Ashford Castle

Ashford Castle

Ashford Castle is a medieval castle near Cong in County Mayo, Ireland on the shore of Lough Corrib.

The castle was built in 1228 by the Anglo-Norman de Burgo family following their defeat of the O'Connors, the Royal House of Connacht, who are still extant in the person of the O Connor Donn.The de Burgo's would build several such castles throughout the province, including one on the mouth of the River Corrib around which was to grow the City of Galway, but Ashford would remain their principal stronghold in the vastness of a wild and untamed province. The principal legacy of the native O'Connors is to be seen at the gates of the Estate in the form of the magnificent Romanesque Augustinian Abbey of Cong. It is in this Abbey that Ireland's last High King Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair died and from which came the greatest relic of his Court, the Cross of Cong created to hold a piece of the True Cross and now in the National Museum of Ireland.

After more than three and a half centuries under the de Burgo's, Ashford passed into the hands of a new master, when following a fierce battle between the forces of the de Burgo's and those of the English official Sir Richard Bingham, Lord President of Connaught, a truce was agreed and the castle fell to Bingham in 1589 who adds a fortified enclave within its precincts. In 1715 the estate of Ashford is established by the Browne Family (Baron Oranmore) and a lodge in the style of a 17th Century French chateau was added to the medieval splendour of the castle.

The Estate was purchased in 1852 by Sir Benjamin Guinness, he extended the estate to 26,000 acres, built new roads, planted thousands of trees and added two large victorian style extensions. On his death in 1868 the estate passed to his son Lord Ardilaun, an avid gardener who oversaw the development of massive woodlands and rebuilt the entire west wing of the castle. He also subsidised the operation of several steamboats, the most notable of which was the Lady Eglinton, which plied between the villages of the Upper Lough Corrib region and Galway City, thus opening the area to increased commerce. In a time of agitation by tenant farmers in the Land Wars of the late 19th Century, epitomised by the action of tenants at nearby Lough Mask House (home of Captain Charles Boycott) he was considered by many to be an 'improving' landlord. Although some of these were not always successful, particularly the Cong Canal also known as the "Dry Canal. It was built to link Lough Mask and Lough Corrib but was a failure, primarily due to its inability to hold water. Despite such setbacks the love borne by he and his wife Olive, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bantry for the Castle and the estate was deep and best epitomised by that fact that when he was ennobled in 1880 he derived his title from the island of Ardilaun, which formed part of the Estate on Lough Corrib.

The Castle remained in the hands of the family and its Iveagh Trust until it was sold to Noel Huggard in 1939; he opened the estate as a hotel, which it became renowned for the provision of its country pursuits, such as angling and shooting.

In 1951 the film director John Ford came to the west of Ireland to film what would become a movie classic The Quiet Man. Starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, Ashford Castle and its grounds, as well as nearby Cong formed the backdrop for much of the action in the film.

In 1970 Ashford Castle was bought by John Mulcahy who oversaw its complete restoration and expansion, doubling its size with the addition of a new wing in the early 1970s, building a golf course and developing the grounds and gardens. While in 1985 a group of Irish American investors, which included Chuck Feeney and Prescott Bush purchased Ashford. The Castle was sold on by these investors in 2008 and is now in the possession of the Galway-based property investor Gerry Barrett and his family.

In its time the castle has played host to many notable guests, including: HM King George V of the United Kingdom, his consort Queen Mary, Oscar Wilde (his father Sir William Wilde had an estate adjacent to Ashford and where the author, playwright and poet spent much of his childhood), U.S. President Ronald Reagan, HRH the Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, John Wayne, HSH Prince Rainier III of Monaco and his consort HSH the Princess Grace.

External links

* [ Web site of Ashford Castle]

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