A Complete Guide to Country Cork's Kilcoe Castle

orange tower castle at end of causeway
Jeremy Irons owns Kilcoe Castle in County Cork.

Mike Searle CC BY-SA 2.0

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Kilcoe Castle

Kilcoe Castle, Kilcoe, Skibbereen, Co. Cork, Ireland

Ireland is home to hundreds of castles, but only a few are the home to modern-day fairytales. These could be famous landmarks like Blarney Castle, or the gorgeous castle hotels which dot the rural countryside. However, it is rare to find castles that have been restored to be used as private homes.

Kilcoe Castle in County Cork is an exception. The stunning terracotta colored tower dates back more than 500 years and is now the home to the British actor Jeremy Irons and his wife Sinead Cusack.

Located on a small island, Kilcoe Castle is a lovely landmark to visit, even if it is not possible to explore inside. To make the most of your stop in County Cork, here is a complete guide to the history and how to explore the area around Kilcoe.

History of Kilcoe Castle

From the 13th through the 15th centuries, the McCarthy clan dominated the lands of West Cork. The first version of Kilcoe Castle was built around the year 1450 by the Clan of Dermot McCarthy.

The location for Kilcoe Castle was incredibly strategic. Built on a small island just off the coast in Roaringwater Bay, the water became a natural defense. On one side, close to the mainland, the water was too shallow for boats to use to approach the castle. On the other side, Mannin Island provided additional shelter that made it too risky for boats to navigate the bay.

By the 16th century, the English were running a significant campaign to takeover Irish castles. These castles were converted into garrisons or simply destroyed so that they could not be used by the clans trying to defend their land. Kilcoe Castle was the only castle in West Cork to hold out against the English forces. The invading army could not get close enough to aim their cannons at the strong tower walls.

After multiple failed attempts, the English returned on foot, starting in 1600, to carry out a series of raids. The first managed to steal cattle but never breached the castle walls. Finally, in 1603, Kilcoe Castle fell to English forces.

After the McCarthy clan members were forced to finally handover the castle, it was occupied by various English residents for a few decades. The head of the McCarthy family was forced to watch this from his new home on nearby Mannin Island.

However, the castle was ultimately abandoned in 1640 and was left to fall into ruin.

The stone causeway that connects the castle to the mainland was built in 1978. Before then, the water would have acted as a natural moat to keep invaders and other unwelcome visitors away from the fortified tower.

Actor Jeremy Irons bought the ruin of Kilcoe Castle in 1998 to convert the crumbling tower into a private home.

What to See There

Unfortunately, it is not possible to visit the grounds or the structure of the castle because it is private property. That being said, there are lots of details to admire from the outside. Notably, you can find (or make) small paths to explore the vistas.

The name Kilcoe comes from the Irish Cill Coiche, which means Church of St. Coch. The ruins of a church that was first built in the 12th century are nearby.

Kilcoe Castle is located off a small causeway and sits on the shores of Roaringwater Bay, which is a tranquil spot in West Cork that is good for short walks along the water.

Even from outside, it is possible to admire the way that the castle has been maintained and rebuilt. The six-year restoration of the castle cost over a million euros. One of the changes made was to the color of the castle. The limewash on the stone walls was probably originally white; however, Irons chose to give the tower its light rose or orange glow as part of the makeover on his unique family home.

If you are dying to know what is inside, you can see the interior in this video that shows how the owner and Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons has decorated the 15th-century castle. The actor is known for his love of antiques, and the castle is said to be eclectically furnished with a mix of period pieces and handmade furniture.

Location and How to Visit

Kilcoe Castle is located in Carbery in West Cork. The castle itself is built on a small islet in Roaringwater Bay. It can be found just outside the village of Ballydehob. It is located in a relatively remote and rural area, which means that any trip here needs to be intentionally planned.

To get to the castle, take the N71 (Wild Atlantic Way) and plan to turn off between Skibbereen and Ballydehob. If coming west from Skibbereen, you will drive about 7 miles and watch out for Kilcoe Church on your left. Take the next turn which is marked “Kilcoe.”

The castle is private property so it is not possible to walk too close or to visit the castle itself. However, there is very little traffic here so you can stop the car and pull off to enjoy a stroll and views.

What Else to Do Nearby

A detour to Kilcoe Castle makes for a unique stop while driving along the Wild Atlantic Way. The castle offers a break from the more touristed landmarks along the incredibly coastal road.

Kilcoe is located in one of the southernmost points in Ireland, close to Mizen Head. It is also not too far from the charming village of Kinsale, which is also home to Charles Fort.

Kilcoe could also be visited before or after driving around the Beara Peninsula, one of the best things to do in West Cork. 

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A Complete Guide to Country Cork's Kilcoe Castle