While the idea of staying in a castle sounds fun, I wasn’t sure about my plans to sleep in Lough Eske Castle in Donegal, Ireland. Would it be cold, creepy and full of ghosts? Probably some Irish castles are, but not Lough Eske Castle. While I was in Donegal recently as a guest of Failte Ireland, I spent a night at this elegant castle, and wished I could stay longer. Here’s 5 reasons to stay at Lough Eske Castle.
1—The Grounds of Lough Eske Castle
My favorite part was the grounds. My room opened onto the manicured gardens. For something wilder and more solitary, I took an early morning walk down to the lake. A trail wound through the woods and around the lake shore, with planks forming walkways over the boggy parts.
Somebody once claimed to glimpse the Lough Eske monster, but since it only happened once, it was probably a publicity stunt. Still, I kept my eyes open. I didn’t see the monster, but artist Lloyd Le Blanc’s dragon sculpture on the front lawn almost made up for it.
2—The Restaurant at Lough Eske Castle
As a vegan traveling in Ireland, my expectations were pretty low. I’d packed granola bars, crackers and a jar of peanut butter. So I was shocked—in a good way—to learn the castle’s Cedar Grill had a separate vegan menu.
I ate like a veg queen and thoroughly enjoyed the vegetable plates. There was even a baked vegan chocolate fondant for dessert. My first ever.
3—My Room at Lough Eske Castle
I love bathtubs. And so do the Irish! The bed was large and comfortable, and the room had plenty of space for yoga.
Plus I had a couch, chairs, dressers for unpacking, and a towel warmer. Bath products were made in Ireland and scented with cedar wood, lemongrass and seaweed. I could easily have stayed a week.
4—Lough Eske Castle History
Hotel doormen always know a lot. Michael Gallogley is an expert on the castle’s history. I joined him for a morning walk around the castle while he brought its long, convoluted story to life.
The original house was built in 1621, and looked nothing like the present castle. Through a series of ups and downs—ruins and rebuilds—it took its present shape in 1861. But a 1939 fire rendered it uninhabitable. By the 1970s, a forestry group bought it for the land and people stole the castle’s gargoyles. “The house was very much on its own,” Gallogley said. “There was nobody to look out for it.”
Eventually, Donegal businessman Pat Doherty bought the building and put massive amounts of money into its restoration. Managed by Solis Hotels and Resorts, it opened in 2008. Despite his wealth, “He’s a very low profile man,” Gallogley says of Doherty. “If the man walked in here today, you wouldn’t look twice.”
5—The Staff at Lough Eske Castle
By the time I got to Lough Eske Castle, I’d been staying in a different hotel every night for almost a week. At least, that’s my excuse for forgetting my room number and getting totally lost. But did the woman at the front desk laugh at my ineptness when I asked her for my room number? Not at all.
Prospective staff members take a 90-minute online test that screens for characteristics like empathy. Only one in ten pass. One staff member told me those who hired get along well because they’re all similar. They carry around cards that remind them of their mission, vision and standards. These include reminders to stop whatever they're doing and greet guests within three meters. They also avoid informal and unprofessional words such as “okay, hi, guys and folks.”
It didn’t say anything about not laughing at guests who can’t remember their room number. But at Lough Eske Castle, the high-caliber staff wouldn’t dream of such poor manners.
When You Go to Lough Eske Castle
Lough Eske Castle is located on a secluded lakeside estate just outside Donegal Town in County Donegal, Ireland. Click here to enjoy more of our articles about wandering Ireland.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations and meals for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.