BY JUDY ENRIGHT
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
Have you always wanted to be a prince or princess? If not, you probably have at least dreamed about being treated like a member of the royal family! We can’t help with heredity, but we can suggest that you book into one of Ireland’s many castle hotels where you can fulfill your fantasy and be treated like royalty.
There are many elegant castle hotels across Ireland but probably the best known are Ashford in Cong, Co. Mayo, and Dromoland, in Co. Clare, just minutes from Shannon Airport.
Ashford had one of many glory days back in the 1950s when “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara was filmed in and around the area and many of the stars stayed at the hotel.
Over the years, Ashford has changed hands many times and was actually owned by a group of American investors back in the 1980s. A Galway developer bought the property in 2008 and the hotel was sold again in 2013, this time to Red Carnation Hotels, a South African company that owns four- and five-star properties in London, Guernsey, Geneva, and even Palm Beach, FL.
When you book into Ashford, you can choose a room or suite and both promise elegance and comfort and afford views out over 350 acres of private woodlands or across Lough Corrib.
The food at Ashford is delicious and well prepared in the hotel and at “Cullen’s at the Cottage,” just a short walk away over the bridge. In The George V dining room you can enjoy classic Irish cuisine or dine in the specialty restaurant The Connaught Room, which offers classic French cuisine.
Accommodation and food isn’t all you’ll find at Ashford. There are many activities to enjoy there, ranging from catch-and-release fishing and golf to walking/hiking, lake cruising, horseback riding, and a visit to the falconry to take a hawk walk.
There is currently a renovation, preservation, and enhancement program underway at Ashford, according to Niall Rochford, general manager for more than a decade. Some of the work includes new windows and rooves, moving and rebuilding the kitchens closer to the dining room, a new library, WiFi and air conditioning throughout, flat-screen TVs in guest rooms, and interior design coordinated by Beatrice Tollman, founder and president of Red Carnation Hotel Collection, and her daughter Toni.
The three-phase plan includes restoration and re-landscaping of Cullen’s, drainage work so the nine-hole golf course can be enjoyed year-round, and plans to overhaul the old boathouse on the shores of Lough Corrib for future guest accommodation.
The third phase of the work, ongoing from now until March, will include completion of all guest rooms and, subject to planning approval, future installation of a 32-seat indoor cinema, billiard room and cigar terrace, children’s game room, full service spa, and an indoor heated pool. Staff levels will also be increased.
For more information or to book, visit ashfordcastle.com.
Dromoland in Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co. Clare, is another well-known castle hotel that is especially popular with those flying in or out of Shannon Airport.
The castle, built in the 16th century and the former royal seat of the O’Brien clan, was transformed into a hotel in 1962 and has since added a spa, golf course and country club, leisure center with an indoor swimming pool, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi, and fully-equipped gym.
Guests can hunt, fish, ride, play golf or tennis, walk/hike, or visit Dromoland’s School of Falconry, which is run by Dave Atkinson who is not only knowledgeable about the birds of prey but also about the history of the property and area.
You can find formal or casual dining at Dromoland and enjoy excellent cuisine by Executive Chef David McCann and his staff. McCann’s recently published Dromoland cookbook is available at the gift shop.
Dromoland management recently bought, refurbished, and reopened the former Clare Inn, which is now called The Inn at Dromoland. The Inn is an economical way to enjoy many of Dromoland Castle’s shared activities.
For more information about Dromoland, contact: dromoland.ie or theinnatdromoland.ie
Another favorite castle hotel with a storied history is Ballynahinch in Connemara. The property has been home over the centuries to an assortment of famous residents, including Humanity Dick Martin, credited with founding the society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, and Maharajah Ranjitsinji, also known as ‘Ranji’, Prince of Cricketeers.
There are 40 bedrooms at Ballynahinch and guests may choose standard, superior, and luxury rooms, or splurge on a Riverside suite.
Ballynahinch is surrounded by 350 acres of woodlands for scenic walks. The hotel’s fishery is world-renowned for being one of the finest in Ireland for salmon and sea trout. (Fishing is reserved for hotel guests.) Tennis, pony trekking, and hill climbing are available and the Connemara Golf Club, 17 miles away, offers a challenge for golfers. Ballynahinch is ideally located for visits to Connemara National Park as well as fun and interesting area towns like Roundstone and Clifden.
For more details, see ballynahinch-castle.com
OTHER CASTLE HOTELS
• Kinnity, a Gothic revival castle hotel in Birr, Co. Offaly, stands in 20,000 acres of woodlands on the slopes of the Slieve Bloom Mountains. The hotel, almost equidistant from Dublin, Limerick, and Galway, recently underwent major refurbishment and offers activities including shooting, fishing, tennis, equestrian sports, health and fitness facilities. Special offers are available. For more, see kinnittycastlehotel.com
• Markree Castle in Collooney, Co. Sligo, is a member of Manor House Hotels group and has been the Cooper family home for more than 370 years. Enjoy peace and quiet, good dining, wine, and old world charm on the 500-acre estate. Markree, which is closed for the winter, is the only castle hotel in Sligo and on the Wild Atlantic Way. For more information, see markreecastle.ie
• Cabra Castle Hotel in Kingscourt, Co. Cavan, is about an hour and a half from Dublin. Set in 88 acres of gardens and parkland, Cabra has its own nine-hole golf course. Guests can also enjoy horseback riding or fishing in one of Cavan’s 365 lakes. The hotel has 80 bedrooms, a bar and restaurant. For more information, take a look at cabracastle.com
• Waterford Castle and Golf Resort, about two miles from Waterford City, is accessible by car-ferry travel to its private 310-acre island in the River Suir, surrounded by woodlands and an 18-hole championship golf course. There are 19 bedrooms available and seasonal menus are offered in the Munster Dining Room. See waterfordcastleresort.com for more information.
• Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort in Adare Village, Co. Limerick, has an 18-hole championship golf course, spa, world-class dining, equestrian center, fishing, shopping, sightseeing, and other estate activities. Adare is set in 840 acres of formal gardens and parkland and has a variety of accommodation, several restaurants and bars. See adaremanor.com for more.
• Ballyseede Castle Hotel in Tralee, Co. Kerry, claims to have a friendly resident ghost named Hilda. She might not appeal to every potential guest, but the luxury accommodation, location, scenery, food, and wine should. The hotel is set on 30 acres of gardens and woodland. For more information visit ballyseedecastle.com
Enjoy the holidays wherever you are and whatever you do. We hope your gifts include a trip to the Emerald Isle and we wish our readers very happy holidays and a peaceful and happy New Year.