Ireland's Quirkiest Places to Stay
With a culture of hospitality stretching back over a millennium, Ireland's people have the art of hosting ingrained into their DNA. Although nightly rates arrived along with inns during medieval times, there’s still a good selection of properties available without cookie-cutter service and generic bedroom design. From a stone castle to an island hideaway, there are plenty of opportunities to travel beyond the standard tourist’s comfort zone to lodge in some of Ireland’s most extraordinary properties. And after all, who wouldn't treasure sleeping in a lighthouse with the wild Atlantic as a lullaby?
If the idea of being lord or lady of an Irish castle ranks somewhere in bucket list territory, then Ballyhannon Castle has the trappings to satisfy even the most demanding chieftain. Built in Ireland’s golden age of stone masonry over 500 years ago, this County Clare tower house is available to rent in its entirety. It comes equipped with a minstrel’s balcony, stone spiral staircase, and rooftop battlements with views across neighboring counties. Packing a crown is optional.
While there: To keep with tradition, Bunratty Castle (15 minutes away by car) hosts regular medieval feasts where one couple is selected to become lord and lady for the night.
According to playwright Oscar Wilde (born in Ireland), “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” What better way to test that theory than by staying in a sky-view bubble dome on the shores of County Fermanagh’s Lakelands? With a 180-degree transparent wall and ceiling, it’s not for those with an irrational fear of being watched by a duck. Oh, and forget the gutter thing—each Finn Lough pod comes with a four-poster bed, coffeemaker, and fluffy slippers.
While there: A good selection of physical activities is available onsite, but you can escape to the Belleek Pottery Visitor Centre (15 minutes by car) for something less strenuous.
Ever wondered what it would be like to attend a country house party of the sort depicted in a Merchant Ivory movie or Agatha Christie novel, only without a fatal plot twist? Delphi Lodge, the Marquis of Sligo’s 1830s sporting retreat, offers that experience in a lakeside valley in the wild and remote Connemara countryside. Guests dine on a single oak table, and retreat to the library or by a roaring fire to shoot the breeze after a day fishing or exploring the local bogs, mountains, and lakes.
While there: On a Killary Fjord Tour, Ireland's only fjord is navigated by cruiser from Nancy’s Point, 20 minutes away by car.
Batty Langley Lodge is an example of Gothick (no, not a misspelling of Gothic) design, a rare and frivolous form of architecture. In the 18th century, the lodge was a guest retreat for well-heeled guests to offload their worldly trappings for a while, fulfilling a fantasy to do whatever common people did in County Kildare. This riverside gate lodge to Castletown Estate has the idiosyncrasies of its time along with modern conveniences.
While there: Since the black stuff is the lifeblood of Leixlip’s economy, take the short spin out to Oughterard’s ancient round tower and pay respects at brewer Arthur Guinness’s final resting place.
Built as a deterrent for unwelcome naval advances to Dublin’s shores in the early 19th century (mainly by Napoleon), the Martello Tower Sutton now welcomes visitors through its thick fortress walls. Panoramic bay views come as standard, but the sleek furnishings, open interior brickwork, and domed ceiling are a world away from the building’s Spartan origins. There are two bedrooms on the ground floor, one with external access, with an upstairs living space reached by a stone stairwell.
While there: Take the short hike to Howth Head, where the fictional Leopold Bloom proposed to Molly in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
The deconsecration of Bookeen Hall was a blessing in disguise for the tourism industry around the fields of Athenry. The early 19th-century County Galway meeting place was converted into one of Ireland’s most extraordinary bed-and-breakfast accommodations. The former Church of Ireland chapel has probably the best guest room, with views across the countryside and a doorway to the belfry. Guests can congregate in the open hall, which has a large gothic window.
While there: Potter around Athenry Village to explore its meandering medieval streetscape and stop by the Old Barracks (a converted police station) for a fresh slice of baking bliss.
Free spirits grasp the appeal of sampling life on the road with the added bonus of remaining in staggeringly beautiful County Kerry. Chez Shea Gypsy Wagon is a refurbished traveler’s caravan, with full attention to detail. However, as the site doubles up as a farm, there’s plenty of time to make friends with the resident chickens, donkeys, and ponies. The wagon sleeps two; stays include a vegetarian breakfast. Shared toilet facilities are in a separate building, which keeps your wagon from smelling like the barn.
While there: Get back to nature in Derreen Gardens, a pathway maze of ancient trees and subtropical plants set in 60 acres on a peninsula at the foot of the Caha Mountains.
The Shannon Princess, a luxury barge hotel, offers a unique way to discover Ireland's ancient heartland. The barge can be booked in its entirety or by cabin, with creature comforts that include a spa pool and barbecue area up deck, plus handpicked antique furnishings with organic showering products in each of the five cabin’s en-suites.
While there: Stop by Sean’s Bar near the harbor in Athlone to experience one of Europe’s oldest pubs.
Clare Island Lighthouse has withstood the brutal force of the Atlantic Ocean for over two centuries, offering refuge and warnings to seafarers from its rocky perch. These days the County Mayo inn hosts world-weary guests in a complex of cutting-edge living quarters on the westerly rim of Europe’s coastline. Included is a tower house with upstairs bedroom, a sauna suite, and the lantern tower for sunset cocktails (on request).
While there: The Granuaile Centre in Louisburg (close to the mainland pier) explores the life of Grace O’Malley, Ireland’s famous 16th-century pirate queen who had a fortress on Clare Island.
If a cliffside lighthouse or Martello Tower won't scratch your itch to get away from it all, then there’s nothing quite like acquiring a full island as a secret sanctuary. With a sleeping capacity of 22, Collanmore Lodge, on one of Clew Bay’s 365 islands, can also be the right place to party. The property has a large barbecue area, private beach, personal bar, and a nine-seater hot tub overlooking the bay along the western fringes of the Wild Atlantic Way.
While there: Get on your bike and take to Clew Bay’s Great Western Greenway, a car-free route that follows an historic railway line.