Romantic Castles of Ireland
The Romantic Castles of Ireland collection is comprised of 4 stunning properties, each boasting a rich history dating back centuries. Each castle has a unique style and design that ensures a magical experience for guests. Cabra Castle and Ballyseede Castle are exquisite wedding and events venues in Co. Cavan and Co. Kerry; while Bellingham Castle and Markree Castle are exclusive venues in Co. Louth and Co. Sligo.
In recent years, each destination has been subject to significant interior transformations to help ensure guests are receiving the best possible experience. Below is a rundown of each property, covering the castle’s history, recent developments and current offering.
Ballyseede Castle, Co. Kerry
Built circa 1590, Ballyseede Castle is situated within 30 acres of ancient woodland and garden. Kerry’s only castle hotel, the history and grandeur of Ballyseede has been retained throughout – from the 44 en-suite bedrooms to the award-winning restaurant.
Each bedroom is warm and spacious complete with carefully considered decorations and homely complimentary amenities. In March 2018, 16 new bedrooms opened including 2 suites, 4 junior suites, 7 superior rooms, 1 family room and 2 double rooms. Prior to that, in 2017 a new orangery was created, providing a suitable private pre-drinks reception area for weddings and their guests. Weddings are very much at the heart of Ballyseede, providing a stunning backdrop as well as all round service for a couple’s special day.
Bellingham Castle, Co. Louth
One of the ancestral homes of the Bellingham family, Bellingham Castle was built in the 17th century. The property was purchased in 2012 by the Romantic Castles group, who subsequently embarked on an ambitious two-year renovation and restoration of the venue.
Each of the castle’s 19 bedrooms was uniquely designed to complement the architecture, with details exclusive to each room. In addition to this standout collection of guest rooms, Bellingham is also home to a number of formal lounges and reception rooms, from The Library and The Buttery Kitchen to The Oratory and O’Bryens Bar. The Bute Suite has been gracefully designed with classic painted panelling, crystal chandeliers and French doors leading out into the castle’s rose garden and weir.
Cabra Castle, Co. Cavan
Since 1991, Cabra Castle has been extensively refurbished and expanded from 24 bedrooms to incorporate the former Courtyard and Gate Lodge. The total number of bedrooms was brought to 105 with the addition of six cottages that were also built on the estate.
Recent redevelopments include work to the ballroom and bridal suite, the Derby Bar and Courtroom restaurant. Significant upgrades are also being made externally and 2019 will see a number of exciting additions such as a redevelopment of the bar terrace and patio area and the introduction of an outdoor cinema.
Markree Castle, Co. Sligo
Markree Castle was built in 1802 and enjoys listed status as a protected structure within the Sligo Development Plan. In total the castle boasts 30 bedrooms plus self-catering cottages. There is also a three-room bridal apartment to complement the onsite chapel.
The castle is home to a number of stunning architectural features including a beautiful vestibule stone arch and a grand Tudor staircase, which leads to the main reception with its large open stone fireplace and original stained-glass window. Many of these details were designed by well-known Irish architect Francis Johnston. A restoration of the entire castle was completed in March 2017.
Audrey Gaffney Associates
Awarding-winning commercial architectural design company Audrey Gaffney Associates has been integral to the transformation of the Romantic Castles of Ireland portfolio. The company has worked on multiple interior design aspects of each hotel, helping to create stunning destinations that blend rich history with modern functionality.
Premier Hospitality recently sat down with Audrey Gaffney, to find out more about her work on this unique collection of venues.
When did your working relationship with Romantic Castles of Ireland first begin?
“We would have started working with Cabra Castle in 2009 on the complete refurbishment of their ballroom. From there, like a lot of operational hotels, the following year we were given another element – a bedroom block. The block would’ve been completely refurbed in terms of acoustics, upgrading electrical works and lighting. We’ve nearly done all the elements within Cabra now. At this stage I think there might be one or two rooms left.
“In 2013, we worked together on Bellingham Castle and that was a new purchase for them. That was completely gutted and another conservation project. Cabra is very much a classic medieval castle whereas Bellingham had more of a stately home feel to it. It needed a complete upgrading of works. As much as we can, we research the history and what it would’ve looked like or what the style of the era was.”
And from there you moved onto a couple more recent projects?
“We completed some work on the Orangery in terms of the interior design at Ballyseede. We also worked with them on Markree Castle. It was operational right up until May 2016 and then we began the works straight away on it. The thing about Markree is that it was extended over the years. The styles are very different in that you have Tudor, Gothic, Victorian and some Georgian. You read it as per what room you’re in, so the dining room will differ to the entrance.
“In the basement of Markree, it was really just used for storage and ‘back of house’. We completely gutted this to create an entertainment space. The heating and air-con had to be installed but still integrate within conservation requirements. There was a lot of organising of how that could happen and how it would look afterwards, where these details needed to be hidden.”
What are some of the considerations you have to make with projects like this?
“Initially, when we take on any project we look at it from how it’s going to be branded and how it’s going to be sold. You might have a tendency to think a castle is a castle but it has its own history and style. It’s about bringing it back to reflect that but also reflecting a customer’s needs.
“Both Bellingham and Markree are exclusive wedding venues, so you have to consider the needs of the bridal party. In both we’ve put in a little pantry kitchen where someone can go make a cup of tea or whatever. In both venues they are hugely popular.”
Is it a challenge to work in prestigious buildings like these castles?
“When you’re an interior architect, that’s part of what you love doing in terms of researching the history, investigating what it would’ve been and then bringing it back to life. If you’re driving passed an old building, when you see the potential as to what it could be but it’s just left to ruin, it’s heart-breaking.
“A lot of the challenges are more to do with when you’re maintaining the structure and the integrity of the building but you need to get the requirements for fire and mechanical into it. You don’t want to disturb how it looks and the challenge is getting around this.”
And finally, what does it mean to be involved in something like this?
“When you’re researching into a new property and you’re finding out things that took place such as royal weddings, it’s really fascinating to find out that history.
“When a space works in terms of the function and when a building works in terms of aesthetics, you get a customer experience at the end where people go ‘wow’. They probably don’t realise the heartache to get it to that level but for a design team that’s something we are hugely proud of. We would normally concentrate at the very start in terms of our concept and branding on what our interiors are going to look like. With a castle it’s more about researching the history and bringing that through right to the end of the project. That’s the customer experience you receive with a castle.”
Based in Kells, County Meath, Boylan Engineering is a leading engineering company, specialising in civil, structural and environmental design work. Established in 2006, Boylan Engineering boasts an impressive portfolio, having worked on various prestigious projects, including numerous works for Markree Castle, Bellingham Castle and Cabra Castle for Romantic Castle of Ireland.
Boylan Engineering’s work on the Romantic Castle of Ireland collection has ranged from structural design using reinforced concrete and steel, to civils design work covering storm and foul water pipe networks, sewerage design solutions and more.
Cathal Boylan, Boylan Engineering, said:
“Any involvement we have with the Romantic Castles of Ireland carries with it not only the responsibility for ensuring optimum design solutions, but also a certain pride in being part of a team working on such historic structures.”
“At Boylan Engineering, our vision is to provide a turnkey service for fully coordinated multidisciplinary projects that constantly exceed our clients’ highest expectations. Our integrated multidisciplinary consulting service is founded on a reputation for innovative design creativity, engineering excellence, environmental management and the provision of cost effective solutions without compromise or delay and we share our passion for excellence in engineering design with our clients.
“Our staff combines national expertise with local knowledge in a professional, friendly, can-do attitude. Our senior engineers are hands-on orientated, who are always available to our clients to supply practical solutions to the most complex of problems and we provide clients with a single point of contact and a human Boylan Engineering experience with a strong focus on long-term client relationships.”
Kavanagh Landscapes Ltd
Kavanagh Landscapes Ltd is a family run landscape design and construction company that has been in operation for over 25 years. The company works extensively in both the commercial and private sectors. Previous clients include hotels, semi-state bodies, estate restoration and private residences.
Kavanagh Landscapes Ltd became involved with Romantic Castles of Ireland in 2012 with their acquisition of Bellingham Castle. The company undertook an exciting 9 month project consisting of bringing back the grounds to their former glory. With a nod to the past a new classically themed wedding garden was created. Since then, Kavanagh Landscapes Ltd has worked on all remaining castles in the group.
It means a great deal for Kavanagh Landscapes Ltd to be involved with Romantic Castles of Ireland. It provides a rare opportunity to work on historic properties, creating and sympathetically restoring period gardens. As a company Kavanagh Landscapes Ltd pride themselves on their commitment to quality workmanship and service tailored to the individual requirements of each client.
Midland Heating and Plumbing Ltd.
Midland Heating and Plumbing Ltd. are specialist mechanical contractors operating via two divisions: Kerrigan Mechanical, serving the commercial sector, and Midland Renewables Heating and Plumbing, serving the domestic sector. The company specialises in the supply and installation of heating systems together with ventilation and extract systems, as well as providing a comprehensive range of renewable energy solutions for both domestic and commercial projects.
Having been in operation since 1998, Midland Heating and Plumbing Ltd. has built up a diverse range of clients within the construction, healthcare, hospitality, commercial and residential sectors. Clients include: Cosgrave Developments, McAleer and Rushe, HSE, Parson Building Services, IMAC, Markree Castle, Glenveagh Properties, Cunningham Contracts, Vision Contracting, BAM, Bennet Construction and Kercon Construction, amongst others.
Working on the Markree Castle project with Howard Corscadden, Niall Smith Architects, Audrey Gaffney Associates and Bernard Smith, Midland Heating and Plumbing Ltd. was an integral part of the refurbishment works. The company was responsible for the supply & installation of the complete mechanical services package for the hotel, including heating, plumbing, ventilation and air conditioning systems – inclusive of the supply and fit of sanitary ware.
Danielle Dalton, Midland Heating and Plumbing Ltd., said:
“We were happy to be involved with the refurbishment works of the latest addition to the Romantic Castles of Ireland. Markree Castle earns its place on this list for many reasons as it is Sligo’s only castle venue on the wild Atlantic way; it is spread across an area in excess of 500 acres – meaning scenery is a given and the natural surroundings of this castle add to its romantic setting; and the venue couldn’t be more unique and impressive if it tried.”
“Built on an ethos of “Quality Service & Reliability”, Midland Heating and Plumbing Ltd. has developed over the years to become a highly respected and leading heating and plumbing company of choice throughout Ireland.
“We enjoy an excellent reputation for customer satisfaction and retention and this is something we pride ourselves in. No matter what, once we commit we are yours!”
Richardsons Ceramics have worked on hotels, swimming pools, garages and a variety of commercial projects as well as Super Valu & Centra supermarkets. The company has a wealth of experience within the industry and pride themselves on providing good customer service and excellent products to fulfil what is required.
Noreen Sheehan, Director of Richardsons Ceramics, said:
“It was exciting to be involved on these projects, to see the design unfold from the beginning and to provide the products to achieve the finished result.”
“It was great to work with Audrey and Amy on these projects and we are delighted to be associated with them.”