EDIT: Although we’re cooped up inside this St. Patrick’s Day, your day doesn’t have to be devoid of all things Emerald Isle. Take a look at these beautiful Celtic castles that we featured in our March issue, and get inspired for your summer or fall vacations.
If watching Downton Abbey or The Crown has you dreaming of your own castle moment, consider staying at an Irish castle hotel. These sumptuous properties brim with all the royal touches you’d expect, including turrets and ramparts, palatial suites, and period furnishings. They have modern luxuries, too, such as gyms, spas, and restaurants highlighting the region’s handcrafted cheeses, seafood, farm-grown produce, and artisanal baked goods.
In terms of when to visit, spring on the Emerald Isle is an absolute delight. Aside from four-leaf clovers and Saint Patrick’s Day parades, the season brings balmy weather, gardens in full bloom, and lush, green landscapes perfect for leisurely rambles. Traveling in spring also means you’ll find more modest airfares than the sky-high summer ticket prices, along with fewer tourists.
So where to begin? Here are four historic properties, each of which offers all the bells and whistles. Two lie on the west coast, near star attractions like the Cliffs of Moher, and the other two lie on the east coast close to Dublin. They differ from each other in various ways, so choose the castle that best speaks to you.
For the ultimate fairytale escape, it’s hard to rival the 800-year-old Ashford Castle in County Mayo on Ireland’s west coast. Once home to the Guinness family, it rests on 350 acres of woodlands and formal gardens on the shores of Lake Corrib and the River Cong. Upon driving through the gated entrance, you’ll be transported to a romantic past, which continues as you encounter a knight’s armor near reception, along with lavish interiors filled with gilded mirrors, chandeliers, and heavy tasseled drapes.
Presidents, royals, and film stars such as Brad Pitt have stayed at this recently refurbished retreat, which has 83 rooms and suites, an afternoon tea salon, a wood-paneled bar off the formal dining room, and an array of casual dining spots—including the Dungeon, which specializes in traditional favorites like lamb stew and Irish corned beef. The property also has a small American-style diner for when those burger cravings hit, and a thatched cottage restaurant near the main castle offering salads and seafood.
For relaxation and entertainment, the castle offers a movie theatre (with a rolling popcorn cart), an opulent glassed-in spa, and daily activities such as morning walks with the resident Irish wolfhounds, boat rides, cycling, horseback riding, tennis, golf (nine holes), clay shooting, archery, zip-lining, and falconry. In fact, Ashford Castle boasts the first falconry school in Ireland.
For a similarly romantic property, but with an 18-hole par 72 championship course, there is the 16th-century Dromoland Castle. Also on the west coast in County Clare, it’s nestled on 450 acres of rolling greenery overlooking Lake Dromoland. A branch of the O’Brien family, which included the 57th king of Thomond, originally owned the castle, and many of the rooms on the main floor still have a regal feel, including the monarch’s octagonal study—now a cozy bar—and the plush red and gold tea salon and sitting room adorned with ancestral portraits and antiques.
The 97 guestrooms and 14 suites range from historic rooms with poster beds and colorful brocades to modern ones with sleek furnishings in soothing neutral shades. Like many castles, Dromoland offers a wide range of estate activities, such as falconry, archery, clay shooting, tennis, fly fishing, and pony rides. You’ll also find a small spa and two restaurants, including a tavern located in the castle’s Golf & Country Club and the elegant formal dining room inside the castle with nightly live music (such as a harpist).
If golfing is your passion, you should also consider Carton House, an 18th-century manor on Ireland’s east coast with two 18-hole championship golf courses. The 1,100-acre estate also houses a gym, indoor swimming pool, and spa and offers traditional resort activities including tennis, cycling, trout fishing, horseback riding, clay pigeon and air rifle shooting, and archery.
For accommodations, there are 18 rooms in the historic part of the manor, including one where Queen Victoria once spent the night. This room is not available to guests, but upon request, it can be unlocked to view. Alternatively, you can stay in the resort’s modern wing, connected to the manor house by a glass walkway. Current restorations on the property (set to finish this June) include renovating the historic manor house rooms and the spa, and opening several dining venues—a new formal dining room, a Mediterranean-style bistro, two bars, and a café.
For a snug castle experience, there is the 12th-century Kilkea Castle in County Kildare on Ireland’s east coast. Boston business mogul Jay Cashman purchased the medieval fortress and estate in 2011, and with the help of his wife, actress Christy Scott Cashman, completely renovated the property.
In addition to 11 magnificent guestrooms and a formal dining room in the old castle, the property has 129 contemporary rooms in the adjoining castle wing and nearby clubhouse lodge, which also houses a white-tablecloth, window-filled restaurant serving roasted fish, salads, and meats and a pub offering Irish favorites, like seafood chowder and crispy fish and chips.
The estate also has an 18-hole, par 70 championship parkland golf course, a fitness center, and a spa and offers an array of resort activities including tennis, archery, falconry, horseback riding, fishing, river boat rides, off-road driving, and guided tours to nearby attractions such as several whiskey distilleries—tastings included.