Tourists breathe new life into Ireland's 'bucket list' heritage gems
Irish Landmark Trust
They are Ireland's secret hideaways that are on the bucket list of the most savvy and discerning travellers.
Castles, lighthouses and achingly pretty thatched cottages set in the country's most picturesque locations are all available to rent - if you know where to look.
International tourists have helped breathe new life into some of Ireland's most unique and quirky heritage properties that would otherwise be consigned to the wrecking ball or fall into decay and dereliction.
Over the past five years, more than 20,000 visitors have spent close to €2m staying in some of the most beautifully restored castles, lighthouses, gate lodges and cottages on the island through the painstaking conservation efforts of the Irish Landmark Trust.
But unlike the typical family-run bed and breakfast or ubiquitous post-modern 'retro-70s' hotel chain, more than 75pc of the takings from room charges goes directly back into buying up, restoring and maintaining the trust's stable of historic buildings.
The non-profit charity has been quietly operating under the radar for more than 20 years, letting out some of the most stunning and unique accommodation rentals in Ireland that have all been restored to their former glory - whether they are ancient castles, gate lodges, former lighthouses or Georgian townhouses in the heart of the capital.
Although their rates are at the higher end of the self-catering scale, more than 75pc of the rental fee goes directly back to the Trust in order to conserve more "quirky, eccentric and distinctive buildings across Ireland".
Not only has it saved more than two dozen properties from decay and deterioration, "Irish Landmark uses only the best artisans, builders and craftspeople to revive traditional skills that might otherwise be lost," said Trust CEO Mary O'Brien.
"We're actually an educational charity with a remit to save heritage properties," she said.
The Trust currently has a stable of 26 rental properties on the island of Ireland that have generally been regarded as well-kept secrets over the years by discerning visitors or people who stumbled onto them and returned as repeat visitors, said Ms O'Brien.
"For example, two people can rent their own miniature 'medieval' castle, starting at €305 for a weekend, in Anne's Grove Gatelodge in Castletownroche, Co Cork, which was built in 1853 as a guest house to the Annesgrove House and Gardens in the village.
"The crucial difference is that people are looking for something that is authentic and not something that's been created as a holiday haven."
Another unique feature of Trust properties is that their properties and amenities are aimed at encouraging people to switch off their smartphones and other electronic devices and explore their fascinating surroundings while enjoying actual downtime.
Consequently, very few of the properties have televisions let alone WiFi.
Simply reading, playing cards, lighting a cosy fire, star-gazing, cooking and walking are some of the favourite activities logged by visitors who are made up mainly of overseas tourists.