The Greatest Hotels in the World – Ashford Castle
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 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.
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.
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, and 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.
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.
– President of the United States of America, Ronald Regan and his wife Nancy enjoy a stay at Ashford Castle as part of their Presidential Tour of Ireland.