The gentleman waits patiently at the looming metal gates with a clipboard. No ordinary clipboard; gold embossed, with Dromoland Castle emblazoned across the front. Meet the gateman. Dressed in red, hat tilted to perfection, he welcomes you to the Narnia that is Dromoland Castle.
Past the gate, the journey begins. Driving along landscaped paths, past the golf club and private lake with oak trees providing a guard of honour. The Castle comes into view suddenly; elaborate and ornate. First the turrets, then the Irish flag staking its claim.
The estate is vast, over 450 acres. Thankfully the carpark is within striking distance, after a short walk I discover that the concierge would have parked it for me.
Striking too, are the elegant pop of shotguns decimating unsuspecting clay pigeons. It’s just one of the activities that you can try; including falconry, rowing on the lake, golf at one of the finest 18-hole golf courses in the country, or horse riding.
The entrance is located at the top of a steep flight of steps, just off Queen Anne Court, a quadrangle at the epicentre of the empire. Regain your composure, and your breath, and you are entering the opulent reception area. Reception is wrapped in deep red velvet, dark wooden tables, with vases the size of a small child, tumbling with flowers.
American accents dance neatly from passing guests. Our American cousins love it here, this is a dreamy Downton Ireland, their own castle for a few days. The staff make sure you feel like it is your domain. Nothing is too much trouble.
In 1987 the castle was purchased by Irish American investors; however, this was once the ancestral home of the O’Brien’s of Dromoland who were the Kings of Thomond and whose lineage goes back 1,000 years to Brian Boru, the only High King of Ireland.
Many have owned, developed and attempted to destroy it since. In 1921, IRA leaders in Dublin marked the castle for destruction. Thankfully, sabotage orders were reversed at the urgent request of local IRA leaders in County Clare who argued that the Lords had been fair with their tenant farmers.
Its heritage has been carefully maintained, portraits hang on the walls, ensuring you respectfully treat it with a humbling nod that it deserves.
The rooms are in each of the four castellated turrets. Fresh flowers are a welcome bonus, that and a box of chocolates. Its plush and cosy, chintzy wallpaper and gilded headboards frame the beds. The bathroom has a walk-in shower and a bath. Perfect after an afternoon of countryside pursuits or soothing injured necks.
Outside the historic walled garden makes for a glorious entry into the extensive grounds, where many walking trails can be followed. There is a giant chess game, made to be moved by hands and feet, another novelty that is worth a try.
The mood is ‘grand country house’ swathed in tasselled drapes, which I assume weigh more than the ancestral treasure chests. These are for keeping in the heat presumably; the fires ensure that you are never cold though. Fuelled with logs from the estate, the marble surrounds are kept pristine, adorned with artefacts such as stag’s heads. Coats of Arms, gold chandeliers and miniature arched windows infiltrate the light.
Rest in the Gallery or the Drawing room for a freshly brewed cup of tea. It comes in a silver teapot complete with DC engravings. Should you prefer something stronger, and perhaps over indulge, the menu has very helpfully provided a list of hangover cures. The manager suggests a pint of iced Bulmer’s (cider), no more, no less. The gamekeeper feels that two fried duck eggs for breakfast would do the trick and the alternative practitioner recommends Nux Vomica. Raw seeds nicknamed ‘poison nut’ that purportedly also treat male infertility. I couldn’t say if any research has verified this.
I recommend seeking out Mrs Whites Afternoon Tea. It comes with Dromoland’s traditional fruit cake. Mrs White was the cook at the castle for many years.
Dinner is served in The Earl of Tholand Restaurant, 5-star dining at its best. A sommelier will keep you right on the choice of wine needed to complement each dish. He reminds you that the taste of a good wine is remembered long after the price is forgotten. Very true. Dine on black truffle and wild mushroom risotto followed by fillet of wild hake, served on Dromoland Castle plates of course. The baked soufflé of the day is a surprise, and in a good way.
The Drawing Room and the Gallery also serve food if you would prefer a little less grandeur. In keeping with esteemed guests, you could plum for the Dry Aged Sirloin like President Clinton or Pave of Wild Irish Salmon like President Mary Robinson. I wonder what President Trump would choose?
The theme of service continues throughout, Castle household tips such as how to deter mice with peppermint oil and how to remove the smell of cigars, by burning coffee in a metal container are printed on menus for your enlightenment. If you happen to burn yourself getting the coffee ready place a mashed banana on the wound. Priceless.
Alternatively try the spa, seasonal treatments are offered including a sugar body scrub, almost good enough to eat.
As you prepare to leave, your breadth of knowledge has increased tenfold, not just history and tips that will stand you in good stead, but the happy thought that concierge will also bring you your car.
As the gateman bids you farewell, you hope that you too have left your footprints in the sands of time, just as others have at this enchanted castle. It will there long after we’ve gone, and in that lies a smug acknowledgment that we too can be part of its history, albeit a small one. Distinction since 1543.
To book www.dromoland.ie. Rates start at 252 Euro – 1985 Euro per night including breakfast.