Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, winds along the country’s western seaboard for 1,500 miles passing through Counties Mayo, Galway, and Clare. A drive along this route takes you past craggy coastlines, limestone landscapes, and surprisingly sandy beaches. Take a detour from this dramatic natural beauty and delight in a visit back in time at Ashford Castle.
This celebrated, medieval, 13th-century castle located on the Mayo-Galway border and on the shores of Lough (Lake) Corrib, was originally the seat of the De Burgo Family. It has changed hands and was expanded several times over the centuries, becoming the home of the Guinness family in 1852. It was sold in 1939 and transformed into a world-renowned resort hotel.
To see excellent exterior shots of the castle, check out the TV show Reign (a Game of Thrones meets Marie Antoinette period drama). It’s filmed on location at Ashford. Also, rent John Ford’s classic 1952 film, The Quiet Man, which brought Hollywood royalty, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, to the castle grounds and nearby picturesque village of Cong.
Overflowing with Irish hospitality, this 350-acre sporting estate features classic country past times like skeet shooting and archery juxtaposed with modern amenities. Yes, you will feel truly regal as you weave yourself into the fabric of this fabled estate. Become the star of your own “costume drama”—explore Lady Ardilaun’s walled gardens, bike past ancient Irish pines, amble through woodland paths, and end the day with tea in the castle’s Drawing Room.
OUR FAVORITE ACTIVITIES
Fishing: Our boys were excited to drop a line in the River Cong a fishery famous for brown trout and Atlantic salmon that runs adjacent to Ashford Castle. The resort’s Orvis endorsed gillie (fishing guide), Frank, came well equipped with boat, bait, and tackle.
Sporting clays: Novice and experience shooters will enjoy the range, with targets that simulate the game available in this region. Beginners will be thoroughly briefed on safety and etiquette.
Falconry: This was our most memorable activity, run by Ireland’s School of Falconry (the oldest established falconry school in the country). Sign up for the Hawk Walk. After a brief training with an instructor, fly Harris Hawks on the grounds of the castle and through the woodlands. What an experience to see these powerful but graceful birds take flight, swoop through the trees, and then land safely back down on our gloved hands.
Dining: The hotel offers a range of choices from Cullen’s Cottage (traditional pub & tea room) to George V (full Irish breakfast and fine dining) to the cozy, belowground Dungeon (bistro-style menu). Also try Wilde’s at nearby sister property, The Lodge at Ashford Castle, for fine Irish cuisine.
Village of Cong: One afternoon we took a stroll on the footpath to nearby Cong, a pocket-sized town filled with proverbial ivy covered thatched cottages in pastel hues set against a backdrop of wooded hills. (It’s easy to see why John Ford selected it as the location for his famous film). Stop at The Quiet Man Museum, Ladys Buttery Art and Craft Gallery for handcrafted items by local artisans, and the Hungry Monk Café for traditional Irish stew.
Lake cruise: Local, family-run passenger ferry, Corrib Cruises, operates year-round on Lough Corrib. Board the Inisfree, their 80-passenger vessel, from the castle pier and embark on a two-hour tour of the lake, including a walk around historic Inchagoill, one of 365 islands. On board there’s a full bar serving ample pints of Guinness, and plenty of Irish music, song, and homespun tales of life on the Corrib. (Be ready for a great photo opportunity of Ashford Castle from the water.)
Day trip to Cliffs of Moher: This natural attraction, formed 320 million years ago, rises a staggering 702 feet at its highest point over the Atlantic Ocean for a stretch of over five miles. Grab an audio guide from the Visitor Center and walk along the Burren Way to the various viewing platforms and catch a glimpse of puffins nesting in rocky shelves far below. Climb the narrow spiral staircase in O’Brien’s Tower (built in 1835) for a great vista of five counties and the Aran Islands. Movie buffs will recognize these dramatic shale and limestone cliffs from scenes in Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince and The Princess Bride (where they were humorously referred to as the Cliffs of Insanity).
Day trip to Galway City: Less than an hour’s drive away is the City of Galway, filled with eclectic restaurants, stylish boutiques, and annual festivals. Talk a walk around Quay Street brimming with pubs and entertainment or visit the weekend Farmer’s Market to load up on Irish delicacies. Stop by the Philip Treacy-designed g Hotel to see how this famous royal milliner applied his unique over-over-the top esthetic to this boutique property.
Travel Tip: No trip to Ireland is complete without a visit to Dublin. Check out my recent blog: Three Days in Dublin, for what to see, where to stay and where to dine.
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