Ireland's 30 best historic houses & gardens
From great halls to secret gardens and even a cottage fit for Snow White, Ireland's grand old houses have something for everyone.
Best for history buffs
1. Derrynane House, Co Kerry
A trip to the summer home of Daniel O'Connell, the Liberator, polishes up your Irish history nicely (the gold chariot he rode through Dublin after his release from prison is there, and his duelling pistols). Pack your swimming gear - one of the most beautiful beaches is five minutes' walk away.
Where: Caherdaniel, Co Kerry; (066) 947-5113; heritageireland.ie
Open: May to September, Monday to Saturday, 9am-6pm, Sundays, 11am-7pm; check website for other times
Price: Adult, €4, child, €2, family, €10
Café: Yes, in Courtyard
2. Parke's Castle, Co Leitrim
Parke's Castle, Co. Leitrim
Three storeys high and on the very edge of Lough Gill, this fortified manor house dates from the 17th century when Robert Parke built it on the site of rebel Gaelic chieftain Brian O'Rourke's tower house. O'Rourke was executed at Tyburn in 1591 and the stone from the demolished tower was used to build Parke's manor house inside the original bawn. Today, it's a good place to soak up history and take a picnic.
Where: Fivemile Bourne, Co Leitrim; (071) 916-4149; firstname.lastname@example.org; heritageireland.ie
Open: Daily, April 2-September 30, 10am-18pm
Price: Adult, €4, child €2, family, €10
Café: Tearooms open in summer
3. Ballyportry Castle, Co Clare
Steep yourself in history at Ballyportry, a painstakingly restored medieval tower house with a stone spiral staircase, Great Hall with oak beams, stone-flagged floor and vast fireplace, and superb views out over the Burren from its roof. Luckily, it's equipped with 21st-century luxuries such as fridge, freezer and running hot water. You'll have to book a stay to visit, but it's certainly worth it.
Where: Ballyportry, Co Clare; 087 205 9957 / (01) 660-9038; email@example.com; ballyportry.ie
Open: All year round
Price: 3 nights from €1,800; sleeps 4-8;
Café: You won't need one here, dinner on arrival can be arranged
4. Hamwood House, Co Meath
This mid-sized Palladian house was built in 1764 by Charles Hamilton, agent for the Dukes of Leinster, whose main seat was nearby Carton House. The Hamilton family still live in the house today and their fine family collection, as well as lovely Georgian interiors, are a draw for the history lover. The magnificent garden with its exotic tree specimens and shrubs, collected back in the late 1800s, make for a delightful stroll.
Where: Dunboyne, Co Meath; (01) 825-5210
Open: Gardens, daily, April 1 to September 30, 2pm to 6pm or by arrangement
Price: House tour and tea, adult, €10 (minimum group of 10); gardens, adult, €5, children under 12 free
Café: There isn't one so don't forget the flask of tea
5. Altidore Castle, Co Wicklow
Built as a "sham" fort and residence for General Thomas Pearce in 1730s. In 1945, when very dilapidated, the Emmet family who are descended from United Irishman Thomas Addis Emmet, elder brother of Robert, bought it and began its restoration.
Where: Altidore Castle, Kilpedder, Co Wicklow; 087 760 1369
Open: August 22-30, 1pm-5pm, or by arrangement; gardens open
Price: Entry to the house is €3 per person and entry is by guided tours only.
Cafe: There is no café onsite.
B&B: No, but holiday cottages for rent
6. Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre
One of the decisive battles in Irish history happened in the field just in front of Oldbridge House. Visit on a Sunday or bank holiday Monday in summer and you might just be enlisted by the musketeers who give demos of powdering up their guns.
Where: Oldcastle, Co Meath; (041) 980-9950; battleoftheboyne.ie
Open: May to September, daily, 10am-7pm
Price: House, including audio visual screening, adult €4, child, €2
Café: Yes, in the walled garden
Best for family
7. Belvedere House, Co Westmeath
This Georgian villa was once home to the Earl of Rochfort who locked up his second wife Mary Molesworth for 31 years because he believed she had been unfaithful. Today it's a happier place to visit, with 160 acres of lakeland, follies, and the new Enchanted Glen where you might just spot a fairy...
Where: Mullingar, Co Westmeath; (044) 934-9060; belvedere-house.ie
Open: May to August, 9.30am-8pm, April and September, 9.30am-7pm; check website for updates
Price: Adult, €8, child, €4, family (2+2), €23
Café: Yes, Catoca Café open daily, 9.30-5pm; kids' birthday parties catered for
8. Crom Castle, Co Fermanagh
If ever countryside was rolling, it's here at Crom Castle, with its 2,000 acres of parkland. Stay in the castle's West Wing, take a jaunt on the Lough Erne in their new cot boat, or cruise onboard the Innishcruiser.
Where: Crom Castle, West Wing, Upper Lough Erne, Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh; (048) 677-38004; firstname.lastname@example.org, cromcastle.com
Price: on application for a stay in The West Wing.Or from £16 for two for camping/glamping from Crom National Trust Visitor Centre on the 2,000 acre estate; (048) 6773-8118.
More: You can also hire boats and organise an overnight bird- and-mammal-watching hide at the Visitor Centre.
Café The Little Orchard Tea Room at Visitor Centre
9. Westport House, Co Mayo
Swan boats at Westport House
Designed by the renowned Richard Cassels and James Wyatt, this mighty house has become better known for its fantastic adventure activities - swan pedalos in its lake and pirate swing ship.
Where Quay Road, Westport, Co Mayo; (098) 27766; westport.ie
Open Daily, June 28 to August 26, 11am to 7pm; check website
Price House and grounds, adult, €13, child, €6.50; House and Pirate Adventure Park, adult, one-day pass €21, child, €16.50, under 2s free, family, €60 (2+2), new Adventure Activity Centre, various; buy online for 5pc discount
Camp and caravan site Bell tents for rental (give discounted rates to the activities)
10. Airfield, Dublin
Two years ago the much-loved city farm reopened after a major refurb. Bequeathed by the Overend sisters to the public, Airfield is a wonderful place to let children wander, watch the cows being milked, enjoy the pretty planting and well-planned vegetable garden or take part in any number of nature activities.
Where: Overend Way, Dundrum, Dublin 14; (01) 969-6666; airfield.ie
Open: July and August, daily, 9.30am to 7pm; September to May, Monday to Sunday, 9.30am-5pm. Feeding time 3.30pm, milking, 5.30pm
Price: Adult, €10, child, €5, under 3s free; family tickets, various
Café: The Overend Restaurant
11. Woodstock, Co Kilkenny
Where is the tallest hemlock tree in the country? How about the longest avenue of monkey trees in Europe? Yep, Woodstock, that's where. Woodstock has trails, events and more to keep kids busy. Oh, and 50 acres that hide treasures like an ice house, waterfall and a folly. Check website for kids' events.
Where Inistioge, Co Kilkenny; woodstock.ie
Open Summer, Monday to Friday, 9am-7pm, Saturday to Sunday, 11am-7pm; October to May, daylight hours
Price €4 per car
Café Coffee kiosk in car park
Best for the green-fingered
12. Mount Stewart, Co Down
Mount Stewart on Strangford Lough is home to a vast collection of Mediterranean plants in its Italian garden, fantastical topiary in its Shamrock garden, and many other garden lovelies. Soft day? The newly reopened house has been restored to its 20th century elegance, full of portraits, silver and porcelain. Check. It. Out.
Where: Portaferry Road, Newtownards, Co Down; (048) 4278-8387; mountstewart@ nationaltrust.org.uk; nationaltrust.org
Price: House and garden, adult, £7.27, child, £3.63, family, £18.18; garden tour, additional £3.50
Open: House, tearoom, formal and lakeside gardens, 11am-5pm
Other: The Eclectic Garden Seminar takes place September 19-20
13. Altamount, Co Carlow
Former owner Corona North travelled the globe to find plant specimens such as the breathtaking Tulip Tree. Now, those plants and trees cover 40 acres of Carlow countryside with an ice age glen with vast stones and old oaks, a bog garden and lovely herbaceous borders. Go now to catch the rose collection in bloom but please bear in mind the house is not open to the public.
Where Altamont Gardens, Bunclody Road, Tullow, Co Carlow; (059) 915-9444; heritageireland.ie; carlowgardentrail.com
Open Daily, May to end September, 9am-6.30pm
Price Free; guided tours of garden, €2
Café The Walled Garden café is home to Altamont Plant Sales
14. Caher Bridge, Co Clare
Gardener Carl Wright has built a mile of stone walls in his award-winning garden since 1999, brought the hazel clumps and blackthorn scrub under control, and sieved every inch of soil to yield a surprisingly beautiful oasis out of the harsh Burren landscape.
Where: Caher Bridge Garden, Fanore, Clare; (065) 707-6225; email@example.com
Open: By appointment only
Café: Best to pack a light lunch as there's no café
15. Hunting Brook Gardens, Co Wicklow
Plants man Jimi Blake, ex head gardener at Airfield, likes to mix it up in his 20 acres on a hilltop in deep Wicklow. Learn from the master at his open days.
Where Hunting Brook Gardens, Lamb Hill, Blessington, Co Wicklow; 087 285 6601; huntingbrook.com
Price Adult, €6, kids free
Open Wednesday to Sunday, 11am-5.30pm, text to check
Café Yes, tea rooms open one Sunday a month, August 23, September 20; at 2pm Jimi gives a free class on his top 20 plants for the season
16. Helen Dillon Garden, Dublin 6
Something new catches your eye every time you visit Helen Dillon's garden. Helen is usually on hand to give expert tips.
Where: 45 Sandford Terrace, Ranelagh Road, Dublin 6; (01) 497-1308; thedillongarden.com
Open: Daily 2-6pm, July and August; Sundays only during April, May, June and September
Café: Tea and biscuits can be arranged by booking
17. Heywood Gardens, Co Laois
The famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens designed four gardens in Ireland, at Howth Castle, Lambay Island, the War Memorial Park, and here at Heywood, where it forms the centrepiece of a larger landscape.
Where: Ballinakill, Co Laois; (057) 873-3563; opw.ie
Open: Daily, weekends via turnstile gate only. Guided tour available by booking
Café: There is no café or toilet facilities onsite
18. Kells Bay Gardens, Co Kerry
This sub-tropical garden would make a good location for the next Jurassic Park movie - the tree ferns brought in from the Antipodeans are now over 150 years old.
Where: Kells, Co Kerry; (066) 947-7975/ 087 777 6666; kellsgardens.ie
Open: Daily, 9.30-6pm, except January; check website
Price: Adult, €6.50, child, €5
Café: The Conservatory Café is open daily
19. Mount Usher, Co Wicklow
Plunge deep into Mount Usher gardens for a dip in a Robinsonian-style garden with over 5,000 plants that flow along the banks of the Vartry River.
Where: Ashford, Co Wicklow; (0404) 40205 /087 230 1678; foodhall, (0404) 49671; café, (0404) 40116
Open: Gardens, daily, 10am-6pm
Price: Adult, €7.50, child under 16, €3.50, under 4s free
Café: Yes, with a choice of food stuffs
Best for architecture fiends
20. Curraghmore House, Co Waterford
The home of the Ninth Marquis of Waterford, with 1,000 hectares of formal gardens, woodland and grazing fields, Curraghmore is open for National Heritage week (August 22-30).
Where: Curraghmore, Portlaw, Co Waterford; (051) 387101; curraghmorehouse.ie
Open: Mid-March to mid-October, Tuesday to Thursday, 10am-4pm; 1 & 3 Sunday each month by arrangement; (051) 387 134 to book
Price: House, €10, shell house & garden, €5, combined, €15
Café: Tea rooms onsite
21. Castletown House, Co Kildare
The finest Palladian house in the country, built for William Connolly, and copied in construction all over Ireland. It was bought by Desmond Guinness in 1967 and restored by the Irish Georgian Society.
Where: Celbridge, Co Kildare; (01) 628-8252; castletown.ie
Open: Daily, March 14 to October 31; guided tour, 10.15, then hourly from 11am to 5pm, Sundays, 10.15, 11am and 5pm, access to the house from 12 to 4.45pm
Price: Adult, €7, child, €3, family (2+2), €17
Café: Courtyard Café. Check the website for details on the country market which held regularly.
22. Swiss Cottage, Cahir, Co Tipperary
Swiss Cottage, Co. Tipperary
A pretty "cottage orné" commissioned in the early 1800s by Richard Butler, to a design by the famous Regency architect John Nash. It looks like the cottage Snow White took refuge in with the seven dwarves.
Where Kilcommon, Cahir, Co Tipperary; (052) 744-1144; firstname.lastname@example.org; heritageireland.ie
Open: Daily, 10-6pm, April 2 to October 28
Price: Includes tour, adult, €4, child, €2, family, €10
Café: No and note now that there are no credit/debit card facilities either.
Best for culture vultures
23. Glebe House, Co Donegal
The former studio of landscape and portrait painter Derek Hill is now a gallery for his work and his 300-strong collection of 20th-century art, including paintings by Picasso, as well as Irish and Italian artists. .
Where: Churchill, Letterkenny, Co Donegal; (074) 913- 7071; heritageireland.ie
Open: Daily, 11am-6.30pm, July and August; June and September (closed Fridays)
Price: Derek Hill Gallery, free. House, adult, €4, child, €2, family, €10
Café: Yes, coffee shop in summer
24. Bantry House, Co Cork
Take afternoon tea in the library of this lovely classical Irish house, built in 1710, but embellished and enlarged over the centuries. The Shelwell Whites, descendants of the Earls of Bantry, still live here.
Where: Bantry House, Bantry, Co Cork; (027) 50047; bantryhouse.ie
Open: Daily, July and August, 10am-5pm; September and October, 10am-5pm; Monday, gardens only
Price: House and Garden, €11; child, 6-16, €3; under 6s free; family €26 (2+2); guided tour at 2pm included; garden only €5
Café: Yes, also, afternoon tea served in library, 2-5.30pm, €25pp (booking essential)
B&B: Yes, €169 per room
25. Drishane House
Many of the scenes that appear in Somerville and Ross's comic fiction are drawn from parties, picnics and croquet outings at Drishane House, home to Edith Somerville, the late 19th-century novelist.
Where: Castletownsend, Skibbereen, Co Cork; (028) 36126; email@example.com; drishane.com
Open: Daily 11am-3pm, August 22-30, October 2-16; telephone to book
Price: House, garden and museum, €10; garden and museum, €6; under 6s free
26. Farmleigh, Dublin 15
Sold by the Guinness family to the Irish government for €29.2m in 1999, Farmleigh is the official guest house for State visitors - and an unofficial weekend spot for Dubliners, with storytelling and music.
Where: Phoenix Park, Dublin 15; (01) 815-5981; farmleigh.ie
Open: Daily, 10-6pm
Price: Free, issued on first-come-first-served basis; tours run hourly from 10.15am-4.15pm
Café: Yes, the Boathouse Café
27. Castle Ward, Co Down
Game of Thrones fans might recognise Castle Ward as the setting for Winterfell, the Whispering Woods, Robb Stark's Camp, and the site of the Baelor battle. Take a tour and try your hand at archery Thrones-style.
Where Park Road, Downpatrick, Co Down; (048) 4488-1204; nationaltrust.org
Price Adult, £7.04, child, £3.40, family, £17.27. Game of Thrones tour Clearsky Adventure; (048) 4372-3933; firstname.lastname@example.org
Other Bike rentals, family activities
Café Yes, Coachhouse Café open daily during summer
28. Beaulieu, Co Louth
Sitting on the banks of the Boyne, the lovely manor house of Beaulieu was built in the 1660s by Sir Henry Tichbourne, and the eleventh generation of the family now lives there. Pop in and you'll find a livery stables and tea rooms.
Where: Drogheda, Co Louth; (041) 983-8557; beaulieuhouse.ie
Open: Monday-Friday, 11-5pm to September 4; weekends, July and August, 1-5pm
Price: €10, under 16s free; garden only, €5
B&B: €185 for two people sharing
Best for walkers
29. Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden, Co Galway
For a dramatic setting you can't beat Kylemore Abbey. In summer, you can take a guided hike through the oak forests, and be rewarded by spellbinding views.
Where Connemara, Co Galway; (095) 52001;
Open Daily, 9am-6pm. Guided hikes June to August, Wed and Sat, 1 hour, 3pm, €16pp (includes entrance fee); 3 hour, 11am, €19pp (includes entrance fee)
Café Mitchell's Café or Tea House in the walled garden
Price Adult, €13; under 10s free, family, €26 (up to 6 children under 10); family, €35 (up to 6 children over 10)
30. Glenveagh Castle, Co Donegal
Begun in the 1880s, the gardens have been developed over the decades to add an orangery and Italian terrace.
Where: Churchill, Letterkenny, Co Donegal
Open: House, tour only; gardens, dawn to dusk, year round
Price: Castle tour, adult, €5, child, €2, family, €10; garden tour on request, (076) 100-2692; access to National Park and Visitor Centre, free; for info on walks, (074) 913-7698
Café: Glenveagh Castle Tearooms, weekdays, 10.30-5pm, weekends, 10.30-5.30pm