Across the globe, castles and palaces are viewed as some of the most beautiful and historic structures in the world; which, as I recently discovered, is certainly the case in Scotland and Ireland. But what makes one a castle and the other a palace? Much like the difference between a house and a home, a lot depends on why it was built, how it is used, and who lives there. In general, castles are built for defense and protection, while palaces are meant to radiate luxury and elegance.
A castle is a fortified structure; a base from which an attack can be planned and carried out. Castles have certain architectural features that only other castles have; like moats, gatehouses, round towers, battlements and exterior slits for archers to fire arrows through. They are built with thick walls, usually of stone and bricks. According to history, castles were first constructed in the ninth century and are found mostly in Europe and the Middle East.
A palace is built to show off wealth and power. It is really nothing more than a beautiful place to live! Constructed with spacious halls and lovely rooms, the purpose of a palace is for the ease, enjoyment and diversion of the people who live inside it, usually royalty or other nobility. Palaces have been around longer than castles and are found all over the world.
Like a house, a castle is meant to provide shelter. Like a home, a palace is meant to provide warmth, comfort and space for a family to live together in harmony and love. With that in mind, I suppose the ultimate goal would be for a castle to feel like a palace; and a house to feel like a home.
Here are some castles that feel like a palace inside (and also a bit like a home):
Inveraray Castle, Scotland
Glamis Castle, Scotland
The following castles, while still beautiful, are not quite as elegant inside:
Kilkenny Castle, Ireland
Blair Castle, Scotland
Blarney Castle in Ireland is a good example of strength and ease of armament:
In Edinburgh, Scotland, a castle sits at the top of a hill ready to defend the palace down at the bottom. Impressive Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline while the Palace of Holyrood House, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, is the anchor at the other end of the Royal Mile. Attached to the palace are the remains of Holyrood Abbey.
This is the first photo I took on my recent trip to Scotland! I noticed it as I checked out the view from our hotel room in Glasgow. I ran outside to snap this photo of the River Clyde before the clouds rolled in – which they did – and this reflecting scene soon disappeared!
The Monks were there that day. They stood with me in front of High Crosses. They walked with me amid the ruins of the cathedral and round towers. They noticed my tears as I read the gravestones embedded in lush green grass. I could hear them chanting in the wind that blew across the River Shannon to a peaceful place known as Clonmacnoise.
Founded by St. Ciaran in the mid-6th century, Clonmacnoise is one of the most famous monastic sites in Ireland; and it wasn’t just any old monastery! It was once a leading center for religion and learning in Europe. It included a 10-acre settlement which housed not only monks, but also lay people – all working in collaboration. There were traders and crafts people with all the skills necessary to run a medieval town. There were artists who created remarkable works in stone and metal. There were learned scholars who wrote manuscripts, including the 11th century Annals of Tighernach, and the 12th century Book of the Dun Cow.
The monastery flourished for 600 years. Today you will find the imposing remains of a cathedral, 2 round towers and no fewer than seven of the original 17 churches constructed here. Among the ruins (which date back to 545AD) are three ancient high crosses. The North Cross, the oldest of the three, was created c.800. Only the limestone shaft and sandstone base survive. The South Cross is a 9th-century piece originally situated at the southern end of the site. It has one Christian scene on its west face; a rough carving of the Crucifixion of Christ. Many believe this cross to have been the inspiration for the third cross, the Cross of the Scriptures, whose sandstone is skillfully carved with intricate figures on all four sides and is the most impressive of the surviving Celtic crosses in Ireland.
I was with a group of tourists listening to a passionate guide explain what life must have been like for the monks and others who lived, learned and died at this place. It didn’t seem right somehow – talking about them as if they weren’t even there, because they WERE there. They were with me that day among the lichen-spotted stones in an ancient place where time stands still!
I just returned from 16 days in Scotland and Ireland. What beauty and history there! At the Cliffs of Moher there is also danger. Many people have died, intentionally and accidentally, because the cliffs are high and the edges are so fragile. It is particularly dangerous when the wind is fierce – which is most of time! A memorial has been erected for those who have lost their lives here.
The trip was one I had looked forward to for quite some time. It will be the source of many pictures and stories to come. But for now, it’s just great to be back home. I missed my Word Press friends!