My First Taste of Royalty at Ashford Castle
by Taylor Deer
I cannot believe my Ireland blog tour is coming to a close. I hope you all enjoyed my past two posts on Dublin and Killarney. I am closing this tour with my favorite experience from the trip – three days at Ashford Castle in the Galway area.
We left Killarney early in the morning to head over to our first adventure in the Galway area. It was going to take us 3 hours to get to the city of Galway, so we made pit stops in some of the jewels of Ireland. About an hour into the drive, we stopped in the city of Limerick where the famous movie Angela’s Ashes took place. I remember reading the book and seeing the movie in a high school English class, so it was awesome to be able to be there in person. (I always tear up when I watch that movie. Yes, I’m that person.) Limerick was just charming! The cobblestone streets lined up with stone buildings with colorful windows. As we were strolling around Limerick, we stopped in a cute coffee shop to grab some Bailey’s Coffee and Irish lattes to fuel up for our next amazing adventure.
Another hour into our journey, we stopped at Ireland’s most famous sight – the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. Prior to going to the Cliffs, I knew they were going to be magical, but actually walking up the hill and seeing the Atlantic ocean splash along the edges is something everyone needs to experience in person. Between the beautiful dark blue Atlantic, rolling green hills and flat plains along the cliffs was like being in God’s country.
There are thousands of people who visit the Cliffs of Moher every day, but when you are there, it doesn’t feel like there are that many visitors because of how big the Cliffs are. There are several miles of black stonewalls rising as high as 600 feet above the ocean. You can view the Cliffs of Moher in many different locations. There were beautiful white wing seagulls flying over the rainbows.
I wanted to see the Cliffs from its famous viewing points, so we stayed in the front near O’Brien’s Tower that overlooks the sea. It was very windy and cold and I definitely wasn’t dressed properly (what else is new LOL), but the views were too incredible to think about how cold it was. According to Lonely Planet, the Cliffs of Moher are best to visit during sunset.
We explore the Cliffs of Moher for an hour and then headed inside the underground visitor’s center where we warmed up with a cup of hot chocolate. The Cliffs of Moher Geopark has been designated as a UNESCO site following a vote at the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation General Conference in Paris two years ago (November 2015).
After our cherishing time at the Cliffs of Moher, we were back on the road for another hour to the harbor city of Galway. The ride from Cliffs of Moher to Galway was stunning, just like when we were traveling through Killarney. This time, there were countless views of the ocean, making the scenery dreamier. Our bus driver also put the traditional Irish folk music back on to set the mood.
When we finally reached the city of Galway, we were welcomed with colorful buildings, cute shops, traditional pubs and live Irish folk music on the cobblestone streets. There were even winding lanes, which contained portions of medieval city walls. This great city thrives with Irish culture and I recommend everyone to go if you are visiting the country.
We were starving for lunch, so we went to a 17th century, 3-story pub called The Kings Head, where my cousins and I enjoyed raw oysters and I had a grilled chicken sandwich. This pub is awesome as there are several different rooms, live music and a place for all ages to enjoy. The people who worked at the pub were also really friendly, just like all of the other pubs we had been to during our time in Ireland.
After we were finished with lunch, I was so excited to head over with our clients to Claddagh Jewellers, where we participated in a workshop and learned the history of this traditional Irish ring. The Claddagh Ring features a heart and crown signifying love, friendship and loyalty. These rings were kept with great pride as family heirlooms, which were passed lovingly down from mother to daughter when the girl became “of age” to get married. If a girl or young woman was single, she would wear the Claddagh ring on her right hand with the heart facing outwards to show her heart had not been taken yet. Once she found her love, she would change the Claddagh to have the heart facing inwards towards her own heart to share that she was taken. Back in the day, once the woman got engaged or married, she would switch the Claddagh from her right hand to her left or would wait until her future daughter became “of age” to pass it down.
Since the Claddagh Rings originated in the village of Galway, my cousin encouraged us to get one. Claddagh Jewellers have thousands of rings to choose from, but I saw a pretty gold one with my birthstone that I wanted to get. Below is a picture of my Claddagh with the June pink amethyst. I have been wearing it ever since my trip to Ireland because I love it so much and it reminds me of the memories I made with my cousins during that week.
When we were finished picking out our rings, my cousin Alexie and I walked through the village of Galway where we got to see a local Irish man step dancing to a live folk band. It reminds me of those days I used to watch Riverdance and admire the fast movement and technique that goes into step dancing.
After our fun time in Galway, it started to rain, so we got back on the bus and headed to the famous Ashford Castle where we would spend our last two nights in Ireland. The city of Galway to Ashford Castle is 45 minutes, but it was nice and relaxing to watch the rain out the windows. I started to doze off, but before we knew it we were entering the castle’s barbican. I knew Ashford Castle was going to be amazing, but this was even cooler than I expected!
Located in the town of Cong, Ashford Castle was founded by the Anglo Norman de Burgo family following their defeat of the native O’Connors of Connaught. While I was in Ireland, my mom found out that our family friends (the Browne family) took ownership of the Castle in 1715. (How awesome?!) In 1852, the Castle was passed down to Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, the great man behind our favorite dark beer!
Once we entered through the gates, two castle guards greeted our bus on horses. The bus followed the two guards and a bunch of Irish Setters down the castle road and over the beautiful bridge that links the Lough Mask and Lough Corrib. When we reached the main entry, there was an Irish pipe band with men wearing the traditional Irish kilt greeting us as we walked off the bus through the main doors. Since it was raining outside, the people who worked at the castle held umbrellas over our heads so that we wouldn’t get wet. I felt like royalty because I had never experienced something like this before, nor ever stayed in a castle! I felt so grateful to experience this.
When we entered into the Castle, I felt like I was in the first class section of the Titanic (my favorite movie). The actual Titanic music was playing in the background; there was beautiful wooden architecture all around and lovely chandeliers; fireplaces and Victorian charm throughout the entire castle.
After we were given our room keys, we walked up to where we were staying. As we were walking to our room, which was located in the oldest part of the Castle, we walked through several hallways. It was beautiful, but also eerie since the halls were narrow and filled with portrait paintings of people dating back to when the Castle was founded in 1228. (I watch too many scary movies.) When we finally got to our room, I was so amazed and excited on how beautiful it was. Usually when I go away, I like to stay in nice and clean places, but I am definitely not used to staying in extravagant places like the Staterooms in the Ashford Castle. It was so awesome to get that once-in-a-lifetime experience. The TV even had a greeting waiting for us when we walked in.
The Ashford Castle Staterooms represent traditional elegance and comfort, combining all the modern amenities. Each Stateroom contains four-poster beds and original fireplaces with exquisite antique furniture. (I felt like a queen!) These beautiful rooms also have gorgeous bathrooms and views of the gardens and river in the back of the Castle.
Alexie and I couldn’t get over where we were staying, that we danced around the room, jumped on the beds and had so much fun! After settling in, we got ready and wore our best outfits and headed down to dinner in The Dungeon. Before you start to wonder, The Dungeon is exactly what its name is. Of course, the Castle has updated it since the 13th century, but it was so cool to sit down there next to the guard doors. I enjoyed an amazing salmon and mushroom dinner with a delicious glass of local wine.
Although I am talking about my experiences in this blog post, my cousins and I were running around all day and taking care of our clients, so we were exhausted and just wanted to enjoy the night in our room and go to sleep. Luckily, the next day there wasn’t anything major planned for our clients, so we were able to sleep in. With the time difference and being on our feet all week, my cousin and I slept in till 12:30 PM! I haven’t slept in that late since college, but my body needed it. The beds at Ashford Castle were also so comfortable and the rooms were peaceful. It was definitely one of the best sleeps I’ve ever had.
After we woke up and were able to get ready without being rushed, Alexie and I headed downstairs to enjoy lunch in The Drawing Room. This lovely dining room has beautiful views of the gardens outside. Even though it was a dreary day, the views of the castle, river and gardens looked even more beautiful. A delicious homemade chicken noodle soup with fresh soda bread on the side hit the spot as it was freezing outside.
When we were finished eating lunch, we took a walk outside and explored the grounds. The gardens outside of the castle had that beautiful, sparkling green color to it like the rest of the places we have seen during our journey in Ireland. The river featured gorgeous small islands with trees showing the fall foliage. As we walked around, we met up with a guard who gave us a mini tour of the gardens and history of the castle. It was awesome! I felt like I was in the movie The Secret Garden because each garden led to another nature-thriving area. I loved all of the fall colors!
After getting our exercise, it was time to head over to Ireland’s School of Falconry to do the hawk and owl walk. At the Falconry, you can learn how to fly hawks – an ancient tradition. Our guide educated us about the different types of hawks. After we were given our lesson, we headed into a room where we were introduced to our own hawk that we would walk with. We were given a special glove and were told to position our arm a certain way so that the hawks wouldn’t fly away when they weren’t supposed to and to also not climb up my arm.
When we entered into the woods, we gave them a little nudge and they flew off into the trees. After a few minutes, our guide gave us raw chicken legs (I know, gross!) to have them come back. Alexie and I were amazed when our birds knew to fly back to us when we had the chicken legs in our hands. It was so cool and a lot of fun! Plus the woods that we were walking in made us feel like we were in a Disney movie.
Once we were finished flying our hawks, they were taken back to be fed. We then headed into a bigger room where we were introduced to the owl, Dingle. He was so cute and was my favorite! At one point, the guard had him fly over to us. Dingle was much heavier than the hawk, so I felt like I got a little more of a workout having him on my arm, but I loved him so much that I didn’t mind it. We had so much fun! I felt bad because I don’t like to see animals caged up when they should be flying freely in the wild.
After our fun time at the Falconry, we were starving for dinner. The Castle offers so many restaurants, shops and activities along its premises, so my cousins and I enjoyed a nice seafood dinner at Cullen’s at the Cottage – located up the hill. This traditional thatched Irish cottage offers a warm and welcoming vibe as you sit down and enjoy international and local dishes. I enjoyed a creamy seafood risotto and my cousins got the lobster. We all shared our meals and everything was amazing!
When we were finished eating, my cousin and I wanted to enjoy the night. Since Cong is a very small town with not much in it and we were stuck at the castle (not complaining), our “night out” was in the Castle’s Billiards Room. The guy working at the bar was super nice and kept us company as there weren’t many people in there. As the night went on, our clients came in and we enjoyed the night with them.
The next morning, we enjoyed the all-you-can eat breakfast in the George V Dining Room. Just like in every other European country, you normally do not eat a typical American breakfast of pancakes, sunny side up eggs, etc. There was a plethora of pastries and croissants, smoked salmon, prosciutto, salami, cheese and fruits. Everything was delicious! Afterwards, we were able to meet the Castle‘s dog, Garvin.
After we fueled up, Alexie and I rented a bike and rode around the castle and into the countryside of Cong. The weather wasn’t great, but the views were stunning! We saw several cows, rolling hills, beautiful forests, stoned walls and cute little cottages. We had a blast, but it started to rain hard and we ended up getting super wet. Once the rain picked up, we rode back to the Castle and dried off by having a cup of tea in the Afternoon Tea room. The tearoom menu offers a wide selection of different teas, champagne, finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones and other pastries. It was pretty cool!
Later on in the day, we headed over to the Equestrian area where we would take a horseback ride around the Castle premises. As I mentioned in my blog on Banff, Canada, I used to horseback ride when I was younger and stopped after I had fell off a horse in the woods. I got back on a horse in Banff and was proud of myself, so I had the confidence to get back on one again in Ireland. The difference between horseback riding in Ireland as compared to Banff is that you are riding English saddle instead of Western. The Western way of horseback riding is where you can hold on to the saddle instead of just holding on to the reigns like you do when you ride English style.
After we were given our gear, we met our horse. My horse’s name was Widow and he was a beautiful gray horse with a glossy black tail. He was super friendly! Before we went out into the woods, we practiced in a small arena. When we were ready, we headed into the ancient forest that consisted of beautiful woodland paths and amazing views of the Castle, lake and village of Cong. The area couldn’t have been more magical for horseback riding. It was also the perfect activity to end our time in Ireland.
When we were finished riding, we headed back to enjoy our last dinner at the hotel and then relaxed in our Stateroom for the rest of the night. The next day, we all departed from the Castle to head back home where we would share our stories to our families.
I hope you all enjoyed this blog tour and that it gave you inspiration to travel to Ireland yourselves!
Adventure awaits in Ireland for you and your partner, family, friends, corporate group, retreat and more!
Sláinte and Happy Travels!
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