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Ireland’s Top Three Castles For Kids

When Irish eyes are smiling on your family you won’t want to holiday anywhere else. We pick Ireland’s top three castles for kids.


WORDS Hilary Doling

My son grins proudly as he finally lands a silvery rainbow trout after the three that got away. Then my husband catches a fish too. I feel a tug on my line, it bends in two – this is going to be a monster. Finally I reel in … a sock. It must have been snagged on some reeds. “Don’t laugh at your mamie,” says the Irish Ghillie who is our guide. “Anyone can land a fish, sure but it takes talent to land a sock”. Indeed. The shimmering lake below Dromoland Castle in County Clare is packed with trout but at best there is probably only a pair of socks. Lost, I suspect, by a golfer paddling in to retrieve a ball while playing the castle’s challenging course.

The historic castles of Ireland offer an impressive range of fishing, falconry, archery, horse riding and other ‘country’ pursuits and the people of Ireland love children. A combination which makes these stately old homes the perfect place for an action-packed luxury family holiday. Here we pick three of the very best kid-kind castles in the emerald isle.

DROMOLAND CASTLE, COUNTY CLARE

We’re on an early morning pony and trap ride around the castle grounds. The ponies’ hooves click on the cobbles as, in a gentle lilting brogue, Sean our driver tells tales of secret clocks and optical illusions, of a castle nearly lost for a bet and a beloved horse buried in the grounds. I confess they are so extraordinary I think he must have kissed the Blarney stone. Later on I find they are all true. Which makes Dromoland an even more exciting place than I thought and as a member of the Legend Collection from Preferred Hotels & Resorts it is both stylish and child-friendly.

Apart from our fishing adventure (should I frame the sock? Cook it for supper?), we find endless family pursuits to enjoy at this sixteenth century castle with turrets fit for a princess, ivy covered walls and a whole wing built for Queen Anne. Tennis, swimming, golf, riding, falconry and clay pigeon shooting are all on offer and there is a kids club during Irish/United Kingdom school holidays. Free bikes are available for exploring the grounds and in the walled garden we come across fairy statues hidden in the shrubs. The rotunda in the grounds is an architectural illusion and seems to be supported by a varying number of pillars depending on which angle you view it. Children will love approaching from different directions and counting the columns. Inside you’ll find junior bathrobes, board games to play by the fire and specially tailored kids’ menus.

ASHFORD CASTLE, COUNTY MAYO

This impressive pile might well be the jewel in the crown when it comes to Irish castles. Set in a sprawling 140 hectares of parkland the castle was renovated last year by its new owners, the privately run Red Carnation Hotels, and does indeed look like a living jewel box decorated in gold, ruby and sapphire colours. Lovingly restored with silk wall paper and antiques it is magnificent. Despite its opulent refurbishment Ashford still welcomes your sticky-fingered kids in with open arms. Something I wouldn’t do if my house looked this luxurious.

Kids get really red carpet treatment here with their own Lego Butler (build a Lego castle) and some fantastic fairy-tale adventures, such as finding the secret folly tower, Rapunzel's Castle or completing all the fun activities to earn a Wolfhounds Badge and following a secret map to the fairy paths. Kids will also like meeting the estate’s actual Irish Wolfhounds when they come to visit the castle each morning.

The grounds date back to 1228, so it not surprising that there are all the required country activities on offer such from Archery to horse riding. You can also take a cruise on Lough Corrib from the old steamer pier below the castle and explore some of the lake’s 365 islands. A more modern innovation is a zipline and tree climbing course which adventurous kids will love.

The Hawk Walk is a family activity not to be missed. We carry our own personal Harris hawks on a gloved hand and watch them fly through ancient woodlands and swoop back down to us. To be so close to the birds is an extraordinary experience, we feel like medieval kings going hunting. Although I suspect that the regal hawks see us as their servants and food suppliers rather than the other way round.

THE K CLUB, COUNTY KILDARE

Modelled on a French Chateaux rather than a traditional castle then magically set down in the middle of the Irish countryside the famous K Club is in the heart of thoroughbred racing country. Indeed the present owner has had two Melbourne Cup winners. It also hosted the Ryder Cup on one of its two championship golf courses and houses an impressive collection of art including a room devoted to Jack B Yeats. Parents sorted. Now what about the children?

Budding Rory Mc Ilroys can join a children’s golf clinic or kids can learn to fly fish on the River Liffey which runs through the grounds. Kids’ bicycles and family golf buggies are available for more estate exploring. Sensibly the indoor swimming pool has allocated children’s swimming times and there are junior cooking classes and family picnics by arrangement. If you do want to leave the elegant confines of the K Club trips to Dublin Zoo or a local cinema can also be arranged, as can horse riding. Archery, clay pigeon shooting, and air rifle targets are available for older children (mum smashed it at the air rifle range –remember than at homework time Kids).

For the littlies there are colouring books and family DVDs and a playground in the old walled garden. For the ultimate luxury family getaway you can arrange an exclusive rental of the owner’s mansion, Straffan House an amazing ten bedroom state with its own private cinema, a cook, butler and a chauffeur if needed and a pool with a swim up bar.

This article appeared in volume 8 of Five Star Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.



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