Dromoland Castle: Irish to the Hilt
Close enough for a long weekend getaway
By Geri Bain
Turning a bend, we emerged from a stretch of forest to catch our first glimpse of Dromoland Castle, its stone turrets and towers reflected in the gracious estate’s lake. The romantic exterior was matched by an equally regal interior.
We stepped into an antiqued-filled lobby, admiring its grand chandelier, intriguing portraits and two full suits of armor, reminders of Dromoland’s proud history. Its roots trace back to 11th century High King Brian Boru and his son, Donough O’Brien, who built the first fortified castle here. The O’Briens maintained Dromoland as their family estate, expanding and updating it until 1962, when it was sold and converted into a luxury resort.
Today, the castle’s 99 guest rooms, updated with fast Wi-Fi, built-in voltage converters, oversized bathrooms and other amenities, delighted us with their classic gilded mirrors, fabric wall coverings, gold-tasseled drapery and rich architectural detailing as well as their modern indulgences. Similarly, while we appreciated the championship golf course, indoor pool and free use of bicycles and rowboats and we enjoyed the top-notch spa, we were more excited to have the chance to sample some of the resort’s more traditional activities such as clay shooting, archery, croquet and falconry.
A walking tour (pony-and-trap tours are also available) of the property provided a crash course in Irish history through the lens of the O’Brien family. We learned that the Irish Republican Army destroyed most Irish manor homes and castles but spared Dromoland in recognition of the family’s benevolent treatment of its tenant farmers and relief work during the Great Famine. And on a guided tour of the Castle’s lovely, centuries-old walled gardens, adorned with both ancient and modern statues, we learned about plantings that attract specific species of butterflies, stone niches built for bee hives, a greenhouse that is still in use by the chef, and the local custom of setting out miniature houses where kids can leave written messages for the fairies.
One of the most memorable activities was a “Hawk Walk” through the forest trails and open meadows of the Castle grounds with falconer Michael Hennigar and a Harris hawk. Along the way, Michael explained that the use of hawks for hunting is thought to have been brought to Europe by Attila the Hun and showed us how to use a morsel of food to entice our featured companion to swoop in and alight on our outstretched, gloved hands. Back at the aviary, we met and interacted with owls and other hunting fowl.
The sense of tradition and history carries into the dining experience, from a full Irish breakfast complete with fresh soda and brown breads, bacon and sausages, to the elegantly served afternoon tea. At the formal Earl of Thomond restaurant, an Irish harpist played the evening we dined there and seasonal ingredients in classic preparations provided vibrant flavors in dishes such as duck with celeriac puree and halibut with parsnip and Bramley apple puree. The cuisine at the Dromoland estate’s two casual eateries—the Fig Tree Restaurant and Shannigans Gastro Pub—was also memorable. But our favorite way to cap off each day was listening to Irish ballads in the castle’s former library, now a fireplace-warmed bar.
About a six hour flight from Boston or New York and less than fifteen minutes from the airport, Dromoland Castle is close enough for a long weekend getaway. But there’s so much to see and do—even without leaving the Castle’s 450 acres—that you’ll want to stay longer. Dromoland Castle makes a great home base for exploring the Cliffs of Moher, the food, cycling and walking trails of the nearby Burren region, and other area attractions.
For more information, visit www.dromoland.ie or phone 800-346-7007.