Where do we begin! 3 Castles, 2 hotels, and countless Guiness pints. This trip was an incredible one to say the least. Not only were we able to experience the stunning beauty Ireland has to offer, but we were also able to be a part of our amazing friend's wedding (Molly and Dom!). We had an amazing time celebrating their love and even captured some of their dream wedding at Cabra Castle for you all to check out!
On the non-wedding side of the trip we searched long and far to really get a feeling for what our ancestors homeland had to offer. We flew into Dublin and checked into our very first castle, Clontarf Castle Hotel, in the suburbs of Dublin. Just an amazingly beautiful structure with rooms, restaurants, and decor that are well worth the stay. Rated by Conde Nast as #8 in the top 10 Hotels in Ireland, Clontarf is a perfect blend of boutique and luxury. This luxury hotel is well thought out from the guests' point of view by providing a modern aesthetic built around an ancient form. Simply put, it's an oasis, tucked away in a tranquil setting. The flowers alone will give you a run for your money. Just beautiful. Definitely check this one out.
Our second castle was one of the best-known in Ireland and filled with complete elegance and majesty. Cabra Castle, in Kingscourt, Co. Cavan is a must see for those of you sticking within an hour or so radius of Dublin. A beautifully designed golf course surrounds the castle adding to the whole experience. Make sure you get a few holes in if you're up for it. It also offers a range of luxury accommodation; from authentic medieval-style castle rooms - complete with four-post beds - to the more artisan-style accommodations of the Courtyard (where we stayed), featuring old stone walls and great views of the walled garden. The design of the castle grounds really give you the feeling that you were sent straight back in time living in medieval times. Check out some of our shots from Cabra.
After our adventures at Cabra Castle and the east coast of Ireland, we decided to pack up and head across the country towards Galway, on the west coast. Our trip was beautiful, filled with rolling green hillsides and more cows and sheep than you could ever dream of. 3 and a half hours of driving and we were coming up to the city of Galway; we had finally reached the coast. Galway wasn't our destination though; A little unknown treasure awaited us. Barna Woods, just outside the city along the Wild Atlantic Way, is perhaps the most incredible forest you 'll ever find yourself in. Walking down its dark paths we found every shade of green known to man and in the center of it all, if almost to have been purposefully done, an old large tree had fallen letting in the most enchanting light. Looked like a scene straight from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. In the thirteenth or fourteenth century, Barna Castle was built on the west bank of the Barna Stream where it flows into Lough Rusheen. The castle was still in existence in 1574 when it was occupied by the O’ Halloran family, but appeared to have been completely demolished by the early nineteenth century. These woods however remained untouched and I'm sure just as magical as they once were.
We spent a few hours in Barna taking it all in then decided to head further west on the Wild Atlantic Way to Connemara, where we found our favorite place we've been thus far... Ballynahinch Castle. Voted #1 by Conde Nast magazine, Ballynahinch is set on a private 700 acre estate of forest, rivers, and walking paths in the heart of Connemara. This area is and has always been home to Ireland's painters, poets, and dreamers. The landscapes are captivating with weathered mountains, rushing streams, and wild horses grazing the land.
We arrived to the castle at dusk, got our bags situated in our suite (the same one Jennifer Aniston stayed in years before), and toured the castle. It was late, but the bar downstairs was still open, though no one was there. We decided to get a few drinks to cap off the amazing journey we had driving across the country. We were greeted by a very interesting gentleman who managed the castle at night and got us our drinks telling us some amazing stories about the castle and Ireland. At one point, after we mentioned who we were and that we enjoyed art, he took us on an hour tour of the prominent selection of famous art that graced the walls. The man was filled with knowledge about every painting and even told us about the artist's life and background. Just an amazing experience.
One of Ballynahinch's great pride is that of it's wild salmon fishing river which runs for miles from the North Atlantic Ocean to the Irish Sea. The castle stands proudly overlooking the river which many have fished over the decades. In the lobby, a thick album sits on a pedestal with signatures of hundreds of men and women detailing the catches they made during their stay. A rich fishing history resides in the area and is well preserved there at this castle.
Along with it's rich heritage the castle is home to Owenmore Restaurant. It offers elegant dining in a stunning location. Window's of the restaurant look out over the patio which sits just above the river. The decor is elegant yet unpretentious and has a warm, inviting nature to it. Owenmore's food is where it truly stands out. We ordered duck and pigeon for dinner and it wasn't only the best meal we had in Ireland, it was the best meal we had all year. No joke. Competing with New York Athletic Club's MDR; Grand Floridian's Narcoosee's; and Disney's Contemporary California Grill, Owenmore took the cake. Locally grown ingredients, wild caught fish and game, all prepared artistically with flavor that stays with you for years. Truly an unforgettable dining experience. Pardon the photography had to use our phones :)
The next day was a rainy one, but we wanted to get out and explore. We were told of a small town 15 minutes from the castle that was rich in history and well-known for its beauty. The colorful, small town of Roundstone resides along the rocky western shore. It's a fisherman’s village filled with art and culture located in the heart of Connemara and it's one of the oldest fishing villages on the west coast of Ireland. After a short drive we arrived in Roundstone and parked along the main road hugging the streets and shoreline. It was raining so we quickly ran into the closest pub we could find. It turned out to be a great little bar/restaurant called The Shamrock and their pulled pork sandwich was amazing paired with a pint of Carlsberg. Roundstone, in all of it's quaint glory, proved to be our favorite town in Ireland. With it's Irish charm and colorful beauty it's no wonder that artists, painters, photographers, and poets have flocked here for centuries to capture it's essence and be inspired by its beauty.
Saying goodbye to Ballynahinch was extremely hard for us. We felt like it matched our personalities so well and sugar-coated the whole trip with a magical feeling. We have told each other numerous times that when we go back we'll be spending all of our time there and the surrounding areas.
Making our departure slightly easier was driving down the coast to our next destination - The Cliff's of Moher. Though, a very touristy attraction that boasts many gift shops and paid parking, it does have some majestic views. That's about it though. Try to bring a long lens so you can crop out the people ;)
After the Cliff's of Moher we drove back across the country to Dublin where we stayed one night and flew out the next day. Our trip had been incredible, but we were exhausted so we found a really unique and charming gem to stay for the night called Aberdeen Lodge. From the breakfast and tea room downstairs to the antiquated and beautiful rooms upstairs this place was well worth the stay. We loved it. The Lodge is surrounded by grand Edwardian villas in a quiet tree-lined avenue, a stroll away from the beach, bars and cafés, all found at your doorstep in the village of Sandymount.
From the rolling mountains of the west coast to the hustle and bustle of Dublin, Ireland is a fascinatingly historic and beautiful country. Our time spent here gave us some of our fondest memories to date and we're sure they will stand the test of time. It's so long for now, but we'll be back again one day!
On to the next adventure! Brooklyn, NY
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