Ashford Castle Hotel in County Mayo is not the oldest castle in Ireland. It doesn’t boast a particularly interesting place in Irish history, or hold within its walls some romantically tragic story from centuries past. It is, quite simply, a beautiful garden estate upon which to enjoy a peaceful respite amid luxurious accommodations, gourmet food, and a myriad of recreational activities.
Built in 1228, the castle served as a bucolic backdrop to the John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara 1951 movie The Quiet Man. Today, it carries the impressive designation of “Best Resort in Ireland” and “Third Best Resort in Europe”, as decreed by Condé Nast Traveler in 2012.
Pastimes like falconry, clay shooting, horseback riding, angling, and golf are offered to visitors, as well as boat tours of Ireland’s second largest lake, the lovely and unspoiled Lough Corrib. Many would be happy just exploring the 26,000-acre estate, taking photos and delighting in what Irish novelist George Moore called “the fairy-like silences”.
If it rains, guests need not fret. There’s always a relaxing cup of tea or glass of wine awaiting them in the sumptuously-appointed-yet-not-stuffy Victorian sitting rooms inside. Antiques and authentic works of art richly adorn wood-paneled walls and cozy fireplaces, making this not the best lodging for small children. But for tweens and teenagers, a little exposure to how the well-heeled once lived—Downton Abbey style—offers a glimpse into a bygone age of aristocratic living. Fodder for tweets and Instagram, at the very least.
After years of dreaming, my wish to stay at Ashford Castle came true this past Thanksgiving. The experience was, in a word, thrilling. For someone who feels very guilty about spending big money on a hotel room, I felt this one-night stay was well worth the splurge. Hey! I was in a peaceful setting, amid gorgeous surrounds, with all my favorite people—a cherished memory that has no price, right? (Insert husband’s laugh here.)
As Julia Robert once tearfully stated in Steel Magnolias: “I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful, than a lifetime of nothing special.” Even just a short stay at Ashford Castle Hotel provides that kind of wonderful.
Note to visitors: Be sure to check out the nearby charming village of Cong upon leaving the castle.