It’s a cool Irish evening and I’m cozied up next to the fire at Kilkea Castle in County Kildare, Ireland. This 12th century masterpiece was recently bought and renovated by Boston businessman Jay Cashman and his wife, Christy, and now non-royals can get an indulgent taste of castle life.
It’s the sort you can get used to. The fire was crackling as I sank into the leather couch and I thought to myself, “Warm brie and a red wine would be perfect right now.” I must have said it out loud because a nice man arrived with a cheese board and a glass of wine before I could even crack open the book I was about to read. It’s good to be the queen.
My recent visit to Kilkea Castle had many such instances of pampering, life-is-good moments, as well as chances to explore and delve into Irish history. If you want a quiet and relaxing getaway, or yearn for an active vacation where you’re busy every day, feel like meandering the fabulous grounds or get in the mood for a cool trip off-site, the castle staff can make it happen.
I arrived on a weekday morning, having taken the Aer Lingus direct flight from Boston. After landing in Dublin (an easy airport for Americans to navigate; one businessman told me he takes most of his European trips through there for that reason), I was met by my Kilkea Castle driver, who shared stories on the roughly hourlong drive.
We made our way through the tiny town of Castledermot, rounded a corner and drove through what seemed to be endless farmland to the castle entry.
This being a castle, arriving is wonderfully dramatic as you enter via a long, winding road lined with tall trees. Green land and golf fairways stretch out. We crossed over a creek, one I’m told you can ride down in tubes in warmer weather (with a drink in hand!). Then, straight ahead: Kilkea Castle. I’d seen photos, but in person, it stops you. Built in the 1100s, it has a long, storied history. Cashman found it two years ago, when it needed a lot of love. Clearly, it’s gotten plenty.
The building remains true to its origins, but has been updated for the comfort we modern royals (or wannabes) need. My room was in the main castle (there are just 11 bedrooms there, but many more in the Lodges and Carriage House). While I could soak in the claw-foot tub forever, there was a whole castle to enjoy, and I was off.
The main drawing room is filled with an eclectic mix of art, furnishings and bibelots that made Christy Cashman go, “Wow!” You’ll find comfy chairs and couches tucked into nooks, perfect for reading or sipping tea. There’s a main sitting area near the fireplace (my favorite spot) where you can have a meal or snack served any time. There I met a young woman who played field hockey at Thayer Academy with my niece back in the day. Small world in a castle.
There is a pub, too, the perfect spot to pour a Guinness and have some fun. For dining, you can choose the formal dining room in the main castle or the more relaxed Bistro next to the golf course. The chefs and staff take great pride in all they serve. One waiter took the time to talk me through an entire bread recipe, complete with some Irish history on the side.
I walked the grounds a few times a day. There are plenty of paths to discover, and even an ancient graveyard with the ruins of a chapel.
Love horseback riding? The castle staff will set you up. Want to take a historic tour of a nearby town? They’ve got you. Me? I was curious about the farmland surrounding the castle and said so. The castle staff arranged a tour of the farm by farmers themselves. A truck drove up and out jumped two Dalmatians, along with the farmer and his adult son. They showed me around their huge farm (in their family for centuries) and explained how they farmed. I met their cattle, saw their old-school production processes and even poked around their ancient farmhouses.
It was winter when I visited, and yet the land was alive with color. Lush, green and even some bright flowers poking out made me feel whole again after a long Boston winter. In summer, I can imagine, the grounds overflow with color. The massive rose garden has to be worth the trip in itself.
When it was time for me to leave, they had to pry me off that leather couch. Not really, but I left knowing I’d be back. Kilkea Castle leaves one wanting to experience every season there. As my driver took me back down that winding road, I looked back, keeping the castle and its Irish flag in my view for as long as I could.