Surrounded by thick forest groves, protected from the harsh Atlantic winds, sits Lough Eske Castle—a monument to history, fallen and restored. The site of the now-glimmering Solís-operated hotel has, over hundreds of years, collapsed, been rebuilt, then abandoned, saved, and burned, then re-established.
County Donegal, on the Northwestern Coast of the Republic of Ireland, has a familial history that dates back to 1474 with the O’Donnell Clan, whose castle ruins remain scattered just north of the hotel grounds. The family stayed in control of the land until 1607, when a Jacobian castle was built on the site; this was followed by a mansion for the Brooke family, whose coat of arms crowns the current main entrance. The stone bones of the existing fortress, however, date back only to 1861, when the new Lough Eske Castle was built in the Elizabethan style. Then, in 1939, it went up in flames when wind caught a candle, igniting the wood-panelled salon. “The nearest fire station was in County Derry, which is a bit far from here, and by the time they got here, the place was very much in ruins,” Lisa Marshall, director of sales and marketing for Solís, explains from the now-restored salon. “After a prolonged period of disrepair, the castle was purchased by Pat Doherty, who invested somewhere in the range of 30 million euros into the restoration of the castle.”
The hotel is split between the historically restored rooms and newly built accommodations, in respect to the traditional style of the castle. “The majority of the accommodation is new, and then a small amount is the original,” Marshall says. “For example, the oak-covered walls are original ‘replacements.’ We’ve been very good and sensitive to that. When you go from one side of the hotel to the other, you can see the change. It’s not a massive transformation from old to new like some places—it’s softly broken in.”
Part of the original lodging is the Presidential Suite—approximately 2,000 square-feet with period-style furnishings, open fireplaces, and views of the manicured emerald-green grounds. The suite is the perfect setting in which to freshen up before meandering to the Gallery Bar, where a delightfully different mojito called The Poitino is prepared with poitín (or “Irish moonshine”). Equally as restorative is a visit to the spa, which, nestled in the garden grounds with open glass walls, resembles a glowing greenhouse. Inside, bodies can be nurtured with a dip in the pool or a service from the treatment menu, including phyto-aromatic offerings from French beauty brand Yon-Ka.
Northern Ireland is noted for its hearty, wild territory, well explored during a hike around the hotel’s 43-acre grounds, or at the nearby sites including ancient Slieve League Cliffs. And Lough Eske is situated just minutes away from a handful of oceanside golf courses, including the Donegal Golf Club and The Nairn Golf Club, where crisp, salty Irish air enriches a round. A less traditional sport can be experienced as well, thanks to the world-class waves that await to be surfed at nearby Rossnowlagh Beach.
Sustenance for hungry explorers is found back at the Cedars Grill Restaurant, where local fish, meat, and produce are prepared with simple, comfortable flair. Sumptuous potted salmon is accompanied by a buckwheat muffin (jump at the opportunity to enjoy any dark, brown bread when in Ireland), and local crispy-skinned chicken is served with mashed potatoes in a warming, generous portion. Dessert includes ramekin-licking crème brûlée, familiar and delicious.
For whiskey enthusiasts, a foray into local offerings post-dinner is mandatory. An impressive selection of Irish whiskies is available at the Gallery Bar, including Bushmills, Midleton, Teeling, and Wild Geese.
A taste of this country, historic and new, leaves one feeling personally restored. That’s the luck of the Irish.