Skip the cozy Irish Bed-and-Breakfasts. Skip the Maldron and Jury’s Inn hotels. Spend a night in a castle instead!
During our three weeks in Ireland, my search for a reasonably-priced hotel in Sligo brought up an unexpected surprise: the Markree Castle Hotel.
It’s more a large manor house than a true castle and it hasn’t been turned into a 5-star spa resort, but it was delightful. (And we couldn’t afford a 5-star resort anyway.) The long entrance drive made me feel like I was coming up to Pemberly, or Netherfield at least.
Stained glass windows in the great hall show the family’s genealogy and connections to royalty – that’s King John, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I along the top. Fireplaces abound in the main areas, and the staircases put you smack into Downton Abbey.
The other downstairs rooms have been restored to Victorian times, if not earlier. Upstairs, bedrooms are scattered and clustered around twisty corridors leading to windows, sitting rooms, and unexpected stairways.
The bedrooms ranged from our small one to spacious rooms with four-poster beds. And as long as you don’t want the grand scale, it was only about $10 more than the other hotels around, breakfast included. We ate dinner there, too, and while it wasn’t cheap, it was very, very good.
So here’s the story to go with the castle:
The Markree keep and estate were owned by members of the Irish McDonagh clan until Cromwell’s forces beat the Irish down and took property as penalties for rebellion. An English officer named Edward Cooper was given the Markree estate as payment in 1666 – such are the spoils of war. BUT Cooper married the widow of an Irish rebel leader (she did it to protect her two sons). He and the widow never had children, so he adopted her two sons and guess who inherited? Yup, an Irish family!
The Coopers became Members of Parliament, representing Sligo at Westminster for the next hundred years. And . . . hmm, let’s pause for a smidge of history:
While Ireland had been under British rule for hundreds of years with ever-worsening punitive laws, there was a separation of sorts between the Kingdom of Britain (England, Wales & Scotland) and the Kingdom of Ireland. The Act of Union in 1800 brought them all together as the United Kingdom.
The story continues . . . the Coopers of Markree Castle were in strong opposition when the British Lords wanted to dissolve the Dublin parliament in 1800. What else would you expect by someone of Irish heritage, even if they had an English name? But it wasn’t appreciated by the Brits – all those who supported the Act of Union were awarded titles of rank, and the Coopers missed out. So there was no Sir/Lord Cooper, no coat of arms, nothing of nobility, just 36,000 acres of an incredible estate.Markree Castle spent more than 300 years being re-done and added to until the early 20th century, when most of the land was sold and the castle subsequently fell into disrepair. Now it’s been restored with smaller grounds and a lovely garden, trails to walk and horses to ride, and a fantastic experience for traveling Americans like us.
One last note: a visit to two Irish/British websites (Manor House Hotels and Celtic Castles) shows a night in a castle or manor house will run anywhere from 90-1500 euro/pounds per night, depending on which building and what type of room. Ours was at the €90 end, of course, but it puts an experience like this within reach.
So here’s my question for you: if you got the chance to stay in a castle, where would it be and why? Please share a dream with us!