Castles – whether ruined, regal or otherwise – are a feature of the Irish landscape. Successive waves of arrivals built fortifications to protect themselves from rival claimants to their newly acquired patch of land. Of the 3000 or so castles spread across Ireland, the most impressive are the ones built by the Anglo-Normans beginning in the late 12th century, some of which have survived (relatively) intact while others were given facelifts in accordance with architectural fashion. Still others were ruined following successful sieges, but even in their dilapidated state they still evoke the grandeur they were built to convey.
A contender for Ireland’s finest hotel, and often ranked one of the world’s best, this 19th-century regal hunting and fishing lodge was created by Arthur Guinness (of stout fame) out of a castle first built in 1228 as the seat of the de Burgo family. Guinness’ Victorian-style extensions were added to the original building, which itself had been transformed in 1715 into a French-style chateau; in the late 19th century the extensions were given a neo-Gothic makeover resulting in the building you see today. Despite its many styles, Ashford Castle is a stunner – and that’s before you even step inside to find a five-star luxury hotel with all the trimmings, including a sumptuous spa and its own cinema.
Ashford Castle © Mustang_79 / Getty Images