In honor of St. Patrick’s Day I asked my good friend and photographer Sarah Winchester to write about her recent trip to Ireland. She and her family had the exquisite honor of staying at one of the most incredible properties in Ireland and her pictures are too good not to share with you all! – Erin (Go Braugh!)
Last summer my family and I had a true fairy tale vacation…we went to Ireland and stayed in a castle! A real life castle- Ashford Castle. This place is all your Downton Abby fantasies come to life…on steroids. The medieval castle dates back to 1228, but there is nothing archaic about this place. The Wikipedia page on the history of the castle is here but let me tell you about our trip in my own words.
Two years ago the entire castle underwent a major renovation. Every inch of the place was meticulous restored, renovated and furnished; marble bathrooms, historic oil paintings, gorgeous antique furniture and decor, and silk wall coverings in every guest room (my two-year old may or may not have put a milk stain on one…) The property covers 350 acres with multiple gardens, woods, a clay pigeon shooting course, stables and a falconry school. Yes, a falconry school!
Front entrance complete with refurbished Land Rover fit for the queen and the friendly doorman Patrick, who also recommend a great restaurant in Dublin owned by is cousin of course.
Irish wolf hound statues guard the front. While real wolfhounds, Cronan and Garvan lounge in the great hall each morning after their walk, because what is an Irish castle without an Irish Wolfhound or two.
As I said, the entire castle underwent a major renovation and restoration 2 years ago and no detailed was spared. They even have a line of wellies in every size at the front door…because this is Ireland after all.
The great hall and corridors are complete with a chess set fit for a Lord (my little Lord) and formal oil paintings of your dogs…as one does. Not to mention a gorgeous billiards room, bar, wine cellar, spa and movie theater. The place literally had EVERYTHING!
My parents room was located in the original Gothic wing of the castle and had the most amazing decorative pieces. Malachite obelisks and fish eye eagle mirror for the win!
Our room, was in the newest wing because we needed an adjoining door to the kids room, but it was no less spectacular. Silk wall coverings with matching canopy bed, antique caned bench and a painting of Lord Fancypants to watch over it all.
THE GARDENS AND WOODS
We spent our days wandering the grounds, exploring the gardens, playing in the old ruins and “hunting for dragons” in the woods. The kids just ran wild. It was wonderful. (Warning, upon arrival, awaiting each child on their bed was a robe, slippers, cookies and plastic sword. Giving a 2 and 4 year old a sword in a castle filled with antiques and Waterford Crystal gave me a slight hear attack so we tried to regulate sword usage to outside only. Let just say we helped chop many a boxwood.)
We were there for 5 days which gave us plenty of time to soak in all that beauty and try a few activities as well.
The stables were just a short walk away and filled with sweet ponies. Ridding on an Irish estate really completes the castle dream, no? I fear I have ruined my daughter for life. This place is like Disneyland but for real. “Not every trip is going to be like this honey.”
Not to miss out on other Downton Abby type activities, we tried out hand at clay pigeon shooting. My sister and I did our best to play the part…lets just say, she is the Mary and I am the Sybil :) And our instructor, Tim, was wonderful and looked everybit the part in his wool and tweed.
Also on the property is Ireland’s School of Falconry! Yes, basically real life Hogwarts. We didn’t do the private hawk walk but we did pop in and visit the birds. Hawks, falcons, owls, you name it. I kinds of wish we had done it, but as spoiled as we are we literally couldn’t do everything.
VILLAGE OF CONG
Not to be forgotten is the darling Village of Cong. A short walk from the castle there are some pubs, a few book stores, shops and some old Abby ruins. The1952 movie The Quiet Man staring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, was filmed there. With the addition of a gas station or two, not much has changed. There isn’t even an ATM. My sister and I loved getting up early to take a walk through the woods to town and then back to the castle for breakfast. Again… living out our Downton Abby fantasies.