Chieftains, saints and sinners: eight of the best unsung castles and abbeys of Ireland

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In a country where historic buildings appear around almost every corner, these lesser-known treasures offer brilliant visits without the crowds

The Rock of Cashel, a medieval stronghold that once served as the seat of Ireland’s kings, is undeniably magnificent. Perched high on an outcrop overlooking lush Tipperary farmland, its round towers, high crosses and 13th-century Gothic cathedral attract a steady stream of visitors. But it’s not the only Irish castle or abbey to draw large crowds. Even off season, there are long queues for internationally recognised sites such as Bunratty, Clonmacnoise, Glendalough, Dunluce, Blarney and Kylemore. Unesco-designated world heritage site Skellig Michael (famous as Luke Skywalker’s island sanctuary in Star Wars) has limited access, and other ancient buildings have been made into five-star hotels.

But this is a country where a castle or abbey can appear around almost every windswept corner, so there are thousands of off-the-radar places to visit. These sites have equally impressive architecture, and possibly even more intriguing backstories, but a noticeable absence of tour buses and crowds because they haven’t featured on the big or small screen – yet. In most cases, you’ll share the space with just a handful of Hibernophiles. With that in mind, we’ve selected eight of the best lesser-known abbeys and castles in Ireland dating from the seventh and to the 19th centuries.

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