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6 unusual looking buildings in Ireland

By many countries standards Ireland has a lot of unusual looking buildings. Castles, Round Towers, incredibly detailed churches etc aren’t too commonplace in many countries, but certainly plentiful in Ireland. But apart from those types of buildings, we don’t have many structures that you would look at and think, wow that’s unique, or that’s sort of out of place.
So I did a bit of thinking, and a little bit of searching. Here’s what I came up with…

Unusual structures in Ireland

Mussenden Temple
Churches we have plenty, but temples not so much. Mussenden Temple, in Derry, was built as a library in 1785. After many years of coastal erosion, the temple now clings to the edge of a high sea cliff.
You can visit the grounds on which the temple stands, for free, and if you’re lucky enough you may even catch it on a day when the temple itself is open. Be sure to bring a camera along to capture the stunning scenery from the cliffs, and this truly remarkable building.

Mussenden Temple,unusual looking buildings in Ireland

Mussenden Temple (image credit: Flickr user john.purvis

The smallest church in Ireland – Costello Memorial Chapel, Carrick-on-Shannon
This tiny little chapel made my list simply because of its claim to fame as the smallest church in Ireland, and reportedly the second smallest in the world. Measuring just sixteen feet by twelve feet, this chapel was built by Edward Costello as a memorial to his wife. For a time Mass was said in the chapel, but not since the death of Mr. Costello in 1891. To this day the chapel houses the remains of both Mr. and Mrs. Costello.

Costello Memorial Chapel

Costello Memorial Chapel (image credit: Brian Shaw)

Dromana Gate – The Hindu-Gothic Gate House, Cappoquin, Co Waterford
If you follow ‘Got Ireland’ on Facebook, you may have seen recently that I was looking for a little help finding this unusual Irish structure. I had seen pictures of it in the past, but could not remember it’s name. The story behind Dromana Gate, is that it was originally constructed out of wood and papier mache by the tenants of Dromana Estate, to greet the estate owners on returning from their honeymoon to Brighton. Supposedly they liked it so much, that they had it rebuilt in stone a number of years later. The current structure sure is nice to look at, and most definitely an unusual sight in Ireland.
Thanks to Ireland Travel Kit for the photo.

Dromana Gate

Dromana Gate

The Towers, Ballysaggartmore, County Waterford
I have never visited The Towers (it’s on the list), but Neil over at Time Travel Ireland wrote up a detailed personal description of his time there, and gives a good account of the history of the site. The Tower’s were built during times of extreme hardship in Ireland, and were constructed more or less as a show of wealth and affluence. It was interesting to read how the grand plans for an extravagant mansion never materialized due to a lack of money. Karma! Neil explains it for you here.

The Towers, Ballysaggartmore

The Towers, Ballysaggartmore

Conolly’s Folly
While researching these structures I got to expand on my vocabulary – 2 new words! Folly (a folly is a building constructed primarily for decoration) and Obelisk (a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape at the top). Conolly’s Folly is an obelisk structure located in County Kildare. Having read an article about this building on Wikipedia, I can tell you it was built for completely opposite reasons as those of The Towers mentioned above. Katherine Conolly, a philanthropic widow, commissioned this folly to provide employment for hundreds of the poor of Celbridge town, when the famine of 1740-41 was at its worst. Sounds like a nice lady! I’m not too sure what purpose, if any, it ever served, but it sure is an unusual looking thing. And before someone corrects me, Conolly (one ‘n’) is the correct spelling for this folly.

Conollys Folly

Conollys Folly (Image credit: Ilja Klutman)

The Wonderful Barn: Leixlip, Co Kildare
Two from the same family! That’s right; The Wonderful Barn is another Conolly family construction. Build in 1743 with a winding staircase around the outside of the barn, it is said to have had more than one use, but it is generally accepted to have been used as a granary. You can find a similar structure in Dublin – the Bottle Tower. Features of the Bottle Tower, e.g. the presence of fireplaces, suggest that people lived in it.

The Wonderful Barn

The Wonderful Barn (image credit: Edge977)

Help me grow the list
I think between us we can at least get this list to “10 unusual looking buildings in Ireland”. Leave a comments below with your suggestions. I’d love to check them out. Thanks 🙂


  1. As I understand it, Connolly’s Folly is being restored and will be open to the public at some date in the future. The Wonderful Barn is completely surrounded by overgrown foliage so no direct access, and it’s on private property. Castletown House was constructed by the Connelly’s. One can see the Wonderful Barn between rows of trees that were once the original drive up to the house. The M3 motorway now separates the house from the barn. On the other side of the house, the folly is visible at the boundary of the estate. Again, the M3 separates the folly from the estate, but both are under management from the OPW. The house is stunning! Guided tours only, but the rooms are incredible to see. And there are often events on the weekend in the summers.

    And incredible building we’ve found is at Heywood Garden. The garden is the only remaining part of the once grand house (which is now a school). The oval pool in the sunken garden is surrounded by turtle fountains with a central cascading fountain in the center. There is a logia at the back of the area, all of this is enclosed by a high wall with oval windows to look out to the surrounding coutryside and a lush step-garden which is thought to have been lanscaped by Gertrude Jekyll. The sunken garden is got to through a small maze of hedges, which also conceal a lily garden. On the site are other structures, such as the orangery, Sham Castle, and a medieval church gable end with window, original stable yard, and garden features —

    In Coole Park in Co Galway one would find the Autograph Tree in the walled garden of the Coole Estate. The house is gone now, but it was once a hub of activity back in the early 20th century. Lady Augusta Gregory entertained the likes of WB Years, Douglas Hyde, George Bernard Shaw and others on the estate. Gregory and Years were instrumental in founding the Abbey Theatre in Dublin City and for the Irish Literary Revival. Gregory’s occupation was the writing down of all the tales from the local Irish, who until then, only had an oral storytelling tradition. If not for Gregory, most of those stories would have died. The Copper Beech in the garden has the autographs of all the famous people who once spent time at Coole Estate —

    • Hi Kemberlee
      Thanks for this very detailed info. The Autograph Tree sounds like a fun thing to visit. I just checked out the list of names on that link you left. Isn’t it amazing that they can still be read?


  2. Geraldine Oboyle

    check out kilney Hill in Co Dublin, if you join the face book page of “you know you are from Dun Laoire” they post up regular pics you will see the tower on kilney hill.