The location of Ballyportry Castle is fairly easy to find and it's an easy drive to many local attractions. We had no trouble finding places to eat and shop and the people in the area were friendly and helpful.
Arriving at the Ballyportry Castle you are greeted with its magnificence and yet simple design. This tall, 15th century box style, castle is imposing and beautiful at the same time. I could only imagine how it must have appeared to travelers in its prime.
Entering the castle, first through the metal gate on the exterior wall (which can be locked from the inside for your security at night) then through the large wooden door resting on ancient stone hinges, you will pass a small bathroom to the right and the base of the spiral staircase on the left. You will next the enter the main dining room and then the kitchen. There is a fireplace with a working stove/fireplace on the right of the dining room. Several bookshelves hold book and games left by previous visitors, some going back 30 years or more. The kitchen has all the modern (albeit, some older than others) amenities except for a microwave. Everything was in working order when we arrived.
Tip: You should be safe and wash all the silverware, dishes, cookware materials and counters before using them to prepare food.
There is electricity from the town power lines and running water which is provided by a small stream/brook nearby via a hose laid in the water with a filter assembly on the end to keep excess contaminates from clogging the line with water pump by the rear of the castle. We were told to buy water for drinking and cooking and only use the running water for washing and bathing. When I saw a local herd of cows that were up-stream drinking I decided to follow the advice. I questioned brushing my teeth with water from the faucet more than once during our stay.
The spiral staircase can be dizzying to walk up and down at first but navigating it becomes easier over time. Be careful for the section of center post on the stairs that is missing. It doesn't affect the structural integrity of the stairs but it was disconcerting at first sight.
Tip:There is some interesting carved artwork in the window still after the first bedroom that isn't kid friendly, but it does have an intriguing history based in Irish/Gaelic lore.
The first bedroom is smaller than the largest but still bigger than most hotel rooms. It has its own shower, sink and toilet. There are 3 smaller bedrooms with beds and lights as you continue to ascend the stairwell. Navigating the staircase you will find another large bedroom the is positioned over the first bedroom. The floor is wood on he upper bedroom and whoever is in the first bedroom can hear every single sound from the upper bedroom.
There are three toilets, two showers and two kitchens total in the castle. Each kitchen can be stocked for limited use at your initial booking, if you so like, for an extra charge. Any other supplies you want can be purchased at the local stores that are only a short drive away.
The most impressive room in the castle is the grand living room on the top floor. Two pull out futons and a grand fireplace add to the splendor as a cathedral ceiling greets you overhead. Words don't do it justice.
Now for the negative.
We were immediately aware of the abundance of old and new cobwebs throughout the entire castle. Some looked like stalactites hanging from the ceilings. Old grease from years of people cooking coated every surface above the counters. For nearly 3,400 euro we were expecting a LOT better in upkeep and cleanliness. As we knew the castle was from the Middle Ages, we expected some cobwebs but not for it to look like an old Bela Lugosi horror movie. The counters in the downstairs kitchen were filthy with dust and grease. There was grease residue on the chains that hold the pots over the stove and even the pots were greasy enough to leave smears when I ran my fingers over them. This isn't 'oil the cast iron' oil, it was just plain greasy. The bathrooms looked to have not been cleaned in at least a month although I'm not sure if it had been a month from the last guests. We actually called the building manager to have the cleaning woman to come and clean. The cleaning woman did come and did do some limited cleaning but said that she couldn't clean effectively because the walls and ceiling would crumble.....to which I thought 'how can it be safe to inhabit if it's too fragile to be cleaned properly.' To be honest, her reasoning sounded like the excuses of a lazy housekeeper. My traveling party didn't let this dampen our vacation. We just decided to think of it as 'more authentic' medieval living and set ourselves to a little house cleaning before we used anything.
The upper bathroom has a shower that is awkward yet simple to use. The shower curtain sat to the outside of the stone tub and as a result the water falls outside the tub to the floor. We used the provided towels to clean up the mess but twice the spillage was enough to leak through the bathroom floor to the floor below. This is unavoidable if you take a normal shower and even attempting to move carefully and with small movements didn't help. Again, there were cobwebs abound but these were more recent. Often I found myself showering with the actual spiders that made them. Yes....I screamed like a girl the first time. It happened enough that they were actually crawling on me while I showered that I got over my arachnophobia by the end of the vacation.
Some more good for you:
Outside the castle the surrounding lands are quiet, beautiful and serene. The closest neighbor we never saw and, other than the occasional visit from a herd of cattle across the creek, we were alone. There is access to the top of the castle through a very small door over the top of the grand living room. It is a sight to behold and the sunrises and sunsets were worth all the crawling spiders to see.
If you do stay, make sure you close the gate to the road and close the metal gate to the castle wall to deter any tourists who might think the castle is open to visitors and tours. More than once we had to turn people away, explaining to them that we were also tourists who had rented the property.
Elaine is the building manager ( as of the time of this review) and is very knowledgable about the surrounding lands and sights. She knows the local stories and legends and is adept at weaving a tale. Elaine is also a capable cook. For a price, you can request a home cooked meal to be prepared and served by Elaine (and her mother). I found Elaine to be most pleasant and polite and is a credit to the experience.
I loved the experience but I would NOT stay at Ballyportry Castle again simply due to the (in my opinion) unsanitary and unhealthy conditions I found. For the price we paid our traveling party thought it should have been MUCH cleaner and better kept. If I want another Irish vacation I'll find another castle and do more research before to make sure I'm not bathing the native spider population when I shower. In this humble travelers opinion, the negatives outweighed the positives, but just by a small margin.
As always, Happy Traveling.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- ’Medieval Splendour in The Heart of The Burren’, this is a 500 year old Gaelic Tower House in Co. Clare Ballyportry sleeps eight guests comfortably. It has six bedrooms with four double beds. There are two large doubles, including a king-size heated waterbed in the master bedroom on the first floor and two small single bedrooms, with two beds in each.To cross the threshold at Ballyportry is to step back in time 500 years. Protected by an outer wall or bawn, this Gaelic tower house rises 90 feet from turf to battlement. It is an authentic restoration, evoking medieval Ireland at a turbulent time when allegiance was not so much to a sovereign, as to a family, and a man’s home was truly his castle. Renovated without compromising its integrity, Ballyportry offers the convenience of a modern house, within the protective walls of an ancient fortress. Here you can experience the comfort, and solace of an open hearth, and the distinctive smell of a turf fire. See brilliant sunsets and dazzling rainbows from the battlements, or simply savor the quiet serenity of rural Ireland. There are three stone bathrooms, one on the ground floor, a full bath with shower off the master bedroom, and a bath with shower for the second and third bedrooms. Recessed into the window nook of the master bedroom is a deep, hand-carved stone tub (wide enough for two) which once was a horse trough on a local estate. The fridge freezer and dishwasher and a large six burner gas range for cooking are the 21st-century contributions to comfortable rustic living. The under floor heating and the thick limestone walls retain the heat well. The 6 floored Tower House is furnished in an authentic way using fabrics in keeping with the late 15th century. The sheets and pillowcases are of linen, and wool blankets from Co. Tipperary complete the dressing of the beds. All the furnishings reflect the time of late medieval Ireland, a time of hospitality, song, and poetry in Gaelic Tower Houses. To this end the best of craftsmanship is used through out in the ongoing process of furnishing the five hundred year old Gaelic Tower House. From the entrance a stone spiral steps leads up to the other rooms. At the top of the Tower House is the impressive Great Hall with exposed oak roof trusses, an open fireplace, couches and a table for dining. There is a second kitchen with dishwasher, fridge and electric cooker that serves the Great Hall. The narrow stone windows are built to capitalise upon light in ways that have been forgotten. Full moons are to be savored from the battlements, as are August mists over the stream, and bog lakes below. Guests may imbibe the clear air, and stillness, as they gaze from the battlements, particularly on starry nights. Dinner is consumed in an atmosphere of lofty leisure which permeates the elegance of the Great Hall and its open hearth turf fire. The geography of the building takes a bit of getting used to, and one has to be careful on the curving stone stairs, but the feeling of discovering another time, and place more than compensates for any adjustments you have to make in the tower house. Residing within the thick stone walls is a bit like being on a boat – you are cocooned from the outside world. It is actually very comfortable, and great for a relaxed break from the stress of contemporary life. Please note that the wonderful curving late medieval stone staircase may not suit small children or those with walking disabilities. Along with the guest WC on ground floor level there are two bath rooms. While the water supply will cope with several showers at a time, guests may need to stagger the times of ablutions! ... more less