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Most Famous Guest: The Ghost of Hilda Blennerhassett.
Just outside the town of Tralee, Co. Kerry’s only castle hotel is the 4-star Ballyseede Castle which has a history dating back to the 16th century and pleasingly blends its many modern comforts with historical grandeur and elegance. It has award winning food, beautiful grounds, and a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere throughout.
It has a choice of rooms and suites both in the castle itself and in the nearby lodge. Be aware when booking which is which as the lodge accommodation, though pleasant, is a quite different experience. It is near the estate entrance; the site of the old gatehouse and is more of an upscale, modern, B&B, though guests do have access to the main building, the castle, throughout the day.
The rooms and suites in the castle are quite lovely, a step ahead really, with the beautifully furnished suites and superior rooms particularly being the height of comfort and space. You may find some of the standard double rooms (all are double, no twin rooms) quite small, or let’s say cosy, but they also are nicely furnished and apart from the size should not disappoint in any other way.
There are also a couple of elegant lounges in the castle with a fireplace and piano, as well as two restaurants and a bar. The food, as mentioned before, is a particular highlight, award winning in fact, with the O’Connell restaurant open for evening meals and the Stone Room restaurant devoted to serving up the excellent breakfast. The O’Connell is a fairly grand looking room but the atmosphere is generally relaxed, children are welcome, and there is no dress code as such, though smart casual might be at least expected. It tends to close quite early though when the evening’s entertaining usually moves on to Pappy’s Bar, a cosy, cheery pub with an open fire and a welcoming atmosphere. It also serves food, but only up until 8pm.
Outside the estate’s lawns and gardens give way to 30 acres of native, deciduous, woodland which have trails running through them and make for some very nice peaceful strolls.
In comparison to other castle hotels Ballyseede is low on facilities it must be said; no spa or sports activities on the grounds for example. It is though a place for a relaxing, recharge, break and for the more lively among you there are plenty of activities to be enjoyed in the surrounding area of North Kerry. The staff at Ballyseede can help you out with that and where to go and what to see in this lovely part of Ireland.
Even tourists with only a casual acquaintance with Ireland will probably have heard of Co. Kerry. It probably pips Galway and Cork as Ireland’s most visited rural county. Ballyseede Castle is just outside the town of Tralee, North Kerry’s main urban centre and a typical stopping off point on the way up from around Killarney and the south to the gorgeously scenic Dingle Peninsula. Tralee is also somewhat well known for the Rose of Tralee Festival, which has been adding a bit of slightly dubious glamour to the town every August since 1959.
Tralee though isn’t known keeping tourists in town for as long as the more popular towns in Kerry, the likes of Killarney, Dingle or Killorglin. That being said it is a lively, friendly town with some good pubs, restaurants and shopping, and it has some lovely countryside around it. No stay in Co. Kerry though would be complete without a journey around at least some of the Ring of Kerry, the amazingly scenic road that runs along the coastline around Killarney. So too the Dingle peninsula, west of Tralee, which has some more gorgeous mountain scenery, the Brandon Pass particularly, and leads on to the lovely, and very lively, harbour town which lends the peninsula its name.
The staff at Ballyseede Castle can offer plenty of advice and can organise activities for you in the local area. Kerry is spoiled with golf courses for example, with Ballybunion just to the north being the most well known though Killarney golf course is also very much on the map. Tralee too has its own golf course, an excellent 18 hole course designed by the legendary Arnold Palmer. It is in a very scenic location too, 9 miles west of the town, overlooking the sea near Barrow Harbour and near to Barrow Beach.
Horse riding can be organized from Ballyseede too, with some nice trails running around the nearby hills. Watersports can also be organized, everything from surfing on the wild Atlantic to boating and fishing.
Shannon airport is less than an hour and a half from the castle, with Limerick city being a little less. Cork city can also be reached in about an hour and a half, while the trip to Dublin will take about three hours.
Irish castle hotels tend to have a strong association with one or two historically powerful clans, where the fate of the castle and the families that inhabited it are also strongly associated with the politics of the time. Ballyseede, being no different, has had its ups and downs over the centuries, and two surnames will forever be associated with it; Fitzgerald and Blennerhassett.
The original castle was more of a fortress than what we see today. It was built by perhaps 16th century Munster’s most powerful family, the Fitzgeralds, in the mid part of that century and would soon bear witness to their demise during the unsuccessful Desmond Rebellions, when the head of the Fitzgeralds, the 16th Earl of Desmond, rose up against English control of the region. His name was Gerald Fitzgerald and he would meet his own demise at Ballyseede itself when he was beheaded after being captured on the run in the Stack Mountains outside Tralee.
This was 1583, and with the capture and execution of its leader the rebellion was now effectively over. Keen to make an example out of the rebel Earl, Queen Elizabeth I ordered that his head be sent to London and kept on display in a cage on London Bridge.
The Fitzgeralds were of course immediately stripped of ownership of Ballyseede and all its associated lands. In 1590 the estate, which at the time comprised over 3000 acres, was leased by the Crown to a Thomas Blennerhassett from Cumberland, North West England for an nominal annual rent of 6 pounds and, strangely enough, a single red rose to be picked each year from the castle gardens.
The castle structure from the time of the Fitzgeralds was replaced in 1721 by the one we see today, which is more a manor house type property than a fortress castle. The architecture being a reflection of more stable times, and the Blennerhassetts were allowed to remain there relatively peacefully, and undisturbed, right up to 1965, and even when some of the atrocities of the war of Independence and the resulting civil war were right at their doorstep.
Perhaps the most famous of the Blennerhassetts would be the last of them to call Ballyseede home. Hilda was her name and she would be something a war hero, not as a soldier but as a nurse, where her efforts in helping injured soldiers during WWI earned her the high honour of a Mons Star, something very rarely given out to non military officers, and especially a female one.
Though, as mentioned, she would the last of the Blennerhassetts to call Ballyseede home, legend has it that she never really left. The castle has oft been mentioned in lists of the world’s most haunted hotels and it is said the ghost of someone, believed to be Hilda, appears now and then, in particular, for some unknown reason, on the 24th of March each year. Many have claimed to see her, and to have felt other spooky goings on. For example though the annual rent of a single red rose has long been consigned to history many people say they sometimes get quite a strong smell of roses from the top floor of the building.