I’ve never spent the night in a castle before this trip to Ireland. In fact, I’ve never even seen a real castle before this trip. The experience was most interesting.
The castle grounds are spectacular. The heavily wooded spaces (virtual forests), and the green grass (most typically golf courses) were expansive beyond belief. Driving beyond the massive stone and gated entrances for some time before seeing the enormous castles in the far distance, surrounded by water, was truly impressive. The grounds are indeed something to behold. Hidden deep in the woods, one finds a variety of gardens: sunken, formal, trellis, and carpet.
The buildings themselves were also just massive–not only in physical size, but the materials used for construction. Even though the river was literally lapping up against one of the walls at Ashford Castle, I had some sense that the water would never make in inside because of the permanence of the thick stone construction.
The interiors were very different. Dromoland Castle was more divided up, probably as a result of the modernization of the interior. Ashford Castle was more open and expansive inside [See above photo.].
I knew castles used heavy curtains to keep the cold outside during the winter. I didn’t realize just how heavy and thick these curtains would be. The numerous, enormous fireplaces burning wood and serving a significant function for heating as well as display were also lovely. The extensive use of wood paneling, especially in Ashford Castle, pictured above, was warm, ornate, and gorgeous. The molding (balustrades) at the top of the heavily decorated ceilings was ornate and intricate beyond belief. Who were the original owners that could live in such luxury?!
The Irish people are so warm and friendly by nature, but their sense of hospitality and service in the castles was a calling card of pride. They appeared to thrive on being asked about something which they promptly then volunteered to do for you. The heat was stuck in the full on position in the sitting room of the hotel room in Ashford Castle. When hotel maintenance promptly arrived to fix it, they were so apologetic I felt bad for having asking them to take care of it.
I personally don’t like the smell of alcoholic beverages, but most people aren’t like me. After having been outside in the cold and rain, when you walked in the main entrance of the Ashford Castle, they were heating wine, which they immediately offered everyone. The hotel stationery (isn’t that a thing of the past?) stated “in residence at” and the name of the castle. You don’t just feel at home. You feel attended to in so many ways. These brief visits were a glimpse into a time and place, a way of living, a lifestyle I can not begin to imagine: incomparable privilege and position.
The hotel rooms themselves were smaller rooms with considerably small bathrooms. They were probably renovated years ago when luxury hotel bathrooms were not the same as those of today.
As I was leaving Dromoland Castle, I saw the falconer working with his bird. Had I not been driving off when I saw him, I would have stopped and taken pictures. The attire. The bird. The ritual of it.
I really wouldn’t want to live in such a place as these. But an overnight visit is a must. One could easily get lost in time very quickly. Pamper yourself. These places have mastered the art of welcoming, serving, and entertaining noblemen and gentry for centuries.