Ashford Hotel, housed in a 13th-century castle in Connemara, is popular for destination weddings.
There’s just something about sleeping in a castle that makes a person feel…well, royal, especially if the castle is authentic and historic rather than a modern replica. In Ireland, several ancient castles have been converted into swank hotels that let guests escape from the hustle and bustle of the cities, with a thoroughly inimitable trip back in time.
In Connemara, Ashford Castle Hotel dates back to (at least) 1228, and once belonged to the Guinness family. It has been seen in such movies and TV series as The Quiet Man, Remington Steele and The Purple Taxi. Today, it is a member of Leading Hotels of the World.
We hear the Staterooms and Suites are the most frequently requested accommodation—ask for Suites numbered 221, 414, 423, 312 and 433, and for Staterooms numbered 224, 326, 329, 332, 427 and 430. Bonus: The Staterooms and Suites come with butler service upon request. The Deluxe Queen rooms are best for families, and can accommodate two adults and two children under 12.
Ashford, we are told, is popular for destination weddings. Wedding parties can book up all of the 83 bedrooms for a larger event, or 40 people can reserve 20 rooms and use the Connaught room. Earn bragging rights: Pierce Brosnan (remember, he’s Irish!) and Keely Shaye Smith married at Ashford Castle in 2001.
At the spa, the signature aroma-stone massage uses Yon-Ka’s three aromatic oils and warm, smooth basalt stones to massage the entire body. To book treatments, agents should contact Beauty Rooms Manager Stephanie Keane (011-353-949-546-003, [email protected]).
Among Ashford’s outdoor activities, visitors can go fishing in the Lough Corrib or the River Cong (lessons and gear are available), clay pigeon shooting and horseback riding. Those with a taste for something a little more unusual—and historical—will want to visit Ireland’s School of Falconry, where they can learn all about birds and birding on hour-long “hawk walks.” (The school is open by appointment only.) Those with a serious interest in falcons can opt for the three-day Royal Falconry Adventure, which lets them fly hawks every day.
For a more traditional outdoor activity, golfers will want to spend some time on Ashford Castle’s golf course, which was designed by Eddie Hacket. The nine-hole, par-35 and 3,000-yard-long parkland course is surrounded by large trees and bordered by Lough Corrib. Famous golfers who have stayed at Ashford and played on the course include Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Lee Travino and Byron Nelson. A professional golf instructor is available upon request—contact Wedding & Conference Coordinator Monica Feeney (011-353-949-546-003, [email protected]).
Good to know: As is often the case with a genuine escape, getting to Ashford is a bit more difficult than going to a city. Dublin airport is more than 150 miles away from Ashford Castle, and the nearest local airport (Knock Airport) is about 30 miles away. Best bet: Fly your clients into Shannon Airport via Continental or Aer Lingus (both of which offer direct flights from the U.S.) and rent them a car.
Front Office Manager Yvonne Peters (011-353-949-546-003, [email protected]) can arrange private helicopter rides, falconry demonstrations, a cruise on Lough Corrib, horseback riding and private tours of Connemara. Travel agents should contact Reservations Manager Grainne Loftus ([email protected], 011-353-94-9546003).
In County Cork, Castlemartyr Resort dates back to 1210, and is now half of the Dromoland Collection. The castle and its lands once belonged to the Knights Templar, and the manor house (which makes up the main part) was built in the 17th century. But still, the resort isn’t old-fashioned: We hear Jay-Z and Beyonce were recent guests, and jazz fans should book early to attend the annual Cork Jazz festival in late October.
The Junior Suite is the most popular accommodation at the resort, while the Two Bedroom Suite is best for families. (The Presidential Suite and Grand Suite are the top rooms, and butler service can be arranged upon request.)
The spa and fitness center (24,400 square feet in all) houses a hairdressing salon, manicure/pedicure stations, seven individual treatment rooms and two couples’ treatment suites. We hear the 75-minute Gaelic Escape (a deep massage for the back, feet and legs with anti-stress back therapy that includes a hot-stone back neck and shoulder massage) is the most popular treatment. (Good to know: The spa has a Bridal Party package, a Day-Before Bridal package and a dedicated package for grooms.) Reach out to Spa Manager Nicola Kinnerk (011-353-214-215-060, [email protected]) for requests and reservations, and book at least two weeks before arrival.
Golfers will appreciate the Castlemartyr Links Golf Club, a Private Member’s Club set on 220 acres of woodland and lakes. Ron Kirby designed the 18-hole inland, links-style Irish Championship par-72 golf course. Director of Golf, Brady Sherwood ([email protected], 011-353-214-215-001), can arrange for private lessons with a PGA golf pro.
Getting there: Castlemartyr is fairly close to Cork International Airport (19 miles), and the resort can arrange for a limo transfer.
Front Office Supervisor Amy Duignam ([email protected], 011-353-214-219-000) can arrange whatever your clients need, but we hear she specializes in romantic scenarios (think a private horse-drawn carriage tour of the Castlemartyr Estate, followed by private picnic by the lake). Travel agents can get in touch with Sales Manager Sarah Dallas ([email protected], 011-353-214-219-012) or John Hehir ([email protected], 011-353-6170-0637), director of sales and marketing. General Manager Andrew Phelan can be reached at [email protected].
In County Clare, Dromoland Castle is the other half of the Dromoland Collection. Brian Boru’s son, the legendary High King of Ireland, once lived at the castle in the early 11th century, and it was rebuilt during the 16th century by one of his descendants.
Signature Suites, which overlook the lake and gardens, are the most frequently requested rooms and Deluxe rooms (which connect to other rooms) are best for families. The best suites, we hear, are Room 310 (Queen Anne Suite) and 301 (Thomond Suite). Executive Suites and Staterooms have the best views, and butler service can be arranged.
Brian Boru Hall at the Castle can host up to 300 guests for weddings. It has a dedicated kitchen and bakery, a walled garden ideal for receptions and a nearby Honeymoon Suite. Smaller venues include The Terrace Room and The Drawing Room, suitable for parties of 31 to 70 people and 10 to 30 people, respectively. Nice touch: Only one wedding is held at the resort on any given day, so no bride needs to worry about another stealing her special moment.
The resort’s spa has six treatment rooms, two Mani-Pedi Suites and a hair salon. As at Castlemartyr, the most popular treatment is the Gaelic Escape. Contact Spa Director Pamela Foley (011-353-6170-0677, [email protected]) with special requests.
The Castle has an 18-hole championship golf course redesigned by J.B. Carr and Ron Kirby. The affiliated Golf Academy includes 10 fully automated driving bays, putting greens and a bunker. The bunker and chipping green have a number of lies, slopes and grass lengths on which to practice. There is also a riveted-face-links-style bunker, modeled on the Road Hole bunker on the 17th at St. Andrews. Contact Golf Club Pro Manager Dave Foley (011-353-6136-8444, [email protected],) with any requests.
Getting there: Shannon Airport is nearby, and the resort can book chauffeur services. Nice touch: All drivers are also tour guides with tourist board qualifications. The resort can book private helicopters for clients (by prior arrangement) for tours and transfers within Ireland.
|The Knights Bar at Castlemartyr Resort in County Cork|