Carraigin Castle in Ireland

Carraigin Castle is located on the shores of Lough Corrib near Headford in County Galway, Ireland. Family groups or close friends will love the relaxed atmosphere of this authentic 14th-century Irish castle, which has been restored by the present owner, Christopher Murphy, after languishing for more than two centuries as a crumbling, roofless ruin. 

Niall and I were so grateful for the opportunity to visit Carraigin Castle and to listen to Christopher’s stories, sitting by the huge medieval fireplace; the cosiest place in the castle. Even tea tasted different when we were surrounded by shadows from the past; watching how the flames of the fire caressing the ancient walls. Each time we learnt something new. Christopher and Anne are wonderful hosts. I will tell you a little more about the castle in Christopher’s own words.

“Carraigin’s church-like structure sits on a rise reached by an avenue across a tree-lined pleasure ground. The ancient-looking, nail-studded front door on the ground floor of the castle, often mistaken for an authentic relic from the past, was actually made by the owner during the building’s restoration in the 1970s. Around the corner from the entrance, there is an imposing stone staircase which leads to another grand entrance, into the lofty, oak-beamed Great Hall which features a wide, stone-arched fireplace that provides a comforting aroma of turf and wood-smoke.

The Great Hall is the central living and dining area of the castle. It features a mix of old oak and comfortable modern furniture surrounding the welcoming hearth. Its white walls are extensively decorated with art including tapestries, brass rubbing portraits of ancient kings and knights and a magnificent triptych featuring a Galway galleon (replicated on the City’s coat of arms). There is a tiny but well-equipped kitchen next door with a view over the tall trees of the pleasure ground. On the same level as the Hall, there is an oak-beamed double bedroom with a king-size bed and bathroom. A stone staircase winds upwards over this master bedroom to a family loft room overlooking the Great Hall.

More winding stairs lead up to a little single bedroom in the corner tower. From both of these second-floor rooms, you can stroll out onto the castle parapets with fabulous views of Lough Corrib and the hills of Connemara and Mayo and even those of County Clare, on the other side of Galway Bay. The rest of you sleep in the four cosy ‘Vaults’ on the ground floor below; their walls also lined with tapestries and other artworks. The Vaults have a lot of picturesque charm with their oak-timbered partitions, arches and vaulted ceilings. These rooms are conjoined. Vault I, the largest of the four, sleeps two in bunk-beds and features a fair-sized work table and chairs for active teenagers and a mini-sofa for one or two in the window embrasure. Vault II (off No. 1) has a double bed and a similar window seat. Vault III (also off No.1) has one double and one single bed and a window seat. Vault III in turn gives access to Vault IV, a small single room with a three-light gothic window looking out at the standing stone sundial on the lawn.

From Dilapidated Ruin to Ivory Tower

Out of the many thousands of once-proud Irish castles, scarcely half a dozen escaped abandonment and dereliction in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, as the gentry of Ireland rehoused in more comfortable mansions. This has left the countryside dotted with castle ruins: tall, gaunt reminders of the past whose romantic appeal has inspired an increasing number of restoration projects.

During the last 100 years, some of the better-preserved of these solidly built tower houses, with their finely chiselled stonework, have been restored, some by the State, but mostly by individual romantics, such as the poet W B Yeats in the 1920s, and more recently, a growing number of individuals, including the writer and the actor Jeremy Irons.

However, such is the romantic appeal of medieval masonry that most restorations have left the stonework exposed to the weather. Damp has consequently been a serious problem in many restored castles, leaving many of them uninhabitable. During the middle ages, the exterior of all castles, and other buildings of importance such as churches, were plastered with white lime mortar, thus converting what would otherwise have been dull stone constructions into shining “ivory towers”. However, the function of the lime plaster, or “harling”, was not just decorative. It provided an essential weather-proof coating well bonded to the stonework and not prone to cracking or peeling off. The durability of lime mortar is demonstrated by the remains of harling applied many centuries ago still to be found on the ruins of Irish castles and abbeys.

When the restoration of Carraigin Castle began in 1970, the art of harling had long died out in Ireland. The next half century saw attempts to weatherproof the walls with an expensive succession of products and treatments, including the paint used on the lighthouses around the Irish coast, but the damp still came in and successive coats of paint peeled off, leaving the castle from time to time, “like an abandoned church in a poor parish”, in the words of an outspoken visitor. Happily, the art of harling has now been revived in Ireland. To complete the restoration at Carraigin, early in 2020 the remnants of 50 years’ failed attempts at weatherproofing were sandblasted away and a multi-layered lime plaster applied to the bare stone. A progressive reduction of damp in the interior was soon noticeable. In its new ivory coating (unlike the stony-grey harling seen elsewhere) Carraigin Castle is probably the only true “ivory tower” in Ireland. By way of contrast, the stonework around the windows has been left exposed, allowing even the fans of “lovely old stone” to acclaim the castle’s fresh, authentic appearance, just as it was 700 years ago”

On the 5th of July 2024, Niall and I were amongst honoured guests at an event where a stone plaque was unveiled which commemorates the history of Carraigin Castle. 

‘Carraigin’ means a Little Rock.

On the plaque, Christopher honours Adam Gaynard III, who first built the castle back in 1300. The plaque also mentions George Staunton-Lynch II and his family who, in 1720, settled on the Estate of Carraigin Castle. Then, the castle fell in to ruins until it was restored by Christopher Murphy in the early 1970s with the help of George Conroy and Tom Keena. Their descendants were present at the unveiling along with a descendant of Adam Gaynard III.

I invite you to watch my videos and learn more from Christopher, who is now 98 years old. He never stops caring for his castle. He is a remarkable man for his age, with a sharp mind and amazing memory. I treasure special moments like this, listening about history from people like Christopher, who does everything in his power to preserve it for future generations.

Restored 14th Century Carraigin Castle video

Unveiling of commemorative plaque video

Carraigin Castle is a private castle, but it can be rented directly from www.carraigin.net

With love & gratitude,

Tatiana