48 Hours in an Irish Castle
Find out what it’s like to spend a weekend in a 12th-century Irish estate.
Welcome to Ireland, “The Emerald Isle.” The current population of Ireland is about 6.3 million, and it's estimated that 50 to 80 million people around the world have Irish ancestry.
We were in Ireland, initially as a layover to Germany, but decided to extend our weekend and see the sights around Dublin. Our plan was to stay close to the Dublin Airport but still be able to experience a little more of the Irish countryside. Dublin is rich in history, and although we love the city life, we also wanted to smell the peat coming from the Irish cottages and experience a couple nights in an Irish castle. Our destination was a castle about one hour from Dublin called Kilkea Castle. Dating back to 1180, it’s one of the oldest inhabited castles in Ireland and was once the stronghold of the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Kildare. Today, this beautiful property in the town of Castledermot in County Kildare welcomes guests from all over the world.
If you’ve ever dreamed of experiencing a quiet castle tucked away in the countryside of Ireland, consider our 48-hour itinerary below. If you have more time, you may want to explore the surrounding area of Ireland’s Ancient East as well.
We checked into the Fitzgerald Suite, located on the fourth floor of the castle and overlooking the rose garden, in the afternoon. When booking your stay, you’ll find a variety of options for different budgets, from carriage rooms located in the courtyard to lodge bedrooms near the golf clubhouse.
After checking in, kick off your first day in the castle with afternoon tea in the drawing room, where you can enjoy a selection of specialty teas, warm scones and finger sandwiches. The staff is small but attentive, and we became fast friends with all of them. Reservations for tea are required, so be sure to book in advance.
Walking the Grounds
Exploring the grounds is a good way to get the lay of the land and connect with your new surroundings. The estate encompasses 180 acres with plenty of areas to explore. On our walk, we came upon an old cemetery with springtime bluebells blooming in the field. A little further down, we explored Mullaghreelan Woods, a mixed woodland that was originally part of the estate and has two picturesque walks.
We enjoyed discovering a variety of trees including ash, native oak, holly and elder. The castle landscape is dotted with buttercups, ground ivy, lords and ladies, and various ferns.
You have a couple dining options within and around the castle. We decided to dine like royals inside the walls of the castle. Located on the second floor, the dining room overlooks the rose garden and the 18th hole of the golf course. You can expect traditional Irish cuisine with a hint of international spices, plus a nice wine list followed by unique Irish cocktails and Irish ale. It’s a four-course meal, so come hungry and ready to relax. There’s no need to rush; this is your activity for the evening. After dinner, we joined new acquaintances/friends in front of the roaring fireplace sharing our day’s experiences and sipping Irish brandy.
(Tipping in Ireland is different than in the states. Ireland is not a strong tipping culture but it’s always appreciated. If you want to tip the staff after dinner or after an activity and you're in doubt, 10 percent is a good bet. All tips are at your discretion.)
Start your day with breakfast in the castle for a fee; you can reserve a table when booking your room. Breakfast is also served in the clubhouse every morning from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Falconry, the art of training hawks to hunt, is an ancient and noble sport. It’s a unique activity that all levels can do together. We booked an hour and met up with a gentleman named Bernard. He’s Kilkea Castle’s local falconry expert, and his passion and love for his birds is quite evident. We were able to fly the hawks and get up-close and personal with a red-tailed hawk and two different types of owls. It was a memorable experience and a great Facebook/Instagram shot to send back home!
Plan on eating at the Bistro near the golf shop. Luckily, upon arrival, we caught a televised Irish Rugby match. Many of the locals were in town to watch the game. It was a great time, especially since the home team won! We ordered the full Irish breakfast for lunch, but the smoked salmon on brown bread and the pesto crumbed cod looked like great choices as well.
Kilkea Castle offers an 18-hole par-70 championship golf course. If you’re a golfer, book time at the course. The course was developed around the castle, so every fairway has a wonderful view. Watching swans gracefully float along the river as you golf is the perfect way to connect to the Irish countryside.
If you’re not a golfer, consider taking a little road trip to the nearby gardens and racecourses close to Kilkea Castle. Five thousand years of history is buried within the meadows and gardens, and County Kildare is a part of Ireland’s Ancient East.
You can go to the local town of Castledermot and dine, or stay on the grounds like we did. We had every intention of going to town to listen to the local Irish music, but the regal, lush grounds enticed us to stay. We had a drink at the Keep, located inside the castle, and watched the sunset that evening while having dinner in the main dining room. The colors of the Irish sky and the sounds of the birds in the trees were a perfect ending to the day.
The best place to listen to Irish music in the local area is Clancy’s Pub in Athy. It’s a 10-minute drive from the castle.
If you like to fish, get up early and book time with a local ghillie. The River Greese is small but fast flowing with plenty of deep pools for trout and salmon. It’s a great spot to work on your fly fishing skills. Fishing is booked through the estate with an expert ghillie to guide you, supply your fishing equipment and connect you with the proper fishing permits. (In both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, licenses are required for salmon and sea trout fishing.)
Drinks in Dublin
Our magical 48 hours experiencing 12th-century living with 21st-century amenities was quickly coming to a close. We had a flight out of Dublin Airport that same evening. Since we had time to spare, we decided to drive into Dublin City and have a pint at the legendary Temple Bar. Yes, we know it’s touristy, but we wanted to experience a small glimpse of Grafton Street. We ordered two pints and toasted our wonderful weekend in Ireland.