by Cappy Devlin
They say every man’s home is his castle, but in Ireland, a castle can be your home – at least for a little while. There are hundreds on the Emerald Isle. Here are some of my favorites, including three sleepover stops:
Bunratty Castle, County Clare
Bunratty Castle is the most complete and authentic late-medieval fortress in Ireland, although it also offers a window onto later periods as well. Built in 1425, it was restored in 1954 to its former splendor and now contains mainly 15th- and 16th-century furnishings, tapestries and works of art. Alongside the castle is an extensive folk park, which offers a glimpse into Irish life in the 19th century. My first night in Ireland, I went to Bunratty Castle for the banquet, where I remember singing, drinking and eating with my fingers. Good times.
Dromoland Castle, County Clare
Ideally located eight miles from Shannon Airport near Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, Dromoland Castle quietly affirms itself as one of the most impressive and distinguished castle hotels in Ireland and one of Europe’s most desired 5 Star luxury destinations.
With four linked irregular turrets, the castle has been preserved in its Gothic Revival style. In 1962, Donough O’Brien, the 16th Baron Inchiquin, sold Dromoland Castle and 350 acres because of difficult financial circumstances. Now owned by Bernard McDonough, the castle hotel also boasts a first-rate golf course.
Ashford Castle, County Cong
Turrets and ramparts, armor and oak paneling, Waterford chandeliers and gilt mirrors reflect the regal decor you’ll find at Ashford Castle in County Cong. Its first stones were laid in 1228, and since that time eight privileged Irish families have called this 83-bedroom castle home. I fell in love with Ashford Castle when my college classmate’s father, John Mulcahy, bought it in 1970 and oversaw its complete restoration and expansion, doubling its size with the addition of a new wing, building a golf course and developing the grounds and gardens. In 1985, a group of Irish and American investors purchased Ashford, and then sold it in 2007 to developer Gerry Barrett and his family.
Blarney Castle, County Cork
Blarney Castle, County Cork in the south of Ireland, was built nearly 600 years ago by one of Ireland’s greatest chieftains, Cormac MacCarthy. Over the last few hundred years, millions have flocked to Blarney, making it a world landmark and one of Ireland’s greatest treasures. Now that might have something to do with the Blarney Stone, the legendary Stone of Eloquence (“gift of gab”), found at the top of the tower. Kiss it and you’ll never again be lost for words. If you come for the stone, also stroll through the beautiful, mystical Rock Close and gardens.
Waterford Castle, County Waterford
Situated on its own private island, Waterford Castle Hotel and Golf Resort offers luxurious accommodations in southeast Ireland. You experience a wonderful sense of anticipation as you make the short crossing by ferry to the island and travel the beech-lined drive to the castle. As you enter the massive studded oak doors, you’re greeted by the carved stone and wood-paneled hall, with its Jacobean antiques and intricate original tapestries. The castle contains 19 spacious guest rooms, which offer luxurious accommodations and stunning views of the surrounding estate. The award-winning Munster Dining Room is the perfect setting for a wonderful dining experience.
Dunluce Castle, County Antrim
The limestone cliffs of the White Rocks end abruptly against a dark basalt outcrop, which is majestically crowned by Dunluce Castle in Antrim, Northern Ireland, and joined to the mainland by an arched walkway, underneath which lies the “Mermaid’s Cave.” Reportedly, Richard de Burgh built or rebuilt the castle during the Anglo-Norman period in Ireland, around 1150. The most colorful occupier was Sorley Boy MacDonnell, a Scottish chieftain whose clan established its dominance along the north coast in 1565.
Walking around inside Dunluce Castle is an insightful experience: It’s only when you come down from the gift shop and cross the bridge into the castle courtyard that you realize how large the castle actually is. Over the years, many changes and additions have occurred to the original structure. Inside you will find Norman, Scottish, English and other European architectural influences.
In 1928, the Earl of Antrim gave the castle to Northern Ireland to be preserved as a national monument, and since that time the Department of the Environment has taken great care of it.
Dublin Castle, Dublin
Dublin Castle has fulfilled a number of roles throughout its history. It was originally built as a defensive fortification in 1204 on the orders of King John of England. Later it became a residence for the Viceroy of Ireland, the representative of the British monarch. Since then, it has served as a home to the Irish Parliament, a law court and a military garrison.
In 1938, the first president of Ireland, Douglas Hyde, was inaugurated at the castle, which has been the setting of the ceremony ever since. It also serves as the backdrop for state visits and more informal foreign affairs.