Dromoland Castle IrelandEmerald Escape - Dromoland Castle
Good For: Any kid (or kid at heart) who has dreamed of being a fairy princess or medieval knight in a real-life Irish castle. Plus, parents can steal away for some R&R, from golf to massages to romancing over a bottle of wine.
- Learn how to handle and fly a Harris hawk, have a go at archery, or take a carriage ride drawn by Kerry Bog ponies through Dromoland’s ornamental grounds. If walking is more your speed, the whole family can explore the surrounding forest in search of leprechauns.
- Dine like royalty: After starting the day with a full Irish breakfast, pack a picnic basket for lunch in the peaceful Irish countryside. Afternoon tea in the Gallery is followed by a dinner fit for a king at the award-winning Earl of Thomond restaurant.
- Unwind on the resort’s championship 18-hole golf course or go for full-service pampering at the spa.
What to Know: Dromoland Castle is conveniently located just 8 miles from Shannon Airport. But you’d never know it. Its secluded grounds and surrounding forests encompass almost 400 acres along the shores of Lough Dromoland.
As a parent, you’ve probably seen Shrek a dozen times, dressed your daughter as Cinderella for Halloween, or bought your kids every Harry Potter book in the series. Let’s be honest – it doesn’t feel like all that long ago since we too had a fascination with fairytales. So if a night out to Medieval Times just doesn’t do it, perhaps a trip to Ireland will. This windswept island will recapture some of themagical innocence of childhood, while exposing the kids to rich history and folklore. And, there may be no better spot to experience Ireland’s past than at Dromoland Castle. Originally built in the 1500s and completely renovated into a 99-room luxury hotel in 1962, the castle served as the ancestral home for eight generations of the O’Brien clan, direct descendants of Ireland’s11th-century King Brian Boru.
From the moment you pull into the sprawling estate, the hotel staff indulges you with the famous Irish hospitality. With its elaborate woodwork and stone statuary, hand-carved paneling, original oil paintings, romantic gardens, and fine antique furnishings, the castle’s history is revealed at every turn. The family rooms, which easily sleep four, are a luxurious retreat in their own right, blending old-world elegance with modern-day comforts. The kids even get tucked in with a serving of warm milk and cookies along with their own Dromoland teddy bear.
Simply put, the five-star Earl of Thomond restaurant will make you feel like landed gentry. The classical European-style dining room is as sophisticated as it is welcoming, which matters when you have kids in tow. Executive chef David McCann’s menu combines classic Irish ingredients (plenty of meats, seafood, garlic, and potatoes) with international influences. Thankfully, he’s even designed a children’s menu to satisfy the pickiest of eaters.
There’s a more casual Fig Tree restaurant that’s a good alternative when you don’t feel like getting all dressed up. All the classics, like bangers and mash, fish and chips, and shepherd’s pie are offered, and since the atmosphere is much more relaxed, you don’t have to deal with the anxiety of keeping kids on their best behavior.
Irish Eyes Are Smiling
As tempting as it may be to not leave the grounds, you’ll want to make a break for it at some point and check out the “real Ireland” just outside the gates. One of Dromoland’s biggest selling points is its proximity to Shannon Airport, so depending on how much time you’ve got, it may not even be necessary to hire a car. But you should.
If you’ve never driven on the left side of the road, you’re in for some fun. Couple that with the fact that Ireland’s two-way streets are about as wide as our single-lane roads, and you’ll probably see some white knuckles. But don’t panic. There’s relatively little traffic, so once you get the roundabouts down (stay left!), you’re ready to explore.
Perhaps the most dramatic scenery in this already impressive landscape are the Cliffs of Moher. About a 45-minute drive to the western seaboard of Country Clare, the sweeping expanses of sea and sky and cliffs rise up 700 feet from the raging Atlantic Ocean far below. And it just so happened that in 1835, Cornelius O’Brien, a member of the same clan that inhabited Dromoland, built a tower as a viewing area for the tourists who started arriving en masse to see the cliffs.
Another worthwhile excursion, especially with the kids, is to the charming village of Bunratty and its renowned castle and folk park. Although a bit touristy, the castle has been restored with many of the original furnishings and style of the Great Earl who once occupied it in the15th and 16th centuries. And guess who those inhabitants were? None other than the Earl of Thomond himself.
(Photos: Cliffs of Moher, Dromoland Castle, and Hawking at Dromoland Castle, courtesy of Rainer Jenss; Earl of Thomond and Dromoland Spa, courtesy of Dromoland Castle)