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Ashford Castle – the world’s best hotel

Ashford Castle is a medieval castle, near Cong on the Mayo/Galway border in Ireland. It is now a five star luxury hotel. In 2012, it was voted the best resort in Ireland and the third best in Europe by Condé Nast Traveller.

Ashford Castle. Photo copyright Ericci8996 CC3

The castle looks like the perfect setting for a fairy-tale with its turrets towering above Lough Corrib, and surrounded by the many woods and gardens. It was built by the Anglo-Norman de Burgo (anglicised to Burke) family in 1228. The de Burgo’s built several castles throughout Ireland, but Ashford was their most important.

It remained in the de Burgo family for more than three and a half centuries. In 1589, the de Burgos were defeated in battle by Sir Richard Bingham (Lord President of Connaught).

In 1678, Dominick Browne was presented with the castle and estate by a Royal Grant. In 1715, the Browne family built the hunting lodge in the style of a French chateau. The coat of arms of the Brownes – double-headed eagles – are still on the roof.

Owned by the Guinness family

In 1852, the new owner, Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, bought more land taking the estate to 26,000 acres, He planted thousands of trees and built new roads on the estate. He also extended the castle by adding two large Victorian style extensions.

The estate was passed down to the Guinness’ son, Lord Ardilaun in 1868. Lord Ardilaun developed the land and planted huge woodlands. The west wing of the Ashford Castle was rebuilt while he lived there.

Hotel of film stars

Noel Huggard bought the castle in 1939 and turned into a “First Class Hotel”. In 1951, while recording of the classic film The Quiet Man, John Ford and many other actors stayed at the castle.

John A. Mulcahy became the latest owner of Ashford in 1970. He oversaw a major development which doubled the size of the estate. The gardens were established and a golf course was added. It was then sold to a syndicate of Irish American investors.

In 2008, Ashford Castle was bought by Galway developer, Gerry Barrett, for €50 million. In May 2013, Red Carnation Hotels group bought Ashford Castle Hotel , for €20 million – less than half of what Barrett had paid just five years earlier.

The staff are said to have accepted a 20% to 30% paycut to ensure the hotel’s survival. 60% of the hotel guests come from America, 30% from Ireland, and 10% from elsewhere.

Guests of the hotel

Past guests have included King George V, Emperor of India, John Lennon, George Harrison, Oscar Wilde, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Prince Edward, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, John Wayne, Brad Pitt, Pierce Brosnan, Prince Rainier III of Monaco and Princess Grace.