|Dromoland Castle. Dromoland, one of the finest luxury castle hotels in Ireland, offers a golf resort paradise where guests experience living like landed gentry.|
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
At the time, both kids were younger (Kelsey, 4 and Gianna 7) and the word spontaneous was not really in my vocabulary. But I guess the wine and sunshine got the best of me, and I was 100% sure that this cruise should be a definite plan for us. Tedd was also under the effects of being completely relaxed (and a little buzzed) and was totally into it!! When I got home, brochure in hand, I immediately emailed the travel company for this tour and got all the details and was well on my way to selecting staterooms, and getting my passport number to put on the application when it hit me... and it hit me hard - I CAN'T LEAVE MY KIDS AND GO TO EUROPE FOR 10 DAYS! I think Tedd secretly felt the same way, so there ended our romantic, European Wine Tasting Cruise.
After a day or so of feeling blue and let down that my maternal instincts were so strong, the lightbulb went off - let's go to Europe with the kids! We had never taken them to Europe before, although it was on my agenda for the not too distant future; but I thought, maybe this was finally the right time to plan it. All of a sudden, I was excited again. But, where? I decided to just Google "best place in Europe to take kids" and lo and behold, Ireland popped up. I hadn't really thought much about Ireland as a destination. It was somewhere I knew I would visit, sooner or later, but, after some reading, I thought - "Why not now!" Something that caught my eye was a place called Dromoland Castle (pronounced DRUM-O-Land). I visited their website and must say, it was quite impressive!
I thought to myself, "imagine staying in a castle" - the kids would love it! I would love it! I studied their site for days - from the lovely welcome video with the horse and buggy and beautiful swans swimming; to the refurbished guest rooms, each with their own decorative theme; to the dining options onsite and of course, the plethora of activities offered, and I knew this was the place for our girls' first European trip. So, I planned the trip with my reliable travel agent, Stephen Slovenski for mid-August 2012. JSYK, Dromoland has a very interesting history -much of which we would find out from our friendly buggy driver, Sean Kilkenny! More about our buggy ride with Sean, (and Paddy his horse) around the palatial grounds of this amazing castle later.
Lovely outdoor seating area at Dromoland
Our flight to Ireland was great and uneventful. The girls were wonderfully behaved and slept quite a bit. Getting through immigration and collecting our bags was a breeze. I was very taken, at the onset, with the friendliness of the Irish. Everywhere we went, from the airport to restaurants, to tourist attractions, they were the nicest and warmest people I had ever encountered while traveling.
We arrived at Dromoland unscathed, considering, Tedd was driving on the opposite side of the road. We had no choice about taking the extra car insurance when renting our car, as it was the rental company's policy to do so... and it's a good thing we did! But you'll have to read on to find out why. Upon our arrival at the Castle, we were greeted as if we were long lost a family of the staff. I never felt so at home in a foreign country before. Our room was not ready, so we were invited to go down one of the hallways, where a full continental breakfast buffet was on display outside the main dining area. The walls of the hallway were lined with small tables and chairs and a small parlor area at the end of the hall had more tables, chairs and couches for sitting comfortably to enjoy our much-wanted pastries, fruit and cheese. This room felt very medieval with its mismatched furniture, high ceilings and decorations on the wall. The kids were all excited (and so were Tedd and me) that we had wifi - so we immediately emailed and messaged the gang at home (my parents and sister Danielle and daughter Rebecca) that we were safe and sound! This lovely lounge room led down to a sweet and welcoming outdoor eating court, which we sat many a morning, with a cup of tea and coffee, before starting our day.
Our room was finally ready at around 1pm and what a gorgeous room it was!! Decorated in the most welcoming shades of light blue and rose, it looked like a picture out of a decorating magazine. We had two full beds, along with a sitting area, a nice sized table, a desk and a flat screen tv. The bathroom was luxurious as well, with marble countertops and a large shower/tub. The kids had a great time taking pictures of the room! We also had an incredible view from our room of a lovely lake. You could hear the clippity clop of Sean's buggy early in the morning and throughout the day, as he took guests on tour rides around the grounds of Dromoland. I need to mention that although it was mid-August, it was not at all hot and humid. Quite the opposite. It was cool and even a little chilly and in spite of the great amount of rain that we experienced, there was not much humidity at all. In fact, the hotel did not have air conditioning and it didn't need it either. A small fan on the table facing the beds, with the windows open, did the trick!
The grounds of Dromoland were absolutely gorgeous! Tons of flowers and picturesque garden settings. It's no wonder this is a popular wedding reception location. A short walk from the main castle and guest rooms, through the gardens and a long arbor, is the spa, followed by the restaurant. The food was very good - I was a big fan of the pureed soups and brown bread! I even downloaded a recipe for Irish brown bread (which I've yet to make, of course). Both girls noticed right away how the portion sizes were smaller than what they were used to in the States. Of course, we all agreed that there is no need for such large portions and it was nice to see both of them finish the meal they ordered because it was appropriately sized.
As with all my trips, I had a full itinerary of activities and local sites to see fully planned. Dromoland offered many of these activities including falconry, archery, golf, fishing, clay shooting and more. The falconry and archery interested us most and both of which were completely new to us! As soon as I read on the Dromoland site that they had falconry, I was completely excited. I had only seen this in movies and on television. It sounded so exotic and I could not wait! The first day we arrived, we saw the instructors from the Dromoland School of Falconry on the front lawn, beginning their overview and lesson with other guests and right there front and center, was one of the birds from the school. This little guy's name was TJ. It was quite an education the morning we spent out and about with TJ, the Harris Hawk, and our Instructor. Falconry is the term for using a trained bird of prey to hunt or catch the game. The person who flies the "Falcon" is called a Falconer. So we were getting a lesson in being falconers! Today, in modern falconry, the Red-tailed hawk and the Harris hawk are more commonly used rather than falcons. Just a little trivia for you - Falconry is believed to date all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia, some 2000 years ago. So, there we were, the four New Yorkers, getting a lesson in early English falconry. It's amazing how enthusiastically these birds will fly to a welcome outstretched arm! In the hawk world, females are called "hawks" while the term for the males is "tiercel". The males are actually lighter, as they are a third smaller in size than the females. Our friend "TJ", though smaller than his female counterparts, was still a substantial bird to have landing on one of your body parts. I have to admit, it was a little intimidating at first. Because of the bird's sharp claws, or "talons", it is necessary to wear a very heavy glove when having the birds land on your arm. Kelsey and Gianna looked very cute wearing the glove - it nearly covered their entire arms! Kelsey, only 5 at the time, was so brave and unafraid, and as you can see from the photo, this bird was quite large compared to her! Gianna, on the other hand, took a while to warm up to the whole idea - but she came around.
We walked all around the grounds, especially through the forest area where we witnessed TJ soaring up into the trees and then flying at top speed to perch on either our instructor or on one of us, depending on who held out their arm. One time, TJ decided to perch on Kelsey's head - I didn't get a picture of this since it was rather unexpected and unnerving to the kid. But, it didn't stop her from continuing with the art of falconry.
This experience was clearly one of the highlights of our trip to Ireland! The kids also enjoyed archery several times during our stay. For first-timers, they were really good too! After signing up, we were, once again, connected with an instructor and were taught the basics of archery, including the proper way to hold and use a bow and arrow. The kids had a blast and talked Tedd into getting an archery set for them for our house out East.
Our fun didn't end here, there were tricycles, which we had a blast riding one evening, and of course, our horse and buggy ride with Sean Kilkenny and "Paddy" was truly a joy. Sean told us all about the history of Dromoland and lots of interesting tales about its owners through the years. The current castle building was finished in 1835, but the first building that was constructed here is believed to have been a tower house erected in the 15th or 16th century. Dromoland came to be the residence of eight generations of the O'Brien Family, and according to records, it appears that it may have also been occupied by other local Gaelic families, such as the McInerney family during the 16th Century. The translation of the name Dromoland is "Hill of Litigation" because its history is steeped in legal battles over ownership. Today, it has been host to a number of famous individuals including former President George W. Bush, Juan Carlos of Spain, Muhammed Ali and Bono, to name a few.
Now back to my rental car story. One day, we ventured out of the Dromoland grounds and decided to take a long drive to the Cliffs of Mohr. We had a great day - well up to a point! We stopped for lunch, we drove all around the Irish countryside, taking pictures and singing songs and listening "School of Rock" with Jack Black on the DVD player in the back seat for the 14th time and were looking forward to the famous site we were off to see. As we were traveling down a narrow road, which was par for the course on our little journey that day, I was feeling as if Tedd was driving extra close to the stone gates and walls of the residential property. Many of these homes had large garbage pails in the front and I felt myself leaning towards the right as we drove and came too close for comfort for my likings on the left side. I was just about to say "Ah Tedd, I think you are awfully close" when all at once B - O - O - M!!! we hit something. And it was loud!!! After the shock of hearing that loud sound wore off, I looked out the front passenger side window and could see that whatever we hit, we knocked off the side view mirror. I looked at Tedd and he was about to go on a rant about how "these @#$% roads are so @#%*$ narrow" He didn't have much time to get angry when I can't even express the hysteria that overtook me and the girls. We could not stop laughing. So, bad that the tears were coming down my face. Tedd had no choice and began laughing too. For the rest of our Ireland trip, we could not look at that dangling mirror without cracking up. I guess the rental agents know what is possible when renting to foreigners who are not used to driving on the left side! (And just an aside - we did make it to the site seeing boat, dangling mirror and all; we got on, even though it seemed rather rough that day - and although the kids thought it was loads of fun getting thrown all around, Tedd was one of the unfortunate ones who felt the effects of the constant swaying and erratic movement. Green and sick is an understatement. So, for me, I decided to just look straight ahead at the horizon, to avoid the same fate, until this ride was over, and so we only got one photo on the boat ride!)