Probably like many little girls, I have had a fascination with castles and country estates that has stayed with me for a lifetime. My first stay in such royal surroundings was the wonderful Castle Sababurg about a 45-minute drive from Kassel, Germany, in Brothers Grimm territory. It is widely believed the brothers were inspired by Sababurg, using it as the model for the castle in Sleeping Beauty, and I believe it. Sadly, it has recently closed.
When our daughter was young, we stayed in a delightful luxury family hotel, Woolley Grange near Bath in England. One huge benefit was the on-site nanny to watch over children so parents could enjoy a quiet gourmet dinner. And one of my all-time favorite memories was a stay in the English Lake District at Farlam Hall Country House Hotel, a beautiful Relais & Chateaux manor home with resident cats Gin & Tonic and amazing dinner service.
On a more recent trip to Ireland, we loved our visits to Ashford Castle (pictured at top), Dromoland, and Ard na Sidhe. Read on.
Ashford Castle | Cong, Mayo
I can’t even think of enough adjectives to describe Ashford Castle. Dating from 1228, this property did indeed start out as a castle. In the mid-1800s it was owned by Sir Benjamin Guinness. In 2013, the property was rescued from receivership by the Red Carnation luxury hotel group. They bought it for less than half of its previous sale price and then proceeded to invest somewhere between $50-70 million in renovating the hotel and estate. Read the rest of this entry
Sadly, this was our last day to explore Irish country roads.
We headed west from Cong to the coastal town of Clifden, tucked in between the Twelve Bens mountain range and the bay. Before we enjoyed a late lunch in quaint Clifden, we stopped by the Connemara National Park to learn a bit more about bogs and did a drive-by of stately Kylemore Abbey, a Gothic Revival estate built in 1826.
The drive from Ashford Castle, along Lough Corrib, Ireland’s largest lake with its 365 islands, was very nice. This region had fewer shades of green, taller grasses and looked decidedly less rugged and more coastal. Tides ebb and flow to such a degree that low tide leaves boat leaning on their sides and allows car traffic to a nearby island.
We were also on a search for bogs. Bogs are not particularly visual; I guess that’s why they aren’t featured in too many photo-spreads. They are wet, swampy and generally soft, but since they maintain debris (and can serve as natural embalmers), they do offer a window into the past. Ireland is known for blanket bogs; peat bogs that are large and spread out.
Bogs notwithstanding, we saw some more beautiful scenery, lots more sheep, lakes, tiny villages and sweeping vistas.
We had an amazing experience today. We worked with a Harris Hawk named Aztec (with our instructor Alec) and spent an hour walking in the woods of the Ashford Castle estate.
It was actually like a page right out of a Robin Hood story, deep in Sherwood Forest. We got to see Aztec take off to hunt his own prey at one point. What a feeling to look eye-to-eye with a raptor and have him take-off and return to your gloved hand.
Alec was an excellent teacher, and you could tell he had a real love of the birds and what he was doing; we managed to learn quite a bit from him.
The program is run by Ireland’s School of Falconry, the oldest established such school in Ireland. Although based at Ashford Castle, you don’t have to be staying here to schedule a Hawk Walk. www.falconry.ie
In the meantime, I can’t even think of enough adjectives to describe Ashford Castle. Dating from 1228, this property did indeed start out as a castle. In the mid-1800s it was owned by Sir Benjamin Guinness. In 2013, the property was rescued from receivership by the Red Carnation luxury hotel group. They bought it for less than half of its previous sale price and then proceeded to invest somewhere between $50-70 million in renovating the hotel and estate.
What you have is an incredible property, perfect in every way. Accommodations include totally modern electronics (such as US electrical outlets, heated bathroom floors and one touch controls for everything in the room), along with elegant fabric-covered walls, canopy beds and a staff that makes you feel like you are their only guest.
So, from the shores of Lough Corrib, we wish you “dia dhuit” (good evening).