Imaginations of Ireland tend to conjure up visions of pots of gold, rainbows and mist-draped castles.
Actual visions of the country might not include a leprechaun and their overflowing pots of gold, but Ireland lives up to imaginations in the castle department.
For the traveler in search of refuge, many of those former Norman fortresses open up their doors and allow guests to sleep in their imaginations for the night.
The hundreds of years of history, the isolation and even a few ghost stories are all included in the room rate.
These Irish castles have transitioned from defensive strongholds to hospitable settings.
When you want to get away from the world, you might as well head to Ashford Castle on Ireland’s western edges.
Set up on over 350 acres of wooded parkland, the 13th century castle feels like it hasn’t been touched since its beginnings.
The Anglo-Norman De Burgo family founded the castle in 1228.
It would become their principal stronghold for a time until it changed hands and ultimately fell into the beer soaked fingers of Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness in 1852.
It wasn’t until 1939 that Ashford Castle would open up its doors to travelers in search of opulent shelter.
If Guinness is good for you, so too is the family’s former estate.
Ashford has that bubble surrounding it, one that seems impenetrable from chaos and harm.
With its backdrop of forests, lakes and mountains, guests check into the classic style rooms for the escapism.
Each room boasts its own touches, straying away from the cookie-cutter approach to most hotels.
Included in the room rate are the creaks of the floors and the chance to marvel at oil paintings that probably should be in museums.
Ashford Castle lends a number of activities for guests to take advantage on its grounds facing Lough Corrib.
You can play golf or shoot at clay pigeons.
Just beyond the castle’s grounds is the postcard perfect town of Cong.
The village was the setting for The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.
The film almost single handedly opened up the floodgates of Americans to discover what Ireland was all about.
The landscape up on Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast is one of mist covered glens and causeways seemingly built by giants.
Resting up for the night in this setting comes with both history and legend.
Ballygally Castle positions on the scenic Antrim Coast.
The castle from 1625 gazes out on the sandy beaches of Ballygally Bay as it ponders its story.
James Shaw, a Scot looking for fortune in Ireland, constructed the now castle hotel.
Historians explain Ballygally Castle as a place of defense and residence in its early years.
It also functioned as a refuge for Protestants during civil wars.
By the 1950s, Ballygally Castle would transition into the role of hotel.
Renovated over the years, the castle features 44 bedrooms with a contemporary style.
However its older features are maintained throughout several turreted bedrooms.
If you prefer your luxury vacation to have a hint of legends and spirits, Ballygally Castle throws in the ghosts without an extra charge.
Shaw’s wife Isabella reportedly haunts the place, specifically in the appropriately named Ghost Room located in one of the oldest parts of the castle.
With ghost stories stretching across 400 years and its positioning on the tip of one of the world’s greatest road journeys, it is easy to see why hiding away in this Irish castle ticks all of the marks.
The setting compliments the spirit of the 17th century building.
The combination of both historic castle and island is incomparable.
Waterford Castle proudly positions on an estuary of the River Suir, just one mile down the river from Waterford City.
In order to reach this castle hotel, you must board the private ferry service between the city and the island.
Perhaps no other castle hotel in Ireland lends quite the level of seclusion for a vacation away than Waterford Castle.
The island’s life dates between the sixth and eight centuries when a monastic settlement was found on the grounds.
It would fall into the hands of the English Earl of Pembroke and cousin of Strongbow, Maurice Fitzgerald.
He would construct the first structure on the island, a Norman Keep.
Additions to the castle were made from 1849 to 1895.
Over the course of its time with the Fitzgerald family, the castle played host to a number of feasts and banquets.
By 1987, the Waterford Castle would turn into a luxury hotel.
The luxury hotel keeps things intimate with just 19 guest rooms.
Suites are decorated with antique furnishings, Waterford crystal lamps, four poster beds and even marble fireplaces in some cases.
Guests have 310 acres of private island to explore on any number of nature trails.
You can pack a picnic and spot the wildlife on the island, which includes badgers and deer.
It isn’t hard to envision a Fitzgerald resting up for the night in a neighboring room at the Waterford Castle.
The mix of history and seclusion lends an Irish experience that you won’t find available for a good night’s sleep in most cases.
It’s not everyday that one has the chance to rest up in a former home of Irish royalty.
Dromoland Castle sounds fictitious in name and description but it is not a figment of the imagination.
The castle boasts a history dating back to the 5th century.
It was the ancestral home of the O’Briens, direct descendants of Brian Borun, High King of Ireland.
The O’Briens were one of the few native Gaelic families of royal blood.
Just 8 miles from Shannon Airport in County Clare, the estate presents itself in grand fashion with a meandering drive that approaches the grounds dramatically.
Hundreds of acres of magnificent lawns beckon the traveler in search of the Ireland of their imaginations.
Overlooking the golf course and sparkling lake, guests catch some ancient Zs throughout rooms decorated with old world elegance.
While all of the contemporary luxuries are readily available, you have the chance to play the part of an O’Brien by sleeping in the Queen Anne quadrangle of the hotel.
Sir Edward O’Brien built this section of 28 rooms in 1736.
The space of the castle prides itself on being a century older than the rest of five star hotels in Ireland.
Activities at Dromoland Castle range from hunting, fishing, horseback riding, golf, tennis and soaking up the spa.
Guests can also request fresh flowers, handmade chocolates and champagne to their rooms to truly feel like Irish royalty.
Dromoland Castle is famously known as one of Ireland’s best five star hotels.
Located in the village of Kinnitty in County Offaly in the Irish Midlands, Kinnitty Castle offers a taste of the 13th century.
Basking in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Ireland’s Midlands, the castle has foundations in a 1213 Norman castle.
While destroyed in a fire in the 1920s, the castle was rebuilt in keeping with a neo gothic style.
Kinnitty Castle lords over 650 acres of parkland, lending a truly serene Irish castle experience.
The 37 guest rooms adorn in high ceilings, cast iron roll top baths and original features in keeping with the period of the property.
Guided historical tours of Kinnitty Castle are offered along with plenty of activities like fishing, clay pigeon shooting and walks.
Then again, Kinnitty Castle is just the sort of place where one might find relaxing by an open fire of which unquestionably can pass the day.
The drive up to these castles is sure to cause mouths to drop in wonder.
A hotel could just be a hotel, but in Ireland, travelers in search of a little luxury will find a hotel can be a grand medieval castle, a standing testament to time.
And while a great deal is included in the room rate from antique covered rooms to classic activities that the former owners would probably appreciate, visions of leprechauns and pots of gold might cost extra.
Have you stayed in an Irish castle?
Tell us about your trip back in time below!
About the Author
Suzy is a freelance writer, largely penning travel and lifestyle pieces for a number of online publications including the Estate Weddings and Events blog. With a redheaded temperament she travels the globe in search of sarcasm, stories and travel tips to share with anyone willing to listen. You can connect with her via LinkedIn or Google+.