Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Knight in an Irish Castle

This article originally appeared in Arizona Highroads, March/April 2013 http://highroads.az.aaa.com/article/knight-irish-castle

Steeped in tradition and outfitted with charming amenities, turreted Irish towers stretch to the sky, offering visitors a fairytale experience. Ireland is home to hundreds of castles, constructed in ancient times as a symbol of status as well as a safe retreat. Today, many remain in the form of overgrown ruins on windswept hills, but some have been restored to their former glory and provide a full slate of activities for guests.
Here’s a brief introduction to five of Ireland’s most notable castles that welcome visitors today. Click on the link above to read the full article with more complete descriptions of these elegant properties.

Ashford Castle is a grand and opulent Victorian castle.

Ashford Castle

Last owned by the Guinness family (yes, of beer fame) as a private home, Ashford Castle bears the stamp of every family that lived there. From ownership by the O’Connors, whose abbey remains an attraction in nearby Cong, to its reopening as a hotel in 2008, the castle’s history is an important part of its appeal.

Multiple paths meander through the 300 acres currently on the Ashford Castle grounds, which are surrounded by government-owned forestland. A nine-hole golf course, horseback riding, falconry school, spa, and plentiful areas for games and conversation will keep any Lord and Lady occupied.
Gorgeous fitness area at Ballyfin Castle

Ballyfin Castle

 After eight years of restoration, this lavish Regency mansion opened in spring 2011. It’s a grand country house with the feel of a family home. Service is impeccable — butlers will unpack your luggage, hang up your clothes, shine your shoes, and do your laundry — all complimentary.
Luxurious furnishings in Ballyfin Castle
Fifteen guest rooms reflect the home’s original purpose as a place for entertainment. Lord Charles and Lady Catherine Coote started building the house in 1820, the same year he entered Parliament. During the six months spent each year on this 614-acre estate 35 miles from Kilkenny, they exemplified the finest Irish society.
Ballygally Castle
This scenic 17th century castle is perched on the tip of the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland. Sheep grazing on the hillside beside the Irish Sea add a touch of comfort to the grandiose landscape — and fishing is especially good off the coast.

Ballygally dates back to 1625 and is the only 17th-century building still used as a residence in Northern Ireland. Built by James Shaw and his wife Isobella during a time of political turmoil, it was designated as a place of defense as well as a home.
Towering cliffs by the Atlantic Ocean overlook an extraordinary promontory with 40,000 dark basalt columns and spires (the result of ancient volcanic activity) jutting up and out to sea — a spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The 17th century classic manor house Castlemartyr is adjacent to the ruins of an 800-year-old castle. Located 20 minutes from Cork city, the family-friendly five-star resort is nestled in a natural woodland area with horse pastures, bike paths, and a golf course on premises. It was first built in 1210 by the Knights Templar, one of the most famous of the Christian military orders, under the leadership of Richard Earl de Clare (commonly known as Strongbow).

Many Irish castles now welcome visitors for an exquisite stay.
More so than some of the other once-royal properties, Castlemartyr welcomes families. Among the amenities geared to this clientele are a Kid’s Club, special children’s meals, and family activities, including biking, picnics, croquet, coastal walks, pony rides, swimming, and even a Wii.

Lough Eske Castle
Just outside Donegal in Northern Ireland, this historic building is in a fantasy destination. Dating back to the 1400s, Lough Eske Castle was exquisitely refurbished and opened to the public in 2007.
Beautiful gardens at Lough Eske Castle
Noted for superb service, this Tudor castle is situated on 43 acres of forest woodland hugging the shores of Lough Eske. With the Bluestack Mountains in the background, there are plentiful hiking trails surrounding the castle.

When you travel in Ireland, you'll come to understand why
it's said to have 40 shades of green.
After living in the lap of luxury of these converted Irish castles, it wasn’t an easy transition back to ordinary hotels.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


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