By Ron Engeldinger
“ENTERING ANOTHER WORLD of enchantment” is how Beatrice Tollman,
President and Founder of Red Carnation
Hotels, felt on her first visit to Ashford Castle.
She now extends this same experience to her
guests in this newly restored five-star hotel,
one of the jewels in the crown of the award-winning luxury hotel collection.
Built in 1228 to defend conquered lands,
the castle has endured many changes over the
years. By the 18th century, the castle and
grounds had been transformed from a defensive fortress into a playground for Irish aristocrats, and the property was owned by the
Guinness family for close to 100 years. In
1939, the castle was converted into a luxury
hotel, and it has had several owners over the
past 75 years.
Ashford Castle became part of the Red
Carnation collection in 2013. Tollman explains:
“The rooms had become tired and were not up
to Red Carnation standards,” and she immediately embarked on an extensive renovation
program of the hotel’s 82 luxury rooms and
suites, public areas and extensive grounds.
Tollman and her daughter Toni led the
design team, and they personally searched
auctions to find antique furniture for the
renovated rooms. Toni says their goal is to
provide an “enchanted castle experience” for
those staying at Ashford. For the past two
years, more than 300 local craftspeople have
been taking on the challenging task of updat-
ing the property while paying homage to the
history and character of the castle.
Now, guests can experience the elegance
of a 13th-century Irish castle in modern comfort. Fresh Egyptian cotton linens dress antique
beds, and embroidered silk curtains frame
views of the manicured grounds. Flat-screen
smart televisions, complimentary Wi-Fi and
features such as electronically controlled window shades add the 21st-century touch that
today’s travelers require. Carefully selected
original art adorns every room. The richly
decorated library, positioned in the balcony
above the Oak Hall, and the wood-paneled
billiards room invite one to linger, and the
state-of-the-art cinema features elegant and
sumptuous red velvet chairs.
Acclaimed chefs dazzle diners with a seasonal menu that features fresh local ingredients in the elegant George V Dining Room.
The room, featuring Waterford crystal chandeliers and rich wood paneling, was built in
1905 for a visit by the Prince of Wales, who
subsequently became king. Freshly caught
salmon and savory beef are served from silver
carts, adding a touch of elegance. In the lower
reaches of the castle, traditional Irish fare is
served in Cullen’s at the Dungeon. For a more
casual meal, Cullen’s at the Cottage is located
on the estate a short distance from the castle;
the menu is inspired by Tollman’s favorite
dishes from around the world.
The castle experience continues in a variety of activities available throughout the 350-
acre estate. The estate’s Equestrian Center
offers trail rides around the grounds or
through the nearby mountains of the
Connemara region. The clay pigeon shooting
range, archery range and nine-hole golf
course provide enticing diversions. The estate
lies on the shore of Lough Corrib, Ireland’s
second-largest lake, and offers an array of
activities, such as a twilight cruise, fishing,
sailing or kayaking. Cyclists can explore the
estate on two wheels, and kayakers will enjoy
the tranquil waters of the River Cong, which
flows through the grounds.
Those looking for an unusual thrill can
learn the ancient sport of falconry at Ireland’s
School of Falconry, the oldest in the country.
Guided “Hawk Walks” give guests of all ages
the opportunity to fly one of the birds. You
can watch your hawk soar from tree to tree as
it follows you through the woods and then
gracefully returns to your gloved fist.
Also on the estate is another recent addition to the Red Carnation Hotel Collection,
the four-star Lodge at Ashford Castle, offering mellow country-house hospitality within
the castle’s grounds.
For an active escape, a quiet retreat, a
family break or a romantic hideaway, Ashford
Castle or Lodge offer an experience unlike
any other. C
Freelance travel writer Ron Engeldinger
specializes in stories about the culture, history
and people of the world.
The Costco Connection
Costco Travel offers packages to Ireland
that include Ashford Castle and other
fine hotels. For details, click ”Travel”
at Costco.com or call 1-877-849-2730.
Ireland’s Ashford Castle,
RED CARNATION HOTELS
Above: Ashford Castle sits on 350 acres
of pristine countryside. Inset: Oak Hall.
Castle green on the In our digital editions Click here to see a video verview of Ashford Castle. (See page 12 for details.)