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Short stay: Kilkea Castle Estate & Golf Club, Kildare, Ireland

Located just an hour’s drive from Dublin, Kilkea Castle is the oldest inhabited castle in Ireland. Originally built in 1180 by Hugh de Lacy, the Earl of Ulster and chief governor of Ireland, for Sir Walter de Riddlesford, a Norman knight, the castle was the seat of the Fitzgeralds, the Earls of Kildare, for almost 800 years. Since falling out of the Fitzgerald ownership in 1960, Kilkea Castle experienced a number of different owners before being purchased in 2013 by Jay and Christy Cashman – an American businessman and his Hollywood actress wife – who then went about restoring the castle to its former glory, opening it as a luxury hotel in 2017, following a $30 million restoration and refurbishment. Together with its golf course, rose garden and courtyard, the resort covers over 200 acres through which the River Greese flows. The following video gives a nice overview of what to expect before stepping inside…
YouTube video
The welcome I was in Dublin with work prior to our stay but the hotel kindly offered to collect us from the city for the one-hour transfer to the castle which meant for an effortless arrival. We were made to feel very welcome and given a personal tour of the castle once we had settled in which provided us with many insights into the castle’s past. Its history is a fascinating one, with stories ranging from a pet monkey saving the first Earl from a fire when he was a baby (which accounts for a monkey featuring on the family crest), to the 11th Earl of Kildare, who was known as the ‘Wizard Earl’ due to his interest in alchemy, and who is believed to visit the castle on horseback on the seventh day of the seventh month of every seventh year. We were also shown some interesting features in the brickwork of the building, including a monkey’s tail and the ‘Evil Eye’. The latter is a rather bizarre medieval carving built into the quoin of the guard room close to the gatehouse, that depicts a man embracing a semi-human beast while another beast appears to be having sexual intercourse with him; it was designed to ‘ward off’ unwelcome visitors, blighting them by its evil influence. Thankfully our welcome was a much more orthodox one! The room The castle is home to eleven uniquely-designed bedrooms. Additional accommomdation can be found in bright and airy carriage rooms in the courtyard or in self-catering lodges overlooking the golf course and just a stone’s throw from the refurbished clubhouse. We were fortunate enough to stay in the Fitzgerald Suite at the very top of the castle in the Round Tower which enjoys views all around the estate. The décor is very in keeping with the grandeur of a castle, with heavy curtain fabrics and bold-patterned wallpaper. A separate lounge area greets you as you enter the suite, with its own fireplace, chaise longues, gilt-edged mirror and chandelier. The spacious bedroom is decorated with dark mahagony furniture that complements the rich, toned fabrics of the bed and chair. This room looks out over the 18th green. The bathroom The bathroom is a circular room located inside one of the castle’s turrets. In it is a free-standing bath and a separate shower inset into the thick tower wall. Fluffy gowns are provided and Elemis is the toiletry brand of choice at Kilkea Castle, used also in the hotel’s spa. The bathroom’s arrowslit window looks out over a beautifully-maintained Italianate garden. The facilities Kilkea Castle offers a number of dining venues, from fine dining to less formal options elsewhere. We loved the portcullis castle-style and informality of The Keep bar but The Bistro also offers an informal all-day dining experience for golfers or guests, with a choice of light bites and wholesome main courses. Restaurant 1180 is the formal dining area within the castle, led by David McKane, former Head Chef at Adare Manor. It is yet to earn its first Michelin star but that is surely just a matter of time. We had the signature tasting menu which began with a chicken and truffle terrine with a truffle aioli and pickled mushrooms. Often the flavour of truffles can be a little overpowering but this was delicately done. A crab ravioli followed, set on a bed of spinach and with a delightful shellfish bisque. Next up was seabass with a wondefully crisp skin, served with fennel and a chive braisage sauce. Our main course was Dexter beef – cooked very pink, just how I like it – with artichoke, shallot, king oyster mushroom and a rich jus. Dexter is a rare breed with its origins in Tipperary, to the south-west of Kilkea. It was very tender yet full of flavour. A blood orange with vodka and granita followed as a palette cleanser before a lemon meringue dessert. I wouldn’t normally regard myself as a dessert person but this was definitely worth it – a sort of deconstructed lemon meringue pie with isolated tastes of meringue, lemon curd, lemon sorbet and biscuit crumbs that worked really well together. The 1180 Restaurant is also used for breakfast for guests staying in the Castle Bedrooms. There is a buffet selection consisting of cereals, fruit, pastries and more, set among the book shelves of the dining room, but also a breakfast menu for any cooked orders. I can heartily recommend the poached eggs and avocado on a brioche muffin! Additional facilities at Kilkea Castle include an 18-hole, 6,700-yard Championship golf course that cleverly uses the River Greese as a natural hazard on almost every hole. Two lakes further add to the challenge, plus there’s a practice range, putting green, golf shop and clubhouse. The hotel also has its own spa where we both enjoyed a very relaxing massage. Guests of the spa may use the hydrotherapy pool, sauna and steam room ahead of their treatments. Available treatments at the spa include facials, hot stone massages, salt scrubs, detox wraps and more. Location In the immediate vicinity of the castle, guests can enjoy use of the golf course or take a leisurely walk of the adjoining Mullaghreelan Wood. Equestrian excursions can also be enjoyed as part of an all-inclusive stay at Kilkea Castle. Two miles away is the Moone High Cross Inn, an Irish pub famous for its its craic and live music that is reputed to be Clint Eastwood’s favourite pub in the whole of Ireland. They even have a bar named after him. Other distinguished visitors to the pub have included Bono, Sandra Bullock, Johnny Depp and former Republic of Ireland footballer and manager, Mick McCarthy. Photographs of some of these famous guests adorn the walls. Kilkea enjoys a number of other fascinating connections; for instance, Ernest Shackleton was born to a Quaker family in the area. It’s an area with some 5,000 years of history. Places to explore nearby include Burtown House & Gardens, Mondello Park, the Irish National Stud and Gardens, The Curragh Racecourse, Punchestown Racecourse and Castletown House & Gardens. Other nice touches We were made to feel very welcome throughout our stay. Our hosts very kindly gifted us some Kilkea Castle branded bobble hats which we were able to put to immediate use as there was quite a cold wind in the air, and macarons and chocolate brownies were delivered to our room when we went for a stroll one afternoon. Cost Rates start from €115 per night for Carriage Rooms. Castle Bedrooms start from closer to €340 per night, with the Fitzgerald Suite starting from €1,490 per night. The best bit Why… staying in a castle, of course! There’s a certain charm about staying in such a grand building with such a fascinating history. The final verdict The other wonderful thing about Kilkea Castle is that the new owners are giving this historic building all the love and attention that it truly deserves; no expense is being spared and no corners are being cut, in order to ensure it returns to its former glory. A fitting restoration is being put ahead of profits which, in the long term, I feel is sure to bring Kilkea Castle further deserved success. Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by Kilkea Castle.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Telegraph.

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  1. Across the British Isles there are hundreds of these ancient, historic buildings that are being given a new lease of life. Now that the Barons, Earls and Lords are less prominent its wonderful that these places have opened their doors to the public. I know that hundreds of places crumbled away to ruin in the last century and much of our heritage was reduced to rubble but places like Kilkea Castle are doing a great job – with some brave investment – at opening up these historic sites to us humble commoners.

    1. Thanks for dropping by to comment, Dan! And yes, it’s great to see you. Also, as you say, it’s a very brave move from an investment point of view, but sometimes I think the owners do it as much (if not more) for the love of the history and heritage than for any potential financial return. I think that’s certainly true in this case.

  2. Oooo this looks good! Pretty impressive looking castle but I’m not surprised it took 30m to renovate it and get it in shape for hotel life. I’ve only stayed in a castle once and that was in the UK, absolutely loved it. Such an unusual experience, and it makes for a good conversation when people ask you where you’ve stayed. It didn’t have a spa though or the same extent of dining options. Sounds like the Moone High Cross Inn is a must visit, I love places like that with a quirky edge and a bit of a novelty factor.

    1. You would love the Kilkea Castle experience, I’m sure, Tara! If you’re ever in Dublin, make sure you check it out – it’s only an hour’s drive from the city.

  3. The odds are a million to one but what would have happened if Johnny Depp and Mick McCarthy had been having a quiet pint at the Moone High Cross Inn on the same night? Would they have had an in-depth conversation about the benefits of deploying a “false 9” and playing a “flat back four”? Or would McCarthy have been giving Depp advice on how he could have milked his role even more in Pirates of the Caribbean?

    And would Clint Eastwood have strolled in and said, “Go on make my day. Pour me a pint of Guinness.”

    1. I could be wrong, Brian, but I think I heard that Johnny Depp was there at the same time someone else famous was also present (sorry, I forget who)… so who knows who could be there if you ever get to visit? :-)

  4. Very cool! I’m quite fond of Ireland. Never stayed in a castle before though, that would be a new experience and there’s a first time for everything. The new owners certainly did a good job with the renovations. It looks surprisingly charming with the interior decor. I hope they have much well deserved success with this hotel, I can see it being quite a popular destination.

    1. I’m sure they will, Alex… although the bulk of the renovations are complete, they are still looking to continually improve which I’m sure will be a vital ingredient for the hotel’s continued success.

  5. My parents were recently in Ireland and my dad sent me a lot of pictures of these ancient-looking castles. What a dream it would be to stay at this place, the food was making my mouth water. Crab ravioli with seafood bisque, just wow. The little town vibes at the local watering hole sound great, too. I wonder when it would be the best time to visit? Because I know Ireland gets a lot of rain…

    1. If you want to avoid the rain (I live in a wet place so it doesn’t bother me so much), then I would suggest any time from now through to August. Of course, it’s still not guaranteed but the wetter months tend to be outside of this period. Remember, though, that if it wasn’t for rain, the Emerald Isle wouldn’t be quite so lush and green. ;-)

    2. We enjoyed a family reunion at Kilkea Castle last mid-November. It was chilly and rained one day, but still a superb experience which even included a mediaeval banquet (with everyone in costume) and roast pig, as well as incredible entertainment (step dancers and Irish tenor Ronan Tynan). The food, the history, the beauty of the castle and environs, the opportunities to try falconry and archery, and the historical and genealogical tour they arranged for us in county Cork were unforgettable. And, by a happy coincidence, Dublin was already decorated for Christmas. I’d go back in November any time!

    3. Thanks, Martha… I’m glad you had such a great time. And thank you for the November recommendation. I guess one of the benefits of the shoulder seasons – as when we went too – is that you get to have the place more to yourself also.

  6. Now that is some suite. Maybe sometime you could run a piece on top suites – maybe in the world, maybe in a country? I bet Italy would have some great entries. Though I’ve just remembered that I stayed in a circular tower in a chateau in France which was very quirky.

    1. Hi Freya – we used to run a regular ‘suite of the week’ feature on ALTB which I am thinking of bringing back so I’ll keep this in mind. Thanks for dropping by!

  7. OK you’ve sold the accommodation to me but what’s the golf course like?

    I’m just a humble club golfer. I’ve made the mistake of playing on championship courses that have hosted the Ryder Cup etc. To be honest they are just far too difficult for an average golfer like me.

    I’m looking for something that’s well kept and scenic.

    1. It wasn’t really the weather for golf when I visited (there had been a lot of rain). It’s a championship course with plenty of hazards but I’m sure would appeal to a range of different abilities.

      This image gives a good overview of the course:

    2. I will be playing golf with two members of kilkea on the 1st of October cant wait for this.If it’s as good as the lads say bring it on looks fabulous.

  8. Interesting history and background of the castle. I can already imagine the many events it has witnessed since 1180, both joyous and tragic I would assume. I especially find the hidden art in the wall works and what they mean. I hope that the castle owners also allow for tours of any underground crypt or passageways. It would be just amazing to learn about the whys and the hows. Also, the rooms look very stately and exude an old world charm. That bathroom looks very presidential as well! And from the looks of the food, I wouldn’t be surprised that they could earn their Michellin Star at any time.

    1. Thanks for leaving a comment, Kristine (and apologies for having missed it until now!). I believe the Michelin star has still eluded Kilkea up to now, but that doesn’t mean to say that the hotel isn’t continuing to go from strength to strength. Only last month, it was listed #2 in Historic Hotels Worldwide® list of the 2022 Top 25 Historic Hotels Worldwide Most Romantic Hotels.

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