On one of my explorer/adventure days I came across the beautiful Ashford Castle whilst ambling around Cong, a very imposing building dominating the area for a few reasons, mainly because of its sheer size but also its grounds which are splendid, with ancient trees, many evergreens with one particular huge example.
It is a medieval castle that has been expanded over the centuries by different generations and eventually turned into a five star hotel, near Cong on the Mayo Galway border on the shore of Lough Corrib, a beautiful lake with many tiny islands.
The town of Cong was made famous by the film “The Quiet Man” starring Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne, directed by John ford who had worked with Wayne previously on Westerns. The film was set on a fictitious little island in Ireland and filmed mostly in and around Cong with Ashford Castle being one of the main locations.
Ashford Castle was owned by the Guinness family for many years and in 1939 it was gifted to the Irish government, it was later sold and changed hands many times over the years until its current owners, Red Carnation Hotels bought it for a knock down price in 2013. Extensive renovation work has been done to the hotel with many added features including a golf course, lodges in the grounds and the development of the gardens and grounds.
Thousands of trees were planted in 1852 when the castle was bought by Sir Benjamen Lee Guinness, the first of the Guinness dynasty to play their part. While it was in the Guinness family ownership the development of massive woodlands helped increase the estate to 26,000 acres.
Today the hotel is used by mainly American tourists with some Irish and European guests also. Among the famous people to have stayed here are King George V and Queen Mary, later John Lennon and George Harrison and Oscar Wilde, President Ronald Reagan, Prince Edward, Senator Ted Kennedy; actors John Wayne, Pierce Brosnan and Brad Pitt as well as Prince Rainier III of Monaco with his consort Princess Grace. Altogether a very regal attendance, well, apart from the actors and singers.
The day I was there is was gloriously sunny and strolling around the grounds was very peaceful, the lake which looks like part of a moat around the castle has some swans swimming in the water and the bridge over the lake was occupied by the main footman who would only allow people over the bridge who had a reservation at the hotel or pay 10 euros for the privilege of crossing the bridge and seeing the grounds, you still couldn’t enter the hotel, so I didn’t bother, being a tight bugger anyway, I just enjoyed the stroll and took some time out in the woods to enjoy the ambience.
I met two lovely American ladies, who had come over for their first visit to Ireland, one of the ladies had Irish ancestors and she was tracing her roots but the other was just enjoying the area and asking me about how or if Wales was like Ireland at all. I told them Wales was the best country in the world and they needed to see it for themselves. Every country is beautiful and you can’t compare, they all have their own individuality, but Ireland is definitely one of my all-time favourites.