It is no secret that there is a treasure trove of castles across Ireland for travelers to explore, but coming upon an aged stronghold you can actually, by friendly means, storm and occupy for the night takes a wee bit more searching. Dromoland Castle (www.dromoland.ie) in western Ireland’s scenic County Clare is just such a find, and well worth a stay because it has been transformed into a luxury resort that seamlessly blends a storied past with modern comforts.
In Ireland, Dromoland’s provenance is impeccable. For more than 900 years, it was home to the O’Briens, one of the few native Gaelic families of royal blood to remain on the island through the centuries. These royal roots are embedded even deeper in the Irish conscience in another, certainly singular way – the O’Briens are direct descendents of Brian Boru, Ireland’s revered High King who ruled from 1002 to 1014.
From the 11th century on, the structure known as Dromoland, through the vicissitudes of war and noble whimsy, has undergone many transformations. The core of the current structure is a Gothic-style manor house that was built in the early 1800s. Unfortunately, the estate eventually became unsustainable financially, and in 1962, the O’Briens sold the castle to Bernard McDonough, an Irish-American who began the conversion and expansion of the private home into what has become a world-class hotel.
Today, Dromoland, which is a short 15 minute ride from Shannon International Airport, is considered to be one of Ireland’s finest castle hotels. Along with lavish period interiors in the public areas, this 98-room retreat also features the award-winning Earl of Thromond Restaurant, a spa treatment center, the 12,000-square-foot Brian Boru Conference Center and leisure facilities such as a steam room, gym and indoor swimming pool.
The property also has 450 acres of scenic County Clare countryside in its embrace, meaning there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy outdoor Ireland. Golfers can test their game on Dromoland’s 6,845-yard championship parkland course, while cyclists are free to roam the hotel’s many trails on complementary bikes. In addition, the 24-acre lake that borders the castle invites fishermen to try their luck casting for trout or perch. And arrangements can be made for guests interested in clay shooting or horseback riding.
Care to turn back the clock? Stroll through Dromoland’s beautiful 300-year-old Walled Gardens or take archery lessons on the castle grounds. And for real medieval immersion, go on a fun Hawk Walk with one of the staff from Dromoland’s School of Falconry.
A stay at Dromoland Castle would naturally mesh well with plans for an Irish spring excursion to Eire’s shores, but why wait? The halls will be delightfully decked for the upcoming Yuletide season – with suitable festivities to match – and 2017 will be brought in royally at the hotel’s popular New Year’s Eve Gala Black Tie event.
The Burren (burren.ie): In northern County Clare, this is a large, wide open stretch of scenic, limestone-dominated Irish countryside. However, The Burren isn’t barren when it comes to unique retail opportunities – be on the lookout for the Burren Perfumery (burrenperfumery.com), a skilled crafter of handmade perfumes, candles, soaps and teas, near the town of Carran; Hazel Mountain Chocolate (hazelmouintainchocolate.com), a boutique bean-to-bar chocolate factory in Bell Harbour; and the Burren Smokhouse (burrensmokehouse.com), an award-winning producer of smoked salmon, mackerel and trout in Lisdoonvarna.
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park (shannonheritage.com): This popular 26-acre attraction features a recreated 19th century Irish village as well as the impressive 15th-century Bunratty Castle, in which visitors can party like it’s 999 at this fort’s famous nightly medieval banquets.
Cliffs of Moher (cliffsofmoher.ie): No trip to western Ireland would be complete without a visit to this picturesque 5-mile stretch of limestone cliffs that rises as high as 700 feet above the lapping Atlantic Ocean.