It seems that you can't swing a stick in Ireland, without hitting a castle. Since it's St. Patrick's Day this week, we thought we'd give a quick shout-out to three of them that we saw on our last trip. One, we walked around. Another we actually visited. and the third, we stayed in!
While driving toward the Cliffs of Moher from Galway, we stumbled across Dunguaire Castle and decided to pull over and give it a look. It was beautiful and very, very old. We walked around a bit, but it didn't seem like there was much to see, there. Of course, we weren't there in the evening, when there's sort of a medieval dinner theater thing that happens there.
It's a restored castle from the 16th Century, and apparently, in the evening, they do medieval dinners with storytelling and music. But we were absolutely warned off of partaking in anything like that from our Irish friends. "Strictly for tourists," they said. Well, we were, in fact, tourists, but we're all for having the authentic experience, so we were more than content to treat this one as a photo op.
Glenveagh Castle (and National Park).
How many castles do you know of that have their own National Park surrounding them? Well, Glenveagh Castle, in County Donegal is one of them. It's not really all that old--dating only back to the 1850's, but it's got a pretty interesting history. The original guy who built it was a sort of Irish slumlord who became notorious when he evicted hundreds of families from their land. And then he married an American woman, started to build a "hunting estate" and promptly died.
So, his wife took over, then she died, then there was a civil war, and through all of that the estate fell into disrepair. Then, starting in the 1920s it was owned by Americans, who sold it to other Americans and eventually, tired of keeping up with a gazillion acres of land, including gardens and a castle, the last American owner gave it to Ireland so that they could make a National Park out of it.
It's beautiful, and it's old, but more like "Downton Abbey" old, and not "Swords and Black Plague" old. The history is more recent, but still interesting, and walking around, you can imagine what it would be like to be the super rich owner of a castle in Ireland in the 1930s. Oh, and don't miss the gardens. They're beautiful.
Want to stay overnight in a castle? In Ireland, it's really not a problem. And you don't even have to sleep on a straw mattress or anything. Lough Eske, also in Donegal, is a castle that's been converted to a luxe hotel, with all of the modern comforts and conveniences. But you're still staying in a castle. It's just a very high-end castle, is all.
We only spent one night at this hotel, but I honestly wish that we'd had more time. The castle sits on a beautiful lake, and if we'd had the time, we'd surely have done some hiking (or at least walking). The rooms are lovely, the hospitality is lovely, and the food--also lovely. Basically, it's lovely, all around.
We loved staying at Lough Eske so much, that when clients called us about taking their own Ireland trip this year, we found a fantastic small-group tour from one of our on-location travel providers that included Donegal, but most importantly included a stay at Lough Eske. If you're thinking of Ireland this week (and you should), let us know--we can find some castles for you, as well!