Ross Castle stands on the edge of Lough Leane in Killarney National Park. It was built in the late 15th Century by the O'Donoghue clan and is a typical example of an Irish chieftain's stronghold from that period - a square tower-keep, defended at two corners by overhanging wall-mounted turrets (bartizans).
The castle was enclosed by a square curtain wall, which was further defended by a round tower at each corner (two of which survive). The curtain walls of this region are referred to as "bawns", deriving from the Gaelic "badhun" ("cattle fort") and is the origin of the word "barn". Bawns were so named because cattle were herded inside them during times of conflict to protect the beasts from slaughter at the hands of the enemy.
The castle changed hands a number of times over the centuries. When Parliamentary troops arrived in Kerry in 1652AD, Ross was occupied by Lord Muskerry. He held out against Cromwell's men until General Edmund Ludlow brought artillery to bear against the castle. The artillery arrived by boat from the Laune River, and one of these vessels was transferred to the lake, where it was used to patrol the waters, seeking out suitable positions from which to launch a water-born assault. A local legend spoke of how Ross would never fall "until a ship should swim upon the lake", so the site of an armed English vessel may well have been instrumental in the surrender of the Irish forces.
The Browne family had received extensive lands in the Kerry area following the earlier Desmond rebellion, and Sir Valentine Browne was the titular owner of Ross Castle. He was allowed to retain possession of it following the defeat of Lord Muskerry, and proceeded to establish his family home there.
Surprisingly, despite retaining power during the English reformation and the years that followed, the Browne's had held onto their Catholic faith. This led to them being stripped of their estates in 1690AD for supporting the Jacobite uprising, which sought to restore the Catholic King James II to the throne of England.
The Browne's regained their lands around 1720AD, but the castle was now in use as a military barracks. Accordingly, a new house was built to the north. The castle was finally vacated in 1825AD, and subsequently served as little more than a picturesque feature adorning the estates of the later mansion. It was allowed to slowly decay until its eventual restoration by the Office of Public Works after they acquired it in the 1970s.
Ross Castle survives in remarkably good condition, with the shores of Lough Leane providing a fairytale setting, densely wooded and surrounded by mountains. The best view is to be had from the lake, travelling towards Innisfallen Abbey, with the castle slowly receding into the distance. This is a stunningly beautiful location, and only the hardest of hearts could fail to be moved by it.