The stately architecture of Ashford Castle, located deep in the heartland of County Mayo and set against a spectacular backdrop of forests, lakes and mountains, has witnessed enormous change since its foundation nearly 8 centuries ago. But Ashford Castle is more than a luxury hotel - it is a rare and precious fragment of Irish history. From the building of the tower house in the Middle Ages, the Castle walls have been witness to the triumphs and tragedies of all who have lived and worked there. Standing proudly on the shores of Lough Corrib, the story of Ashford Castle is an insight into the story of Ireland over the past
1228 – A fierce invading Anglo-Norman family, the De Burgos, come to the west of Ireland and conquer the native O’Connor’s of Connaught. The De Burgo family build several castles throughout the province, one of these is the Castle of Cong (Ashford Castle.)
The original 1228 stronghold can be distinguished from the more recent construction by standing out in front of the Northwest corner (far edge of the car park) and examining the difference in stonework.
1589 – The De Burgo family faced certain downfall in desperate battle against invading English forces. Sent by Queen Elizabeth I, it was Sir Robert Bingham who pursued the native army right to the front doors of the castle.
The old De Burgo castle, with later turret additions.
The castle was subsequently used as a British fortress, and a fortified enclave was added. Remnants of the enclave walls can be seen most prominently in the gardens at the rear of the castle, but have been subject to extensions and remodelling throughout the castles different ownerships. 1715 – Ashford Estate establishes its name under the ownership of the Oranmore and Browne family. They built a fabulous house in the style of a French chateau which is now incorporated in the centre part of the castle. They used Ashford as a shooting lodge and holiday residence, with the passage of years and the intervention of famine and pestilence in Ireland the building and general property suffered sadly from neglect and fell into ruin.
This addition of the castle can be seen most prominently in the reception and Oak Hall sections of the current castle. On the exterior of the castle you will note the large Georgian style windows and double headed eagles carved in stone on the roof representing the coat of arms of the Oranmore and Browne families.
1715 – French Chateau addition by the Oranmore & Brown’s
1852 – The Ashford Estate is bought by Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, of the famed Irish brewery soon after the beginning of the great famine. He works extensively extending the estate to 26,000 acres, and adding on two large Victorian-style extensions, bringing much needed employment into the local area. When Guinness came to Ashford he found the local population in a state of unbearable poverty. He immediately set about to mitigate their suffering by improving and cultivating the land.
1868 – Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness bequeaths Ashford to his son, Lord Ardiluan, he and Lady Ardilaun had a very special love of trees and shrubs. Nearly one million trees were planted across the estate. He wanted to connect all parts of the estate with walks and avenues lined with trees. A lover of architecture he had drawn up a master plan, with architect Joseph Fuller, by 1884 for the complete rebuilding in a Baronial style. For the huge extensions he used local stone. The building additions to the castle under Guinness ownership can be seen most prominently in the George V restaurant and West Wing of the castle. Lord Ardilaun’s
West Wing additions during Guinness ownership
New construction connected the 18th century building in the east with the two De Burgo towers in the west, upon this a coat of arms can be easily seen when viewing the West Wing from the castle gardens. Throughout the 1880’s development continued with George C. Ashlin designing gateways and lodges for the estate.
Throughout the grounds you will notice a high population of evergreen and conifer trees, this was due to Lord Ardilaun’s desire to keep the estate in colour all year round. He also lined many of the walkways with trees to create the lined avenues you can see today.
1939 – Noel Huggard buys the castle and establishes it as a first class hotel. At the auction of the Ardilaun’s house contents Huggard and his wife bought numerous items, they bought anything they believed would be useful in the hotel including beds, linen, silverware and kitchen equipment. This enabled them to open the hotel very quickly. The hotel quickly became a ‘trophy’ honeymoon hotel because of its luxury, gardens and excellent food.
1933 – Summer holidays for the Guinness Family.
Mr. Huggard grew the country pursuits on offer around the estate and soon became synonymous with angling and shooting.
1951 – Director John Ford comes to the west of Ireland to film what would become a movie classic, The Quiet Man. Many of the film’s stars stayed at Ashford Castle during filming, and the grounds became a prominent backdrop to the film.
c.1950 prior to the addition of the East Wing.
1970 - Ashford Castle is bought by John A. Mulcahy who doubles its size, building the golf course and developing the grounds and gardens.
Mr. Mulcahy’s large extensions to the building can be seen in the east wing of the castle (to the right when looking at the main entrance to the castle). It can be easily made out due to the slightly yellow hue of the bricks used in the construction. He also acquired 11 identical chandeliers that can be seen in all their splendour in the George V dining room, each chandelier cost £11,000 when bought them from Waterford Crystal in c.1971.
The golf course was also established during this time by Mulcahy’s close friend, Eddie Hackett, replacing what was the estate deer park.
1984 – President of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy enjoy a stay at Ashford Castle as part of their Presidential Tour of Ireland.
1985 – A group of Irish American investors purchase Ashford Castle. Amongst these investors is Chuck Feeney, philanthropist & businessman, and Tony O’Reilly, former rugby union player & Irish media mogul.
2008 – Ashford Castle was purchased by a Galway developer.
2013 – Ashford Castle has been purchased by Mr & Mrs Stanley & Beatrice Tollman, and is now part of the ‘Red Carnation Hotel Collection’ and is one of the most luxurious resort hotels in the world, where high profile celebrities and public figures enjoy its charm. The estate is renowned for its activities, which include one of the largest equestrian centres in the country, fishing on Lough Corrib – the second largest lake in the country – and Ireland’s first school of falconry.
Future renovations for the hotel include the addition of a private cinema screen, billiards room and cigar terrace. Refurbishment plans are also in place for the spa including an exterior extension to house a swimming pool.
Whilst it’s easy to get lost in the majesty of the architecture of Ashford Castle, the interior of the castle also holds many stories from its years of ownership. Here are a few things to look out for during your stay with us. Reception & Oak Hall - Predominantly lined with hand carved Austrian Oak, this impressive area of the castle was originally built circa 1715, but was renovated by Lord Ardilaun during his 1884 renovations.
The table in the centre of the hall is of 14th century Dutch craftsmanship and was bought from Spanish traders in Galway.
During Lord Ardilaun’s holding (1884-1915) the Oak Hall was used for parties, dancing and informal concerts. The ensemble performed on the northern corridor where the oak panelled doors slid back, this is now the library area of the castle. On their left was the minstrel’s gallery where a single musician played, where you can take your time to sit and sign the visitor’s book. The guests would sit about the rest of the balcony watching the dancing below.
1884 – The minstrel’s gallery Current Day – Visitors guest book
You cannot help but be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Inglenook fireplace in this room. It reaches over 20ft, from floor to the ceiling, and is inlaid with oak, tiles and 2 seating areas.
Taking note of the surround you will find the Latin inscription "Spes mea in Deo" (My hope is in God), it would appear Lord Ardilaun had great faith in this motto as it appears in a number of areas across the castle. Above this inscription are separate details from the Ardilaun crest.
Inscriptions in the Inglenook fireplace surround
Supporting the fireplace are two large oak beams which bare two faces, one male and one female. There is much discussion about the identity to these facades, the first is that of Diarmuid & Grainne the "Lovers of old who lived for love." The second belief is that of Dante and Helen of Troy, which is slightly more believable because of the appearance of the two heads; the goat beard and head dress of Dante and classical Grecian features of Helen of Troy.
You will also observe the carved oak ceiling and large book shelves which line the room, Lord Ardilaun once used this room as his personal library, with a view out over the Lough Corrib.
Diarmuid & Grainne or Dante & Helen of Troy? Details from Inglenook fireplace surround
The Connaught Room:
Easily one of the most beautiful public spaces in the hotel due to its high ceilings and views out to the lake, it is now the charming setting for afternoon tea.
The wood carvings in this room are considered priceless, sculpted into the profound fireplace is the figurehead of King Roderick O’Connor, who was the last native monarch to enjoy the proud title of High King of all Ireland.
George V and Prince of Wales Bar:
These two rooms were built as a private annexe in honour of the visit of Prince of Wales in 1908. The prince, who would later go on to become King George V of England, stayed at the castle under Lord Ardilauns hospitality for nearly 1 month.
King Roderick O’Connor can be found in the fire surround in the Connaught Room
Looking at the fireplace in the Prince of Wales bar, which was originally built as the Prince of Wales smoking room, you will note the inscription of "Spes mea in Deo" along with another image of Ardilauns family crest.
In the George V restaurant you will be greeted by an impressive 11 identical chandeliers. These were fitted into the restaurant in circa 1972 by John A. Mulcahy at an expense of £11,000 per piece. These were acquired from Waterford Crystal and remain an impressive addition to the space.
The horizontal bar of the fireplace also begs note for its impressive carvings. Originally built as a billiards room, the windows in this room would once have looked over what was the estate deer park, now our golf course.
Waterford Crystal chandeliers in the George V restaurant.
Whilst undergoing renovations in early 2014 a secret doorway was found in the still room off the George V restaurant, once opened it revealed a staircase but no one knew where it led to. Following further inspections it was found that it was in fact an old staircase between the upper and lower kitchens of the castle. The doorway in the lower kitchen has always stood adrift in the middle of the modern stairwell – however nobody ever knew why it was there! Although this doorway cannot be viewed its delightful to know after hundreds of years the castle is still surprising us and revealing its hidden stories.
The secret doorway found during recent renovations, the brown wooden door connected through to the mystery floating door in the kitchen via a hidden staircase.