Castle Ward: A Place with a Remarkable History


Updated On: April 04, 2024 by   Ciaran ConnollyCiaran Connolly

One main feature that entices people to visit Ireland is the many historic castles found here, and Castle Ward does not fail to impress. It is a unique 18th-century castle located in the friendly village of Strangford in County Down, Northern Ireland. Set within 820 acres of walled demesne that looks over the peaceful waters of Strangford Lough.

The castle is most notable for its mixture of architectural styles and its vigorous history. It has been kept in excellent condition due to being owned by the National Trust, who spend a lot of time and money on preserving some of Northern’s best heritage sites. Castle Ward has recently gained popularity due to appearing in the highly acclaimed television series Game of Thrones.

Castle Ward | Strangford | County Down | Downpatrick | Northern Ireland | National Trust

History of the Castle Ward

Since 1570, the castle castleen the home of the ward family. Castle Ward was initially owned by the Earls of Kildare and known as ‘Carrick Na Sheannagh’. Then, it was taken over by Bernard Ward, whose father, Sir Roberts, was the Surveyor-General of Ireland.

On the estate of Castle Ward, the new owners also built other homes. These included the Old Castle Ward, built around 1590 and still survives today. It was also a mansion built by Judge Michael Ward in 1720, but unfortunately, it was destroyed in 1850.

Castle Ward
Castle Ward

The Unique Style of Castle Ward

A unique and unusual feature of the castle castlet it was built with two different decorative styles. This was because Bernard Ward and his Wife Ann had two very different tastes. Bernard was a fan of the classical Palladian Style, and his wife favoured the elaborate Gothic style, so to get the best of both worlds, they split the house down the middle.

The different styles are evident throughout the stonework and even the interior design. You will uncover a simple classical decoration on one side of the castle.castle, the other side is more over the top and detailed with ornate panelling and ceilings—something you need to see in person to experience its incredible details.

Castle Ward Estate
Castle Ward Estate

Besides the castle,castleandscape has two other distinctive features: an 18th-century Temple Water and a 19th-century Windsor Garden.

Temple Water

The Temple Water is one of the hidden gems at the estate, where the National Trust is embarking on an ambitious refurbishment. It is a remarkable manufactured landscape that the Ward family designed. The Temple Water Canal covers two hectares of land and provides water for the mills.

It is considered an essential 17th/18th-century garden to have survived in Ireland. Features planned for the new restoration include bringing back the original pathways that will offer visitors a beautiful route around the temple with incredible viewing points.

A Victorian Garden

The Windsor Garden, now known as the Sunken Garden, has also been restored to its Victorian style and features. When it was first designed, it was a formal terraced garden with detailed bedding design between walk-way paths. Over time, the garden’s look was dramatically changed, with the beds replaced with rolling lawns and a massive statue of Neptune that took away from the beauty of the flowers.

“The garden was no longer recognisable as one of the greatest gardens in Ireland; however, thanks to the support of gifts in wills, donors and the Ulster Garden Scheme, we have embarked on a £37,500 project to elevate the presentation of the Sunken Garden and revive the Victorian passion for plant collections and colour.” – Head Gardener, Andy Dainty (Source National Trust)

Head Gardner Andy worked with locals and foreign garden volunteers to bring the garden back to its original beauty and elegance that would excite both old and new visitors.

Tales of Intrigue and Romance

Castle Ward’s illustrious history is woven with tales of romance, intrigue, and political drama, each adding depth to its compelling narrative. Legend has it that the estate was the setting for a clandestine romance between Lady Anne Ward, daughter of the first Viscount Bangor, and her suitor, Peter the Boatman. Despite the societal constraints of their time, their love endured, immortalized in the annals of local folklore.

The estate also played a pivotal role in the political upheavals of the 18th century, with the Ward family firmly entrenched in the tumultuous landscape of Irish politics. From hosting lavish soirées attended by the political elite to weathering the storms of rebellion and unrest, Castle Ward stood as a bastion of privilege and power amidst the shifting tides of history.

A Haven for Nature Enthusiasts

Beyond its architectural splendour and historical significance, Castle Ward is a haven for nature enthusiasts, with its sprawling grounds offering a sanctuary for wildlife amid the hustle and bustle of modern life. Birdwatchers can delight in the diverse avian species that call the estate home, from majestic birds of prey soaring overhead to delicate songbirds flitting among the trees.

For those seeking outdoor adventure, Castle Ward offers many recreational activities, from cycling and hiking along scenic trails to kayaking on the tranquil waters of Strangford Lough. The estate’s vast woodlands provide a playground for exploration, with hidden groves and ancient ruins waiting to be discovered around every corner.

Preservation and Conservation

In the modern era, Castle Ward is a monument to the past and a beacon of conservation and sustainability. Recognizing the importance of preserving its natural and cultural heritage, the estate has implemented numerous initiatives to safeguard its pristine landscapes and historic structures for future generations.

Visitors can participate in guided tours led by knowledgeable docents, delving into the fascinating stories behind every stone and stained glass window. Educational programs and workshops offer insights into traditional crafts and skills, allowing visitors to connect with the estate’s heritage in a meaningful and immersive way.

The Castle Ward Collection

The Castle castlees a fantastic collection of exciting items, such as examples of 18th and 19th-century family portraits.  Artists Ashford and Fisher offer impressive paintings of the Castle Ward landscape during its 18th-century setting. A brilliant Irish house book collection remains in the Ward family Library—books within this collection date back to the Plantation of Ards Peninsula in 1607.

Game of Thrones - Castle Ward
Game of Thrones – Castle Ward

Game of Thrones Experience at Castle Ward

Unless you’re a fan of the HBO series Game of Thrones (GOT), you might not know that Castle Ward was used as a filming location for the successful show. The historic Farmyard at Castle Ward is the location of Winterfell, the area in which the show was set for much of its first season. Many critical scenes within GOT were filmed here, so taking a trip to the Castle castlee stepping into your favourite series.

The production of Game of Thrones spent around eight weeks building the Winterfell set. Hundreds of actors and crew worked on filming the show while it was here. Games of Thrones has played a massive part in creating tourism in Northern Ireland.

Whether you’re a show fan or not, check out the Game of Thrones Experience with Clearsky Adventures at Castle Ward. They have built a replica of the Winterfell Archery Range in the same spot where filming occurred. This is your opportunity to dress up as your favourite character from the show and stand where they did.

A Trip to Castle Ward offers Something for Everyone

To uncover the entire history of the Castle Ward and its spectacular architecture, you need to go on a guided tour. There is so much beauty, history and heritage to be uncovered. You can enjoy the walking and cycling trails along the Lough. Explore the woodlands, spot some friendly animals, or even enjoy delicious treats at the tea room and browse the gift shop. And, of course, a must-stop for all you Game of Thrones Fans out there.


In the heart of Northern Ireland, Castle Ward stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of the past, a place where history comes alive amidst the beauty of the natural world. From its stately mansion to its verdant gardens and sweeping vistas, the estate embodies the spirit of resilience and renewal, inviting visitors to embark on a journey through time and immerse themselves in the captivating stories that have shaped its remarkable history. As the sun sets over the tranquil waters of Strangford Lough, Castle Ward remains a beacon of inspiration, its timeless beauty transcending the boundaries of age and era, forever etched into the fabric of our collective memory.

Other Northern Ireland attractions worth checking out:

Mount Stewart House and Gardens| Castle Coole: A Great Neo-Classical House in Ireland| Carrickfergus Castle: The Strongman| Good Vibrations in Belfast| Top Northern Ireland Attractions|

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