Before I jump into the old-world authenticity that a couple of days at an Irish gothic revival castle can offer, let me give you a little background on Kinnitty Castle in County Offaly, Ireland.
(the front of Kinnity Castle)
The standing castle today is a 19th century structure, which guards 650 acres of gorgeous park land. The original castle at Kinnitty was destroyed in 1209 by Normans, who then rebuilt it in 1213. St. Finnian's Augustinian abbey was later built nearby. In 1630 the old castle, as well as the Normans, were long gone. A new castle was built next to the old abbey by the O'Carrolls of Ely and after changing hands a few more times, Lady Catherine Hutchinson hired architect James Pain to create extensions to the castle and enhance its layout. The gothic style and size you see today is the result of Pain's brilliance. The original 13th century Abbey Wall still stands opposite the courtyard, as does the High Cross in the park out front.
(entrance to Kinnitty Castle)
Rumor has it that a lot of monks were tortured and killed in the dungeon, which is now a bar, and their bodies are still buried in the courtyard. You can feel their spirits when you step outside and I've heard numerous stories of paranormal activity within the walls of Kinnitty. Unfortunately, Tisha and I didn't get to meet any ghosts during our stay.
In 1922 the Irish Republican Army burned the castle to the ground, but it was restored yet again in 1928. From 1955 - 1985, Kinnitty Castle was owned by the state and used as a Forestry Training College. Most citizens in the nearby villages of Birr and Kinnitty still remember it as such, but in 1994 the castle was purchased by the Luimneach family, who developed it into a 4-star hotel and wedding venue, bolstered by 37 rooms with a historic gothic ambiance.
(Slieve Bloom Mountains)
Kinnitty Castle sits along the backdrop of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in the Irish Midlands. Whether you take a day trip to the coast or are leaving Kinnitty to your next destination, be sure to throw your GPS out the window and get lost driving over the mountains. The roads are extremely narrow—and exciting—and the views are spectacular. Don't worry, you'll find a town sooner or later and you can pick up your map from there. If there's any place in Ireland worth getting lost in, this is it.
(Princess Tisha, braiding her hair and enjoying Kinnitty)
Tisha and I checked in to Kinnitty and were immediately greeted by the armory and red carpet inside the foyer. The place is rickety and old, which gives it a personality that constantly reminds you that this castle is astonishingly authentic. The rooms are still decorated with original furniture, artwork and wood paneling. We've stayed in a lot of castles that have been renovated and restored, but this was by far one of the coolest one's. I mean, when you stay in an old castle you want to feel like you're staying in an old castle. Kinnitty delivered. Upon entering the castle, we immediately became Lord TJ and Princess Tisha.
(Library Bar, Kinnitty Castle)
Once our bags were unpacked we wandered the castle until stumbling into the Library Bar, which looks more like a huntsman's club—lots of dead animals on the wall and plenty of dusty books on the shelves. It has an oddly inviting vibe that makes you feel at home. So we downed a couple of cold pints and a warm meal. I enjoyed the stuffed pork dish with seasonal veggies while Tisha ordered a grilled local fish that she deemed to be "just okay.”
(High Cross, Kinnitty )
The second night of our stay we ate in the main dining room, the SlÍ Dala restaurant. Our waitress was a bit crass, but I just chalked it up to one of the authentic touches of the hotel. The food, however, was quite good. A bit gamey for me, but that just means the ingredients are local and farmed organically, which is always a good thing. After dinner we tested our wits and traversed down the stone staircase to the dark dungeon for a few drinks. It was pretty dark down there. Did I mention it was dark? We enjoyed a few laughs with an Irish couple from Dublin, and once they started to annoy us we got up and meandered around the bar, which is divided up into little quadrants by waist-high stone walls. As the night wore on, local musicians began pouring into a small corner of the dungeon, providing a soundtrack of folk music to the tipsy crowd of thick Irish tongues drinking endless pints of Guinness and Smithwicks. It assured us that even in the foothills of Slieve Bloom, they know how to have a good time.
There aren't a lot of luxury amenities at Kinnitty, such as a spa or entertainment facility. But it offers more rustic activities like horseback riding and clay pigeon shooting. Not to mention that the town of Kinnitty is within walking distance and offers a solid cup of coffee and plenty of Irish charm. It's also in a good location to make a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher. The key to enjoying something as endemic as Kinnitty Castle is you just have to get lost in its character and allow yourself to be haunted by the history of the walls that surround you. It's a fascinating place to take a step back and relax.
(TJ and Tisha)