The modern Republic of Ireland went through a lot of trouble – 800 years of it – to be free of the British Crown. People fought for generations to be citizens, not subjects. But there is another layer of history further back in time when Irish kings and queens ruled their lands. The island was carved up between them, and their stories have shaped our national imagination for centuries after the end of their era. Their castles and their adventures have inspired many different Irish gifts from jewelry to artwork to clothing.
Modern Ireland is divided into counties – 26 in the Republic and six in the North for a total of 32. Their current boundaries evolved during those 800 years of British rule. But before that, this island was a patchwork of clans and small kingdoms, grouped into larger networks. Where did those Irish kings and queens live? In castles of course. And they had this in common with later titled British rulers. So Ireland, north and south of the border, is blessed with many, many castles. Tens of thousands, in fact. Some are ruins, barely identifiable as having once been buildings, while others are fully restored and even furnished. Some are even still occupied by the descendants of those former rulers.
Irish Castles for Your Home
Kings & Queens of Ireland
Ireland’s folklore is full of the adventures of the kings and queens who ruled, loved and fought for their lands. Their heroic deeds and their romantic adventures have fueled imaginations for centuries. Among their countless names, a few stand out. These are the Irish royalty whose legends have endured the longest.
· Queen Maeve (Queen of Connaught)
Born to the ruling High King of Ireland, the woman whose ambition, beauty and general fierceness gave us the famous Cattle Raid of Cooley had no fewer than five husbands. And she succeeded in being more feared and more admired than any of them.
· Conchobar mac Nessa (King of Ulster)
Maeve’s first husband, selected by her father, and star of the Ulster Cycle of Irish legend. Due to his mother’s shrewd negotiations, he became king as a child. He was married several times, and it is he who pursues Deirdre and Naoise, and eventually forces Deirdre to marry him.
· Brian Boru (High King 1002 -1014)
Born around 940 AD, Brian was a devoutly Christian king and a fierce warrior. He rebuilt Ireland after the Viking invasions, and was killed in the Battle of Clontarf.
· Ruaidhri O Conchobhair (High King 1166-1198)
Ireland’s last high king wasn’t his father’s first pick for the job. In fact, he only became heir to the crown after one of his brothers was killed and another imprisoned. Ruaidhri signed the Treaty of Windsor with Henry II of England.
· Grainne Ui Mhaille (aka Grace O’Malley, the pirate queen)
The daughter of a clan chieftain and notorious pirate, Grainne was determined to follow her father’s footsteps at a young age. A series of strategic marriages and some military daring increased her power. She shocked Queen Elizabeth I in 1593 by arriving to meet her with a dagger at her waist and refusing to curtsy.
Gifts Inspired by Irish Queens & Kings
The stories of Ireland’s kings and queens were set in those ancient castles. They strode down the corridors, conferred with their inner circles and gazed out at their lands from these stone structures when they were intact. If you are lucky enough to visit some of Ireland’s castles, you will literally be walking in their footsteps. And that adds an extra layer to all those beautiful Irish gifts featuring castles.