 as a tower house with fortified walls along the shores of Galway Bay.

The castle was constructed by the Hynes clan who were descendants of Guaire, the king of Connacht who died in 663. The castle takes its name from this legendary family connection, with dun meaning “fortress” in Irish.

In the 16th century, the Martyn clan took ownership of the castle and stayed there until it was sold to Oliver St. John Gogarty in 1924. Gogarty was trained as a doctor and also served as a senator but his true life’s passion was for poetry. After restoring the 75-foot tower and surrounding walls, Dunguaire Castle became a well-known gathering place for Irish literary society. Dublin’s literati, including W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and J.M. Synge came to the former stronghold to enjoy a country retreat and to spar with Gogarty’s legendary wit. These writers went on to immortalize the castle in their work, and Yeats in particular references King Guaire in several of his poems.

 

Lady Ampthill purchased Dunguaire in 1954 and completed the restoration. Today, the castle is a popular historic and entertainment attraction owned by Shannon Heritage.

What to Do at Dunguaire

Dunguaire Castle is one of the most photographed castles in Ireland for good reason — set against Galway Bay, the landscape of shimmering water and low rolling hills provides an unforgettable backdrop for the historic and charming tower.

Take time to climb the knoll and admire the scenery, even before going inside.

The castle itself has been restored and converted into a small museum. It is possible to climb the tower and learn about the history of the structure. In fact, each floor of the museum has drawings and exhibits to shows what life would have been like at Dunguaire during several different time periods. This part of the castle is open for visits from April to mid-September between 10 am and 4 pm.

While it is always a lovely stop during the day, Dunguaire is most popular by night when a medieval banquet is staged inside the fortified walls. Live performers provide the entertainment, sharing stories and songs, as well as ready poetry by the literary greats who once also gathered inside those same castle walls.

No banquet would be complete without food. The evening starts with a glass of mead, before moving on to a multicourse dinner served in the flicker of candlelight. (But while the costumes harken back to the Middle Ages, the food is typical Irish fare of vegetable soup, chicken in mushroom sauce and apple pie). The banquet runs year-round at 5:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. and reservations are required.

Regardless of if you stay for a long visit or simply stop you take a few photos, you can always take part in a fun local folktale.

King Guaire was known for his generosity which is rumored to continue even now, more than 1,000 years after his death. Popular legend says that if you stand at the gate of the castle and ask a question, you will have your answer by the end of the day.

How to Get to Dunguaire

The castle is located along the Wild Atlantic Way, just outside the village of Kinvara along the shores of Galway Bay. The best way to reach it is by car while driving along the road to Galway. Once you pass the castle, you can pull off to park along the side of the road (there is no parking lot).

You can also take Bus Eireann to Kinvara and book a local taxi to take you the rest of the way or walk the so-called Red Route from The Quay to Dunguaire Castle.

What Else to Do Nearby

Part of the beauty of Dunguaire Castle is the untouched landscape that surrounds it, meaning there is nothing else directly next to the castle.

However, the postcard-perfect village of Kinvara sits less than a mile away. Here you will find small shops, traditional pubs, and restaurants, as well as historic thatched roof houses. 

For a quiet escape nearby, stop at the secluded Trácht Beach for tranquil views of Galway Bay.

The castle is also a 30-minute drive from the Burren National Park. The area is known for its otherworldly landscape that looks more like the surface of the moon than the Emerald Isle. There are several hiking trails that lead through the nature preserve where you can observe the unique limestone formations, as well as spot wildlife along the paths.