Most Famous Guest: Former U.S. President Gerald Ford. Consistently rated as one of IrelandR Read more [...]
Most Famous Guests: Oliver Cromwell, George Frideric Handel.
The only castle hotel in Ireland’s capital, Dublin, the 4 star Clontarf Castle has luxury accommodation in what is now a blend of 12th-century castle site, 18th-century manor house and 21st century hotel. It takes a lot of good design to get the balance right and Clontarf Castle manages it, with the first sight of the very Celtic Tiger looking glass entrance foyer somehow managing to not look incongruous against the ancient ivy covered tower walls behind.
Once inside the theme continues with the bright and bold interiors balancing smartly the old and the new. In the bedrooms though the relatively modern usually edges it; think old fashioned luxury city hotel rather than classic castle hotel. Relatively modern or not though, they are stylish and chic and all things considered Clontarf Castle makes an excellent luxury city hotel with a historic twist.
The accommodation consists of standard double rooms and ‘executive rooms’ i.e. suites which have an adjoining seating area and the extra charm of a four poster bed. Though nothing about the rooms stands out in terms of features, in particular historic features, they are all nicely designed, well appointed and thoroughly clean and comfortable. Facilities include interactive satellite TV, WiFi, a well stocked mini bar, air con, top quality beds and bedding, and some rather plush bathrooms.
The common areas are lively and fun, and you can find a lot going on in the evenings. The Fahrenheit Grill is a fine dining restaurant where you’ll find some award winning modern Irish food in an elegant setting with stained glass windows, wooden beams and paneled walls. For drinks, more food, and more informal socializing, there is the cosy, old style, Knights Bar and the contemporary cool ‘n chic Indigo Lounge which has an outside terrace.
Throughout the building there are fine collections of paintings and various other artworks, with the hotel even producing its own Art Trail brochure to help visitors find their way around it. There is a small gym at the castle too though guests may prefer to use their free pass to the much larger Westwood Gym and 50 meter swimming pool about ten minute’s walk down the road.
In terms of facilities Clontarf Castle doesn’t obviously have the range of say Ashford Castle, but then again most castle hotels don’t, but what it does have are extremely high levels of comfort and service, an award winning restaurant, a still enticing medieval atmosphere in much of the property, and all the convenience of being just minutes from Dublin city centre. And to help you get the best out of what Dublin has to offer you can seek the advice of their excellent concierge service.
About 10 minutes drive from the centre of Dublin is the seaside suburb of Clontarf. A somewhat ordinary residential area that, except for the attraction of its own castle hotel, wouldn’t see too many foreign visitors. It has a nice village atmosphere though and is a pleasant place to stroll around, with the sea never very far away. The famous Dollymount Strand on Bull Island is a very popular swimming spot in the area accessed by a footbridge from Clontarf. You’ll also find two highly regarded golf courses there; St. Anne’s and the Royal Dublin.
The name Clontarf has strong historical connotations in Ireland, for it was here, on Good Friday in 1014, that the Battle of Clontarf occurred. A watershed day in Irish history that is tempting to oversimplify as a Vikings versus Gaels battle, but whatever the narrative, one which is widely seen as putting an end to Viking political and military power in the country.
It is also notable for being the birth place of Bram Stoker, the gothic horror novel writer who created perhaps the most famous horror story character in history; Dracula. The house where he grew up is still there, No. 15 The Crescent, and is just a short walk from the castle hotel.
Getting to Dublin city centre from the castle is very straightforward, and if you haven’t got a car at your disposal there’s a bus stop right outside the door that will take you to there in fifteen to twenty minutes. Dublin airport can also be reached in about 20 minutes by car and airport transfers can be arranged.
There has been a castle on the site of what we now know as Clontarf Castle since 1172. Though no trace of the original castle remains it is believed to have been built by Hugh de Lacy a recent ‘visitor’ from the Norman invasions which began in 1169 and led to a proliferation of new castle building in Ireland. Though the dates are hazy it seems that at some point ownership passed on to the secretive Knights Templar religious/military group which would hold it until their dramatic downfall all across Europe in 1308. The more pacifist Knights Hospitaller group was granted it subsequently until they too were relieved of it by King Henry VIII during his Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1541.
It would thus end up in the care of the Crown, who would wait for a suitable Protestant Loyalist to gift it to. Eventually, in 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted the castle and the estate to Sir Geoffrey Fenton, the then secretary of state for Ireland. He didn’t last long in his new home, dying in 1608, and the property then passed on through marriage to the King Family until 1641 when Matthew King, though Protestant, found himself accused of conspiring against the Crown during the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and Clontarf Castle was once again confiscated. The English Civil War came and went, and with the Royalists having been defeated Ireland was now facing an even more brutal subjugation by the Parliamentarians under Oliver Cromwell.
In September 1649, just two weeks after landing in the country for the start of his notorious Irish Campaign, the new man in charge handed Clontarf Castle to one of his favourite underlings, Captain John Blackwell. It is also believed that Cromwell himself stayed there on his way to perhaps the most notorious episode of the campaign, a massacre of the people of Drogheda. After Cromwell had finished his campaign and returned to England, Blackwell too would move on. He quickly sold the castle to John Vernon, then took himself and his new fortune to the North American colonies, where he would soon end up lieutenant-governor of Pennsylvania.
Vernon had been Quartermaster General of Cromwell’s army in Ireland and by all accounts a powerful figure. Even after the demise of Cromwell and the return of Royal rule he was kept in favour, with his new estate enlarged by Royal decree to cover most of what makes up the suburb of Clontarf today.
The Vernons were of course an influential family in the Dublin of the time and the castle played host to many other influential people during their 300 years of ownership. George Frideric Handel, for example, stayed at the castle during his time in Dublin, a time that premiered his most famous work, Messiah, in 1742.
By the early 19th century the castle had fallen somewhat into disrepair and though the Vernon’s fortunes had dwindled somewhat, in 1837 the architect William Vitruvius Morrison was commissioned by John Edward Venables Vernon to create the structure we see today. Though the estate had now a grand stately home at its centre the Vernons were coming on increasingly hard times and were, bit by bit, forced to sell off more and more of the estate grounds.
The last of the Vernons to live at Clontarf was Edward Kingston Vernon who took over the estate when his father Edward died in 1913. He only stayed six months more himself before renting it to their cousin through marriage John George Oulton who would eventually buy it outright in 1933. John George’s son, Desmond, then sold it after the death of his father in 1952. It then changed hands a couple of times and would have a stint as a popular cabaret venue until 1997 when it was finally opened as the four star hotel we see today.
Address: Castle Avenue, Clontarf
- Airport Transfers
- Concierge Services