the ashford castle school of falconry

theromanticIn Western Ireland — in Cong, County Mayo, to be exact — there sits a castle. This isn’t that odd, really, since there are lots of castles in Ireland, but this one is just a bit more special than all the rest. It’s not in ruins, like many, and it hasn’t been renovated and re-opened as a museum, either. Instead, this particular castle has been converted into a 5-star, luxury hotel.

As you drive up the long driveway, wondering if there really is a castle here after all, it finally comes in to view. You park and make your way past the white gloved doormen and through the grand lobby, past the suit of armor (because of course there’s a suit of armor), and out the other side, into the gardens. Maybe you’ll stop and take some photos of Lough Corrib, but not too many. You have an appointment to keep, after all.

lough corrib

For a second, you’ll try to follow the directions from the concierge with the thick Irish accent… the accent that made it just a little bit harder to remember if it was a left or a right. Because really, how charming are Irish accents? And do American accents ever sound charming to anyone? Because you just can’t imagine it.

But then, all of a sudden, you see a sign.

ashford castle school of falconry

And you’re there.

The Ashford Castle School of Falconry

As soon as we arrived at the Ashford Castle School of Falconry, our instructor was waiting for us — and beaming. She was bubbling over as she introduced herself as Aurelie, and for the next hour, we learned about the intricacies of falconry firsthand. There were six of us (the absolute cap, I’d say), so she picked three falcons from their perches and prepared them for our walk through the woods.

ashford castle - school of falconry.jpg

It wasn’t exactly love at first sight…

jeff - falconry

But once we saw Aurelie interact with each falcon as if they were household pets, I think we all soon began to find them charming. I wish I remembered their names, and I swear I wrote them down somewhere…but all I know is one was named Earrach, which is Gaelic for spring.

As we walked, we learned how to gain our falcon’s trust, and how to show each bird that we were in charge (I was bad at this, I kept accidentally giving them their meat treats a little too soon… I’m clearly a sucker.)

ashley - falconry

jeff - falconry (2)After a few practice tries, Aurelie led us into the forest to let the hawks fly around more freely, each time showing us how to cast them off and then bring them back, using the proper stance and glove positioning.

forest falconryClearly it didn’t keep me from being nervous, but by the end, we were falconry pros.

ashley - hawk walk

jeff - hawk walkFor a one hour hawk walk, we were quoted €70 per person. At the end, Aurelie gave us a group rate as there were six of us, and if I’m being perfectly honest, I think she kept us out a bit longer than an hour. I’d imagine this changes depending on how busy they are, but I will say that one of the best things about the School of Falconry is that it very, very easily could have toed the line of feeling cheesy and a little Disney-esque… but it didn’t at all. Falconry is very obviously a passion of Aurelie’s, and while the castle itself seemed to be everything a 5-star luxury hotel should be (I can’t fully comment on that as we didn’t experience a stay this time), the school felt completely removed and, as a result, very authentic. Plus, afterwards, you get to stroll around the grounds and hang out here:

IMG_9987

It was worth the trek from Galway, and I’m going on the record now: this was the best thing we did during our week in Ireland. Next time, I’ll need to make an actual stay at the castle a priority, because based on what we saw, I think this might be one of Ireland’s biggest gems.

xo!

the romantic

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10 Comments

  1. June 27, 2014 / 09:32

    I visited Ashford Castle (and the School of Falconry) last summer, and it was one of my Ireland highlights too! Did you peek inside the castle? So beautiful!
    Laura recently posted..Berlin: Under the Dome of the ReichstagMy Profile

    • June 28, 2014 / 15:16

      yes, we had a light lunch and drinks after! it’s gorgeous inside. very curious about the rooms.
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..no travel requiredMy Profile

  2. June 27, 2014 / 18:44

    Girls, you have to stay at Ashford, you will love it. This was an email I received last week after one of our guests stayed there: Service is the first thing I noticed when we arrived. It would be easy to assume that the staff would be pretentious or snooty given the world-class quality of the hotel. What I found was that everyone was welcoming from the moment we arrived at the outside gate to the moment we left. All staff greeted us with a handshake and they introduced themselves using their names. When my wife asked where we should park the car, the staff member said “don’t worry about that, we’ll take care of it for you.” He said it in a way where we didn’t even worry if we parked the car in a parking space or in the middle of the driveway. Everyone was very accommodating. Thank you so much for an enjoyable stay.

    Enjoy when you return to Ireland, and let me know if you want some other good pointers for places to see and do.
    Cheers
    The Castle Man

    • June 28, 2014 / 15:18

      thanks so much for sharing!! it’s definitely on our list for when we make it back to ireland, and the castle man certainly sounds like someone we need involved in our planning.
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..no travel requiredMy Profile

      • June 30, 2014 / 11:19

        Pleasure Ashley and Carolyn – I would be delighted to assist and point you in the right direction. I and the team stay in the castles all the time so happy to share our knowledge with you any time. When you are next over you have to go to Moran’s Oyster Cottage Seafood Restaurant nr Galway.

  3. July 3, 2014 / 11:42

    Looks amazing! When we get to Ireland I just have to hold a falcon. Just like when I was in Florida, I had to hold an alligator. When in Rome.
    hotmamatravel recently posted..Thread Up 4th of July wearMy Profile

  4. Mel
    March 12, 2015 / 19:26

    Can’t wait to go there ! Nice post ! 🙂 But I just need to tell you that they are not falcons, they are Harris’ Hawks 😉

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