Tea and champagne are an interesting combination, but it seems common in Ireland. It makes you feel like royalty while drinking tea, enjoying finger sandwiches, warm scones, and pastries, especially when you’re staying in a Castle.
As a man of Irish descent, I was more than excited to take my first trip to Ireland and discover some of the many fascinating places that make The Emerald Isle a mesmerizing experience for travelers. During my trip I discovered that my last name, McNamara, originates from County Clare and I had ancestors who resided there. After landing at Dublin Airport, I headed for County Clare and enjoyed a scenic two-hour drive to the historic Dromoland Castle (www.dromoland.ie). Encompassing the rolling countryside of the Atlantic coastline, County Clare is home to the famous Cliffs of Moher, Burren National Park, and other fantastic scenic spots.
Entering Dromoland’s gates, equestrian riders leading a group of dogs greeted us and led us up the road to the Castle. Looking out the window, I could see that the property was indeed a magical and breathtaking place. Outside the front doors stood the staff, and they all greeted us one by one. Walking up the stairs and through the giant castle doors we headed for the Drawing Room for brunch with the delightful Managing Director, Mark Nolan, and accommodating Digital Marketing Executive, Niamh O’Donnell.
Mark Nolan has been with Dromoland Castle for over 30 years. He’s very charismatic, knowledgeable, and a natural conversationalist. He resides on the Dromoland golf course, on the 14th fairway. His first job was as a busser at Ashford Castle and then he worked his way over to Dromoland and up the ranks. Brunch was delicious and featured champagne, creamed potato and truffle soup, a farmer’s omelet with mushroom and ‘Fines Herbes’ (mixed herbs used in flavoring omelets), and a fresh-baked croissant loaded with vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg, whose aromas filled the room. The meal was plated elegantly and tasted absolutely wonderful; a fitting first meal for a castle retreat. The Drawing Room also makes the perfect setting for an intimate gathering and has beautiful views of the Castle grounds and the lake from each of the windows.
After brunch, it was time to find my room. Wandering through the castle halls was entrancing. Old photos and artwork lined the walls, and the vintage décor was astonishingly ornate. When I walked into the room, I was amazed at how spacious it was and immediately noticed the elegant crystal chandelier hanging in the center of the room. The bathroom was bright and airy, complete with beautiful white marble, a soaking tub, shower, heated towel rack, double vanity, and more. There was a welcome pastry on the table along with a key to a golf cart. Each room comes with a golf cart, which enables you to explore the grounds at your leisure. On the nightstand sat a few tasty Irish chocolates and a little bottle of whiskey. Outside of my window, I had a view of the luscious green landscape that surrounds the Castle.
There are 97 elegant guest rooms and suites in Dromoland Castle. During turndown service, the housekeeping staff left me gifts like little whiskey bottles, chocolates, and other treats. It was wonderful to find these surprises after a long day of exhilarating activities.
Dromoland offers a variety of different activities for everyone’s interest. They have a historical walking tour during which I learned about the ancestral home of the O’Brien family. For those with paranormal interests, you’ll be interested to hear that some people have even seen the ghost of Lady Ethel, one of the castle’s ancestors, walking the grounds.
After the tour, I met Dave Atkinson, head of the Dromoland School of Falconry. He was very knowledgeable about falcons and the history of many species of birds. I was able to get a hands-on experience with a beautiful falcon named Alice, who swept down from the sky and landed on my wrist. Of course, a thick glove is provided beforehand for protection, so the talons don’t dig into your wrist. It was an experience I will never forget.
Onwards to the hawk walk, where there were owls, falcons, and hawks, all being trained. Each one was beautiful and had its own personality. One resident barn owl I got to meet was Pickles. Pickles was magnificent, and how could one not remember that name?
There are other exciting activities to take part in here, such as clay pigeon shooting, golfing, archery, and much, much more.
After all these exciting activities, it was time for Mrs. White’s Afternoon Tea, named after a long-standing member of the Castle staff. I ordered the Champagne Afternoon Tea, which was accompanied by a glass of Louis Roederer Champagne. Tea and champagne are an interesting combination, but it seems common in Ireland. It makes you feel like royalty while drinking tea, enjoying finger sandwiches, warm scones, and pastries, especially when you’re staying in a Castle. There’s quite a selection of teas to choose from at Dromoland ranging from blacks, whites, greens, and even oolong. Some of the teas included The Dromoland House Blend, made from select Kenyan teas; Irish Whiskey Cream; Granny’s Garden, made with rhubarb and vanilla; and the highly prized White Yunnan Silver Tips, which are harvested during the springtime. The room was adorned with Venetian silk drapery and elegant chandeliers to add to the ambiance of sipping tea, making it a delightful way to spend an afternoon.
When teatime concluded, it was time for a quick nap before pre-dinner drinks at the Cocktail Bar. The Cocktail Bar has a unique theme based menu centered around tarot cards, created by head mixologist Alex Beyou. Each tarot card represents a different specialty cocktail and offers a magical experience. I ordered ‘The Fool,’ which is a Patron Resposado-based cocktail that tasted like a twist on the Spicy Margarita. Delicious canapes were then served while we enjoyed our drinks.
Dinner followed at the Earl of Thomond Restaurant, where the dress code is more formal with a suit jacket for men. I had mouthwatering scallops with lemon, olives, radish, wasabi & yuzu as an appetizer, and Cod with Puy lentils, aubergine caviar, artichoke, courgette & basil purée, and bouillabaisse as an entree. The Earl of Thomond Restaurant is elegant and innovative, featuring one-of-a-kind dishes and an authentic taste of Ireland. Executive Chef David McCann pairs classical techniques with first-class Irish produce from the land and the sea creating delectable dishes of all kinds.
The next day we explored the Wild Atlantic Way, which at 1,600 miles long, is one of the longest defined coastal routes in the world. People can spend weeks traveling along the beautiful coast. John Hehir, Director of Sales and Marketing at Dromoland Castle, accompanied us for the day and he had so many interesting life stories to tell.
The first stop was J.J. Corry Irish Whiskey (www.jjcorry.com) for an inviting whiskey tasting on the McGuane family farm, where Louise McGuane, the mind behind J.J. Corry Irish Whiskey, brought back to life the art of Irish whiskey bonding. (Whiskey bonding is the practice of sourcing new make spirit and mature Irish whiskey from Irish distilleries and maturing, blending, and bottling unique whiskeys). Louise was inspired by J.J. Corry, a whiskey bonder from the 1800s, who also invented his own bicycle called The Gael, which in turn inspired one of the first whiskeys made at J.J. Corry Irish Whiskey. Naturally, The Gael bottles have the famed bike on the label.
Louise has traveled the world trying all different types of spirits and wines, as well as looking for a vast array of barrels to store the whiskey. She works alongside her husband Dominic, and Caroline who used to work at Dromoland Castle. It was interesting to see people opening the barrels and pulling out the barrel cork, which looked a little difficult to do from my point of view. There was even a little bit of an Irish Whiskey Bonding experience with mixing the new spirit and maturerish whiskey from the two different barrels. Louise and Dominic invited us into their lovely home for some snacks and drinks. It was here that I discovered that Dromoland has their own whiskey, which can be enjoyed at Dromoland’s Cocktail Bar or purchased from the hotel. Their house was cozy and chic with a huge panoramic window overlooking their beautiful farm. J.J. Corry Irish Whiskey and Dromoland Castle work together to provide this type of experience called the JJ Whiskey Bonding Tour that guests can book.
Following the whiskey tasting, it was onward to foraging at Spanish Point with Oonagh O’Dwyer. It felt like being at the edge of the Earth standing on Ireland’s Atlantic Coast with all its beauty and the open sea right in front of your eyes. The mist and smell of the ocean were refreshing, and the sound of the waves was soothing to hear. Oonagh O’Dwyer is very knowledgeable about seaweed and what the different types of benefits are. Make sure to wear wellies when you walk down towards the ocean to harvest the seaweed, which is used to make meals or as an ingredient in skincare products. Oonagh even created the Wild Kitchen Book (www.burren.ie/wild-food-walks-oonagh-odwyer) with information and recipes for 26 of the common wild plants native to the region. This experience is available through Dromoland’s many unique activities for guests.
Soon, it was time to grab a bite to eat at Vaughans Anchor Inn Seafood & Oyster Bar (www.vaughans.ie), known for their award winning steak and seafood. I ordered their signature seafood chowder and fish and chips made with a 19-year-old start batter. The fish and chips came served on signature Vaughans Anchor Inn wax paper and the serving was colossal. The fish and chips were golden and crispy, smelled delicious, and came with a homemade tartar sauce. Wash it all down with a cold pint of refreshing Irish beer or wine if you wish. It wasn’t like any other fish and chips I’ve seen before. Of course, I didn’t finish it all, but it was scrumptious.
From the wild blue Atlantic Ocean, we headed into the wilderness of The Burren, a rocky limestone paradise, and one of the six national parks in Ireland. Here you’ll find many different rock formations and a phenomenal array of flowers of all different species. There are a variety of hikes and walks to take, as well as an incredible drive where you can enjoy the beautiful scenery and astounding natural vistas.
Arriving at the Burren Perfumery (www.burrenperfumery.com), it looked and felt like a storybook setting. Some of the buildings were like fairytale cottages, and each of them contained a different part of the fragrance-making process. Inside, there were beautiful aromas of different floral scents. Owner Sadie Chowen was super sweet as she described each fragrance and what goes into the creating process. All the ingredients for the perfumes and cosmetics come directly from their lovely native herb garden. People can walk through the garden and learn about the traditional uses of the different herbs.
In the blending room, where all the magic happens, Chowen described and demonstrated how they make small batches of their organic creams and balms. I enjoyed the Atlantic Coast Cream made with seaweed and bergamot, which hydrates the skin. The tearoom at the Burren Perfumery features a selection of different teas, herbal blends from the garden, and coffees from around the world. Guided tours are offered daily from June through September.
Back at Dromoland Castle, we enjoyed pre-dinner cocktails with Mark Nolan and genealogist Lorna Moloney in The Drawing Room. Lorna Moloney is the resident genealogist of Dromoland and has years of experience and knowledge with Irish ancestry and genealogy. She is very personable and even has her own podcast (www.clansandsurnames.com/the-genealogy-radio-show). Lorna gave me a little history about my last name, McNamara, and on how we were rivals with the O’Brien family, and had numerous castles along the river throughout County Clare. The McNamara name was one of the most popular names in County Clare in the 1901 census and I found what she told me all very fascinating.