When you first see Ashford Castle, an 800-year-old construction of gray stone and turrets rising up on the shores of Lough Corrib, “friendly” is probably not the first word that comes to mind. Astonishing, yes, formidable, grand. But what makes this castle extraordinary is just that: it is medieval, magnificent, meticulously restored—and friendly. This was, after all, home to the Guinness family for nearly 70 years. Arthur Guinness sold his share of the brewing company to his brother in the 1870s and became Lord Ardilaun of Ashford. He and his wife Olivia threw themselves into caring for the castle: they planted botanical gardens and exotic trees, cultivated woodlands, restored the oldest section, and forged bonds with the local community at a time when tenants and landowners were in conflict across Ireland.
Now, after decades of neglect and disrepair, the castle is part of a family again, and its top-to-bottom restoration recently brought it vibrantly back to life. You sleep like royalty in rooms adorned with silks and antiques, and wake up in time for a walk with Garvan and Cronan, the two resident Irish wolfhounds. Whether you’re taking afternoon tea, sampling wines with the sommelier in a secret passageway, or scheduling a hot stone massage, the staff and the ambience are warm and welcoming. Ashford Castle is, once again, a fairytale castle and a majestic gateway to the delights of the Ireland’s fabled west.
What does it take to resuscitate an 800-year-old castle? All the available scaffolding in Ireland, apparently, and a bit more from Scotland. Ashford Castle was a leaky, drafty, crumbling shadow of its former self when it was purchased by the Tollman family in 2013. They were committed to using local resources to restore its glory, and so a crew from a small local construction company spent two years on that scaffolding, placing double-glazed windows and repointing centuries-old stones under the gaze of a conservation architect who kept original features intact. They discovered hidden details behind old walls, added artwork and antiques, and appointed every inch of the place to fit the castle’s distinguished cultural heritage. What they created was a true palace.
But the turnaround story wouldn’t be complete without the human element, and an important part of the restoration took the form of outreach to the local community. Livelihoods in the village of Cong had been intertwined with the castle for centuries, and yet those ties had deteriorated along with the building and the grounds. These days the local community has a thriving and symbiotic relationship with the castle, and the staff who have worked there for decades are proud again to be a part of one of Ireland’s great masterpieces.
When you book through National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, you’ll have an exclusive opportunity to step back in time with a local historian, who will share tales from the long and colorful history of Ashford Castle. Find out how the influential Guinness family helped preserve this castle, and peruse the original albums of Lady Ardilaun, a treasure trove of Irish history that few have seen.
It is notoriously difficult to run a castle efficiently, but this one is working hard to reverse that stereotype. Ashford Castle is as close to green as a massive medieval building can get: modern windows prevent drafts, lights are being replaced with LED bulbs (a 90% savings in lighting energy), re-usable glass water bottles are supplied, and high-efficiency LPG burners are used for heat. Wastewater is treated onsite, and energy, water, and waste consumption are monitored and reported monthly by a third-party auditor, Green Hospitality (Ireland). The surrounding forests are carefully monitored, and native species are planted when non-native plants die. There are efforts to preserve and expand habitats for several endangered species, notably red squirrels and robins.
Ashford Castle and its parent company, Red Carnation Hotel Collection, are deeply involved in programs to benefit the local community. Aside from supporting two nearby historic churches, the castle is helping fund a community center for the nearby village of Cong. Guests are invited to make a discretional contribution of €1 towards the project, which Red Carnation will match.
Tripadvisor Travellers' Choice Awards Voted no. 2 hotel in Ireland, 2016
Condé Nast Traveler Gold List - 2016
Ireland’s Green Hospitality, Gold Award, 2016
Travel + Leisure Best Hotels in the World, No. 3, World's Best Awards 2015
Virtuoso, Best Hotel of the Year, 2015
Responsible Travel & Tourism Awards Ireland, Employee Awareness, Winner 2015
Condé Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards, Top Resorts in Europe, No. 4, 2015
Condé Nast Traveler Gold List, Best Hotels and Resorts in Ireland, 2014
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