Ireland is a land where magic shimmers over each hill, just ahead – if you could only catch it. It pulls you forward, off the quick motorways and onto the slower, narrower roads lined with stone walls and hedgerows. It's an unhurried pace Ireland draws you to, and you're well to heed it, as rushing only leads you to miss the most special parts of your trip.
It was one of these slower, narrower roads which led us to our private Ireland castle stay at Knappogue Castle. As we wound through the tree-covered hills and impossibly green valleys of County Clare I was beginning to wonder if I had missed a turn, or driven past the castle all together. **
And then, there it was. Low stone walls circle the demense, the drive protected by heavy iron gates which stood open, welcoming us to our royal lodgings.
Arriving at Knappogue Castle
The street leading to the castle followed a tree-lined, winding path, cattle gates at the stone walls we passed through rumbling as we crossed.
As the castle came into view the girls began to vibrate with excitement… Our Ireland castle vacation was beginning!
Knappogue Castle, owned and managed by Shannon Heritage, was once open for public tours. Though the walled garden is still available to visitors, there are only two ways into the castle: the nightly Medieval Banquet from April – October or via castle rental, for an event or lodging.
Parking in front of the castle, we walked to the massive iron-gated doors, turned the huge wrought handle – and let ourselves in.
It was kind of a rush, opening those doors. And then, almost magically, we were greeted by Claire, who, with her friend Dina, would become our “Fairy Godmothers” during our stay.
“You're very welcome to Knappogue Castle,” Claire said to us as she led the way through stone corridors hung with tapestries that I promised myself I would closely examine later. Then we were through a door marked “Staff Only” and up a flight of red carpeted stairs.
PRIVATE the door said. And, opening it, we began our Ireland castle vacation.
Welcome to Knappogue Castle
The medieval tower house was built in 1647 by Sean MacNamara. Over the next 300 years it was confiscated by Cromwell, returned to the MacNamara clan, sold to the Scotts, then acquired by Lord Dunboyne (both who did extensive restoration), and finally used as headquarters of General Michael Brennan and the Irish Free State Army in the early 1900's.
Falling into disrepair in the 1920's, the castle was purchased by the Hon. Mark Edwin Andrews of Houston Texas in 1966. He and his wife, a prominent architect, in collaboration with Shannon Development, restored the castle to it's 15th century splendor. The Andrews created grand state rooms for themselves in the castle tower, and those are the rooms that guests enter through the private door…
You are greeted by the large dining and family room, seating areas scattered about, and a table large enough for a clan set at the edge.A Backgammon board sits in front of the fireplace, a chair on each side, ready for a game. Behind the wall a modern kitchen sits with antique cabinetry, the room a contrast of centuries.
Climbing to the next level of the tower, past ancient oil paintings, sparkling crystal, and antique tables, are the bedrooms.
A right turn at the top of the stairs leads to the lovely twin bedrooms – the Blue Room and the Yellow Room. Connected by a door, the Blue Room in-suite bath serves both rooms.
A left turn at the top of the stairs leads you into the Master Bath, its long tub set into the floor, overlooking the small garden below.
Walking forward from the top of the stairs leads you through a long hallway, past more incredible antiques, and into a fairy tale.
The blue and gold Drawing Room looks over the small garden through door-sized windows. Chairs and couches in cream and blue sit around antique tables, awaiting conversations over afternoon tea. The Baby Grand Piano only waits for someone with skill to play it. (I was not that person.)
French doors lead to the Master Suite. The leather-topped Partner Desk and larger-than-king-size canopy bed instantly draw your eye. A room for the Lord and Lady of the Manor, blending feminine accents with very masculine furnishings, it feels very private, a place made to step away from the world outside.
Two more bedrooms, each with queen beds and its own bath, are also in the castle. These rooms, which were undergoing restoration during our stay, can be reached through the Yellow Room or, more directly, by stairs behind the kitchen.
Our Own Private Castle
It's surreal to have a huge castle all to yourself. After Claire and Dina left it was all a bit unreal. The girls and I hauled our luggage in as staff began to arrive for that night's banquet. Stepping through the Staff door I expected to be asked why we were roaming the castle. Musicians, tuning their instruments, would glance at us with a smile and continue their work, as if we belonged there.
We opened doors in our rooms, discovered ‘hidden' staircases spiraling upwards, and sat in the large windows of the Master Suite to watch the tour buses arrive with guests for the evening banquet. As visitors snapped pictures of the castle I wished for a ghostly white gown… I knew they didn't see me as they took their photos, but I thought it would be great fun to be an ethereal image in their vacation memories.
I'll admit to being a bit jittery our first night in the castle. In my room, far down the hall from the girls, I felt very alone and, I'm not ashamed to say, a bit nervous. We had never been told of a ghost in the castle… but surely there could be one? The girls must have been a bit unsettled as well, for it wasn't long until one, then the other, came to my room and joined me in the huge bed.
Claire and Dina greeted us each morning with a breakfast we could barely do justice to, as well as fresh baked treats and hot chocolate for the girls.
Paddy, the castle caretaker, left the doors leading to the top of the tower unlocked for us to explore the chambers above, now used for special events.
We spent leisurely mornings in the gardens, and afternoons exploring County Clare.
Our three night stay passed far too quickly and, though we lamented our short stay, Claire told us it was one of the longer stays for guests, with many coming in for a single night. Take my advice: if you do plan an Ireland castle vacation, no matter which castle you choose, stay for more than one night to really enjoy the surroundings and the incredibly unique situation you are in. It's a fairy tale come true – don't hurry through it.
Your Private Ireland Castle Stay at Knappogue
Knappogue Castle is one of a handful of private Ireland castles to stay in and is perfect for families and multi-generational vacations! With plenty of room for everyone, a hearty Irish breakfast served each morning, and an incredible location in the West of Ireland, you'll not run out of activities to keep you busy. Though the best part is returning each evening to your royal abode, relaxing in the glorious sitting room, and surveying your domain with a cup of tea and biscuits.
It just doesn't get any better than that…
Day Trips from Knappogue Castle
Located near the village of Quin, between Shannon and Ennis, Knappogue Castle is perfectly located for day trips to some of Ireland's most fabulous attractions.
Craggaunowen is just a few kilometers down the road, and other County Clare attractions, including the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren are within an hours' drive.
Galway is about 45 minutes away, and Connemara just another half hour or so. See County Galway attactions.
The Rock of Cashel and other places to visit in County Tipperary are an easy afternoon trip.
Nearby County Limerick offers the village of Adare, historic Lough Gur, and the Foynes Flying Boat Museum, as well as the attractions in Limerick City.
Inspired to plan an Ireland castle vacation like no other? Knappogue Castle is available on AirBnB.
New to AirBnB? Use this link to receive a credit on your first booking!
Questions? Contact Shannon Heritage by phone ( +353 (0)61 360788) or email [email protected] .
Dialing from the US? Add 011 to beginning and don't dial the + sign.
**The exit I used to arrive at Knappogue Castle was R462 off the N18, south of Bunratty Castle. A bit quicker route would be to take the N/M18 north toward Ennis, exiting on R469 – signposted for Quin- and follow the road through town and then on about 3km.
Thanks Ann- it really was…