It’s estimated that there are 30,000 castles, fortifications and ruins scattered throughout Ireland—a huge number for such a small country. Fortunately, many of them have been converted into luxury hotels. Here are a few of our favorites for the next time you find yourself in the mood to do a bit of Irish castle-hopping.
Kilkea Castle Estate and Golf Club
Located a mere hour’s drive from the Dublin airport in County Kildare, Kilkea Castle underwent a major renovation in the last eight years and continues to receive tweaks, like the newly opened spa, which employs Elemis products and boasts a hydrotherapy pool. The castle keep, where the pub is located, dates back to 1180, when it was built for a knight who arrived during the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169, and it’s been home to some of the most colorful characters in Irish history.
The par-70 championship golf course is enhanced by the river that runs through the estate (which itself boasts superb trout and salmon fishing), and on-site activities include falconry, archery, tennis and whiskey tastings. Kildare is famed throughout the world as “the thoroughbred county,” and equestrian pursuits ranging from hunting to trail-riding, jumping and racing are wildly popular throughout the surrounding country-side. Nearby is a range for clay pigeon shooting, and the local pub, the Moone High Cross Inn, dates to the 9th century, is still heated by peat fire and has attracted the likes of Clint Eastwood and Sandra Bullock.
The newly redecorated castle guest rooms are classic Irish country, with thick damask drapes, shimmering silks and traditional furniture. A wonderful place to stay while exploring local attractions like the town of Kilkenny, the
ancient monastic ruins of Glendalough or the Irish National Stud and Gardens.
Located in County Clare, Dromoland is the ancestral seat of the O’Brien clan, whose lineage dates back a millennium to the last High King of Ireland, Brian Boru. The 11th-century fortification was expanded in the 18th and 19th centuries to its present baronial, neo-Gothic form with its picturesque castellated turrets. It was sold by Lord Inchiquin and transformed into a hotel in 1962, offering some of the poshest accommodations in Ireland.
The surrounding golf course and 450 acres of parkland make for superb sport, and all the normal country pursuits—horseback riding, shooting, archery, falconry and more—are available to guests. A short drive away is one of Ireland’s greatest natural wonders, the jaw-dropping Cliffs of Moher, as well as the geologically unique area known as The Burren, which boasts the deservedly famous Burren Perfumery.
Dromoland’s formal dining option, the Earl of Thomond, features one of Ireland’s finest wine lists and serves sophisticated takes on traditional Irish dishes with an emphasis on fish and game, using seasonal, local ingredients. The hotel’s bar, meanwhile, has been charmingly fashioned out of the Lord’s octagonal library and offers one of the largest selections of Irish whiskeys in the world. A member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts, Dromoland regularly receives awards and accolades and has hosted everyone from Bono and Johnny Cash to Bill Clinton and King Juan Carlos of Spain.
Located in County Mayo, Ashford Castle dates to 1228 and once belonged to the wildly rich Guinness family. A member of Leading Hotels of the World, the supremely comfortable hotel is a combination of medieval and Victorian architectural styles that blend into an idealized fairy-tale form set amid 350 acres on the shore of Lake Corrib. The French chateau-style hunting lodge offers all the standard country pursuits, as well as cycling, kayaking and ziplining. The spa, which is regularly voted one of Ireland’s best, features exquisite décor, a relaxation pool, hammam and terrace offering tranquil water views.
Dining options include intimate dinners in the wine cellar, while a rooftop cigar bar is accessed through the castle’s billiard room. The hotel has curated a series of extraordinary Irish experiences focusing on food, music and story, craft and design and expeditions to the mountains and valleys or the seacoast. The 83 rooms, many with romantic views of the lake, are appointed with unique art, priceless antiques and sumptuous textiles, and the gardens are among the most beautiful in Ireland. It’s not surprising that John Ford filmed the John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara classic The Quiet Man in and around Ashford. Few other hotels in the world can lay claim to such intoxicating charm.