TURNING OFF THE M18 and through the gates of estate lands in the direction of Dromoland Castle come hotel, there is uneasy feeling of ill-fitting puzzle pieces. Well-manicured rolling dark green and hardwood studded hillocks, the drive meanders through, no castle in sight. The least likely of pieces, an 18-hole golf course that snakes its way over the knolls. Golfers in their funny plaid britches and flat caps seem incongruent from an imagined medieval castle scene.
Deeper the drive goes through this passage, the uneasiness abating somewhat; golfers a harmless bunch are they not. Afterwards, Dromoland Lake (an oversized pond really) is spied in the near distance, tulles, frogs, ducks and a picture perfect boat and fisherman in the middle. Appearing as if posed for the visitor’s senses, for this view without would not do.
On the drive goes, passing beside this little lake when the castle is first presented, its dark blue limestone, parapet-topped walls standing majestically on a terraced rise overlooking the lake. Then, to ensure all the castle’s grandeur as been witnessed, the drive continues, wrapping around this large ancient edifice to a grand staircase rising up to entrance doors, footmen waiting.
Dromoland Castle, located eight miles from Shannon Airport in County Clare just outside Newmarket on Fergus, was originally built in the ten hundreds and rebuilt in its current elegance around 1543. The 400 acre estate was the ancestral home of the O’Briens who were the Kings of Thomond and whose lineage goes back 1,000 years to Brian Boru, the only High King of Ireland.
In 1962 the most incongruent of all the pieces, Dromoland was bought by a wealthy American, though of Irish heritage, and following his passing many years later, was bought by a global hotel syndicate. Now a five-star hotel with all the pampering of its guests that engenders.
Drop your automobile with a pompous valet, your luggage with the attendant footmen, and be guided to the front desk where the maidens that check you into these palatial lodgings meet you with an air of superiority. The surroundings vast and dark, peered upon by portraits of centuries-passed aristocracy; other guests coming and going, wandering the soon to be discovered maze leading this way and that.
Your room a delight, vast, posh, relaxing; grand views of the estate lands, or of the central courtyard. Too, there is a newer building adjacent where the tour-bus crowd is billeted for the night—never staying any place very long. They have places to see (not so much to experience).
After settling in and unpacking, venture out to explore the castle passages. Prepare to be lost for a while, until you stumble upon (hopefully) the bar, the dark and smoky sitting room with its ornate fireplace, or one of the castle’s elegant restaurants.
Guests of the estate can explore the castle and gardens, barrow a bike or a rowboat, be pampered in the luxurious spa or go for a dip in an indoor pool. If the weather is good, venture out onto the estate, walking one of the many trails about the rolling hills. Be cautious of errant golf balls if you wander too far afield. Find the folly, a Greek inspired marquee, an easy distance from the Castle’s main entrance, and a quiet place to enjoy solitude or relaxed conversation with a companion. And harkening back to days past, take a tour of the estate on a horse drawn carriage, try your hand at archery or the nearly lost art of falconry.
And then, back for Afternoon Tea or sample many of the gastronomic delights. Ask one of the pleasant young men behind the bar for a vesper martini or sampler of Irish whiskeys before sitting for a scrumptious meal in the grandiose restaurant, the Earl of Thomond. Options do abound in your dinning experience, surprising perfection in your meal, the extravagant setting, and the hovering service. Perhaps the pomposity has merit.
The high price is no result of delusions of grandeur. It’s all quite real. An extended weekend summer stay will set you back from thousands to tens of thousands of Euros. Or, sample this Irish treasure one night—with the tour-bus crowd.
Your Dromoland experience complete, retrace the route back out the entrance road and through the gates, returning to the M18 and the real world, beginning your mission for a return trip, sooner then later, to this new found nexus.