“People describe the feeling of peace at night; they sleep well,” says Mary Normoyle of Fanningstown Castle.
Irish castles like hers, a four-star stay dating from the 12th century in Adare, Co Limerick, are absolutely unique, she says. “I suppose you’re comforted with this idea of historical living... it’s a fine time to explore them.”
Mary has have been welcoming visitors since 2001, mixing old-world atmospherics with “home from home” hospitality. Remarkably, she has never had to advertise. Most of her guests were from North America — until now, of course. In 2021, availability is wide open.
There are similar stories all over the island. Historic castles and houses that would usually be heavily booked by overseas visitors now have windows of availability as private rentals (catered or self-catering). From restored tower houses on Airbnb to landmarks like Lismore Castle or Luttrellstown, international bookings are likely to remain absent, postponed or uncertain for months.
“People are dying to meet extended family and friends and these are the perfect destinations to get a group together and enjoy each other’s company in a bubble of their own in a wonderful place,” says Catherine FitzGerald of Glin Castle in Co Limerick. “Think of the fires burning, privacy, and lovely gardens to enjoy together!”
Glin is a Blue Book stay whose guests have included Taylor Swift. Pre-pandemic rates started at €5,500 a night, but with international travel disrupted, a new ‘Stay and Dine’ offer means lower prices.
Castles can be eye-wateringly expensive, but they don’t have to be. Fanningstown’s rates range from €3,000 to €4,500 a week, for example, but it sleeps 10. That’s just over €64pp a night in high season. There’s work in organising a group stay, of course, but it can be worth it.
“When you see those costs you say, ‘Oh gosh, it’s too much’,” as Catherine FitzGerald says. “But when you break it down per person you’ll find it’s often good value considering what you’re getting for that.”
“I’m offering reductions to people booking domestically,” adds Zane Everard of Lisheen Castle in Co Tipperary, which can sleep 16 across nine rooms. He advises looking midweek for lower prices, checking lesser-known websites like castlerentals.net and formerglory.ie for heritage stays, and making direct contact. “Get on the phone, absolutely. Websites like Airbnb can add on quite a chunk.”
Other sites to browse include Hidden Ireland (hiddenireland.com), whose collection ranges from Co Clare townhouse Ballyportry Castle to Ballinacurra House, the Georgian mansion in Kinsale. The Irish Landmark Trust (irishlandmark.com) is a non-profit specialising in restorations, and its properties include Annes Grove Miniature Castle in Castletownroche, Co Cork, which sleeps two from €340 for two nights. Availability is slim over summer but opens up considerably from September on.
“We create a lot of lifetime memories,” as Mary Normoyle says. “In another year, we would have just gone abroad. But suddenly, you have this lovely chance to spend quality time with family... you just wouldn’t have had the same time to spend together before, would you?”
As lockdown rolls back, hotels around the country are airing their bedrooms and polishing the silver in preparation for the long-anticipated re-opening to guests on June 2.