Many of Ireland’s castles are ancient tower houses, whose battered walls attest to a history of violent times. Today, Castlemartyr Resort, an eighteenth-century classic manor house that lies adjacent to the ruins of an 800-year-old castle originally built by the Knights Templar under Richard Earl de Clare, is a haven for peaceful pastimes and relaxation.
The Manor State Rooms are unabashedly opulent, with marble bathrooms, enormous beds and separate dressing rooms. The four Grand Suites are justly named, with spectacular panoramic views of the lake and meadows. There is only one Presidential Suite, and it is magnificent, so book early if you are interested in the ultimate in luxury.
While the five-star resort provides many activities and amenities for adults, the resort is family friendly, with provisions made for separate children’s activities, kids’ times in the pool and age-appropriate dining in the Bell Tower gourmet restaurant. Should parental guilt set in, families can spend quality time together by visiting a nearby wildlife park or Leahy’s Open Farm at petting time.
A charming way to learn some of the property’s lore is via a tour in an open horse-drawn “trap” to the original castle, “cannonballed,” the driver says, by Oliver Cromwell. The formal gardens stretching the length of the manor provide tranquility, while a nearby ultramodern glass structure houses a large pool, gym and spa. Also inspiring is the environmentally friendly links golf course, designed with distinctive hills and valleys that reduce the need for irrigation.
When you’re ready to venture out of the resort, there are two interesting attractions that are worth the time. The cavernous buildings of the Jameson Old Distillery in Midleton are straight out of Dickens. In Cobh (Cove), a town of multicolored houses, the imaginative Titanic Experience takes place at the actual departure point for the ship’s last 123 passengers. Each visitor receives a boarding pass bearing the name of one of those ill-fated souls.
Leaving Castlemartyr, a stop at the English Market in Cork is a must-see. Each morning, fishmonger Pat O’Connell fillets salmon with astonishing speed. A photo behind him shows O’Connell sharing a laugh with Queen Elizabeth II during a royal visit. The usually serious monarch is transformed into a grandmotherly woman beaming in pure delight.
Another luxurious castle hotel lies just eight miles from Shannon Airport in Clare. At the end of a long, winding drive, a turreted tower unites the two wings of the grand country estate, Dromoland (droh-MOH-land) Castle. Spread out on 410 acres, the castle’s brick walls protect the colorful explosion of flowers and deep green lawns of a beautiful garden. The resort offers sporting activities such as clay shooting, and a championship golf course skirts a lake stocked with trout. The clubhouse fronts a casual restaurant and a spa offering a wide variety of treatments as well as a swimming pool and gym.
Inside the castle, ancient oak paneling lines a maze of corridors that meander to magnificent dining rooms and warm, inviting hideaways where afternoon tea is served. Prime dining is relegated to the charmingly appointed five-star Earl of Thomond Restaurant, serving delectable dishes—Irish smoked salmon, roasted rosemary Guinea fowl, glazed suckling pig and braised black sole to name a few. Accompanying wines range from the “pleasurable” to the Old Vintage Cellar’s impressive bottles, with vintages ranging from 1929 to 1990.
One sight to add to your itinerary is the Cliffs of Moher. On the way there, the drive reveals the picturesque scenery of village shops resplendent in yellows, blues, reds and shocking pinks. At the Cliffs, five miles of sheer rock tumble through the mist to the fickle Irish Sea. Close by is the coastal town of Doolin, a favorite tourist stop that is a center for traditional Irish music played nightly in historic pubs.
A stone’s throw from Dromoland stands the massive tower house Bunratty Castle. In the sixteenth century, chieftains of the O’Brien clan reigned over stewards, cooks, scullions and pages. Today, at the foot of the restored castle is Bunratty Folk Park, a marvelous collection of nineteenth-century farms, stores, pubs and gardens.
Wherever you choose to stay, hospitality starts at the top. The general managers of both Castlemartyr and Dromoland personally welcome guests with a friendliness expressed by the entire staff. In this small country, the famous warmth of the Irish will make you feel like visiting royalty. castlemartyrresort.ie; dromoland.ie; dromolandcollection.ie