A castle stay in Ireland is one of those must-dos but when it includes dogs, like at Ballyseede Castle, it becomes an unmissable experience.
A genuine malady of European travel is what we call ACAC syndrome – another church, another castle. Feel free to add an F in there if you’ve been on the road for more than a month. They’re everywhere – some ruined, some splendid and all a little old. Savvy private owners have now embraced the share economy as a means to fund their upkeep meaning you can find both de-consecrated churches and stately castles on Airbnb and hotel booking sites.
Welcome to Ballyseede Castle
Ballyseede Castle near Tralee in Ireland’s south west is set on 30 acres amidst thick woodlands in County Kerry. Dating back to 1590, this family owned operation is one of the country’s best-known castle hotels, guarded over by two gigantic Irish Wolfhounds – Mr. Higgins and Miss Molly who offer a hearty greeting before retiring to their parking spaces and lying on their backs for tummy rubs, paws in the air.
The four-star castle offers 39 rooms over three opulent floors. The grounds are ideal for weddings and the back gardens offer an elegant gazebo and manicured lawn. Inside there are also formal function rooms, two dining areas and an inviting bar called Paddy’s.
Being a Friday night, Paddy’s Bar is bustling with wedding guests and a couple of friendly locals more than happy to share their knowledge of the area over a strong whisky. An ornate fireplace crackles with a welcoming warmth and the conversation is rising to the edge of cacophony as the evening goes on. The bar offers an excellent selection of boutique whiskies, rums, gins and local brews. We’re joined for pats and tummy rubs by a couple of other hotel dogs who are more than happy to accept guests’ attentions.
The 2-star AA Rosette O’Connell Restaurant Is a room fit for royalty with an ornate fireplace, a gallery of oil paintings and a warm ambience. The menu also offers an in-depth history of the castle with the dark tale behind a memorial that stands adjacent to the castle gates. It tells the story of Paddy O’Connor, a member of the Free State army, who was lured into an ambush by Humphrey Murphey of the IRA Kerry No.2 brigade. Paddy and five others were killed in the action. In retaliation, Free State forces took nine prisoners from the Ballymullen Barracks at Tralee under the guise of clearing trees from the road at Ballyseede Crossing. They were tied to a fallen tree that had been mined by the IRA and the mine detonated. To add insult to mutilation, the remains were machine-gunned outside the front gates of the castle, where a memorial to their deaths now stands. Inside, the bar is named in honor of Paddy O’Connor. A little lighthearted reading.
Dinner is exceptional. As we sit down, we’re served a bone broth in an espresso mug. Lusting after quality seafood, we both select the Tiger Prawn and Dingle Bay Crab Cocktail, with a tangy Marie Rose Sauce and Lemon & Brown Bread, which we eagerly devour – it’s some of the freshest bread we’ve ever enjoyed. For entrees (mains), Bernie has the Pan-Fried Beef Fillet with Truffle Dressed Water Cress Leaves and Brandy and Black Peppercorn Cream Sauce. Jess, the Grilled Fillet of Atlantic Salmon served with a Smokey Bacon, Saffron and White Cream Sauce. The local Irish beef is a revelation, up there with the best Australian beef and far surpassing anything we’ve tried in America. Dessert is a crispy Crème Brulee and it’s a fittingly regal way to end the evening.
The best room in the house
Our room is double the size of our old Greenwich Village studio and has an equally cavernous bathroom. It is luxuriously appointed with carved four poster bed and the kind of ancient sculpted wood wardrobe that has us tempted to see if it’s a portal to Narnia. Nope, the doors are locked tight.
The bed is spacious and comfortable with no weird divots or bumps. The bathroom is clean and the TV, though small is modern. Simple point, but some of the older properties we’ve stayed in haven’t moved past CRT screens yet.
The Ballyseede Ghost
Like any good Irish castle, it has a ghost. Ballyseede’s is a nurse from the First World War, Hilda Blennerhassett. She is rumored to be found in the Crosby Room which was once her bedroom and she leaves a scent of roses. By sheer fluke, we get the Crosby and had we known, we may have stayed up and tried to engage with her, Ghost Adventures-style. Sadly, we didn’t experience any hauntings, just each other’s snoring.
Breakfast is Served
Rising for a full breakfast we’re welcomed into a less formal dining room, The Stone Room Restaurant, where a roaring fireplace provides a warmth that offsets the chilling autumn frosts. Opting for a hearty Irish breakfast fortifies the stomach though there is a buffet of healthy options, cereals and toast and spreads.
By light of day, the lounge and sitting room reveal a timeless charm with a little extra twinkle with all the Christmas decorations on display. It’s very homely and inviting and the addition of family photos from the owners reveals a little more about the castle’s character.
Checking out, we’re watched cautiously by a little white Maltese terrier. Sadly, our wolfhound friends are nowhere to be seen. It’s been an absolute treat to stay at Ballyseede and an experience we’d recommend for anyone to upgrade their Irish experiences.
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Ballyseede Castle is a gorgeously renovated castle hotel that is ideal for romantic weekends, weddings and corporate events.
Tralee, Ballyseede, Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland
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