by D.J. Wilson – Ever dream of taking an adventurous vacation? You should. Studies have shown that it’s healthy to envision life from a positive perspective and to remain active in pursuit of adventure. Recently, while perusing a list of ice cream flavors in our local ice cream parlor, my eyes shifted to a sign posted in the travel agent’s shop next door. The bright sign read “Want to sleep in a castle? Come inside and learn about our fabulous vacations to Ireland!” Suddenly, my thoughts turned from mint chocolate chip to the green pastures of Ireland. The Island of Ireland is known for its diverse beauty. From glens to moors and rivers to rocky coastline, the scenery is breathtaking. Though many of the big cities are contemporary, Ireland is known for its glorious old castles which date back to medieval times. Often festooned in ivy, they blend seamlessly into the landscape. While some lie in ruins, a great many castles have been restored for visitors to enjoy. A number of fortresses have been refurbished into hotels offering luxurious accommodations, with some available for exclusive rentals.
One of the most famous Castles in Ireland is the Blarney Castle. It is located in the town of its namesake, near Cork, Ireland. This medieval stronghold went through several fortifications and the castle is currently considered a ruin. The original Blarney Castle was a wooden structure built in the 10th Century. Around 1210 A.D. it was replaced by a stone structure which was destroyed in 1446. The third castle was rebuilt by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster, and remains of that castle can be visited today. It is noted that over 400,000 visitors travel to Blarney to kiss the stone to gain the gift of eloquence. While its powers are debatable, the stone plays a role in legendary history. Blarney Castle was once occupied by Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster, and it is believed he supplied 4,000 men from Munster to aid in the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Legend has it that Robert the Bruce gave half the Stone of Scone to McCarthy in gratitude for his help. Now called the Blarney Stone, it was set in the wall below the battlements. Visitors used to be held by the ankles and lowered head first to kiss the stone. Today, for safety reasons, one has to lean backwards while holding onto an iron railing from the parapet walk to kiss it.
The King John’s Castle in Carlingford, Ireland, is a beautiful structure designed to sand-castle-like perfection. Nestled on the southern shores of Carlingford Lough, this dramatic fortress offers stunning views across the inlet toward the mountains. Likely erected in the late 12th Century, the original structure was built by a Norman knight, Hugh de Lacy. The fortress owes its name to King John, Richard the Lionheart’s brother, who stayed in the castle for three days in 1210 A.D. The original castle consisted of an enclosed courtyard with two rectangular towers at the entrance. Having changed hands over centuries, alterations were made to include the addition of extra rooms and possibly a great room. The castle appears to have remained in English hands during the post-medieval period. It underwent a surprise attack in 1596 by Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and was fired upon by the Jacobite forces in 1689. It also functioned as a hospital during the period leading up to the Battle of the Boyne. Though much of the structure remains intact today, time has taken a great toll on the fortress. It remains closed to the general public due to the danger of falling masonry, however; one can imagine climbing to the Castle’s windy top, with stunning views of the waters where Viking warriors once sailed.
The Ashford Castle Hotel is a unique 5 star hotel located in Mayo, Ireland. With a wonderful reputation for accommodations and comfort, this hotel features modern amenities and is considered one of the finest hotels offering private retreats for its guests. The structure dates back to 1228, when it was founded by the Anglo Norman de Burgos family. Changing hands throughout the years, owners, such as the Guinness Family, altered its appearance from a defensive stronghold . The castle underwent transformations from French Chateaux to the Victorian neo-Gothic style. The Ashford Hotel is world renowned, hosting royalty like the Prince of Wales George V in 1905 to Presidents like Ronald Reagan in 1985. The 83 room hotel boasts lovely views of the gardens and waters of Lough Corrib, has an imposing exterior, and features a rich interior of oak paneling, fine furnishings, and marble bathrooms.
No matter what your age, it’s never too late to dream and set goals to experience something new and exciting. Taking an adventurous vacation doesn’t have to include risky activity, like bungee jumping. Instead, set your sails toward adventure by choosing a culturally rich vacation. As we explore the history and local customs of new and magnificent places, we enrich our mind, body and soul in a travel odyssey. Ireland offers adventure, antiquity and more. Whether you wish to hang upside down to courageously kiss the Blarney Stone, walk amongst the ruins observing the beauty of the land, or sleep in a grand castle fit for a king, the Emerald Isle will leave a memorable impression upon all who step ashore.