If you are looking for a hidden gem in Ireland, Belleek Castle is one of them. I love visiting places that have a wow factor, a place I will remember long after I’ve left. This place ticks all the boxes and I only went on a tour there.
Nestled in Belleek Woods, a short drive from Ballina, Co. Mayo is a magnificent castle. If you thought it was impressive from the outside go on the tour. At just €10 per adult it’s fantastic value for money and was so much more than I was expecting.
Belleek Castle was built in 1831 for the cost of £10,000. The building was commissioned by Sir Arthur Francis Knox-Gore and designed by architect John Benjamin Keanes. The Knox-Gore family lived there until 1942 – you’ll hear more about them on the tour. In the 1950’s the house was purchased by Mayo County Council and was used as a sanatorium for female patients who were suffering from tuberculosis. It was unused for some time, and was in danger of having the roof taken off it to avoid taxes, when Marshall Doran purchased it.
Marshall Doran was an officer in the Merchant Navy, he traveled the world and had a huge collection of fossils, armour and other artifacts. These have lovingly been curated into the fantastic museum.
Marshall restored the property and opened it as a hotel in 1970. On the tour you will see many of examples of his work. I love the bar that is fitted out as if it were a ship. There are many references to sailing and ships. It really is a stunning building.
I was quite taken with the Library Restaurant, as the name suggested it was once a library and now is a beautiful place to dine. Check out the images of the Drunken Bullock dish! It’s amazing! I’m also told they serve Afternoon Tea there and that’s my hobby so I’m going to treat myself one day.
The hotel is also a very popular wedding venue. The rooms I saw reminded me of something out of a Harry Potter movie. Carol, the tour guide, was also telling us about tunnels that were used for the servants so they could go about their business but weren’t seen by the owners of the house. I would love to check out the tunnels one day, although I don’t think they are open to the public.
Anyway back to the museum tour. There is just so much to see, I was stunned by the fossils – some dated back to the Jurassic period. It was so clear to see what some had been, there was a huge fish and you could make out every scale.
In the armour room we got to handle some of the swords, they were so heavy, I’ve no idea how the armies carried them. I also got to hold a tooth belonging to a mammoth and saw the largest seed in the world; coco de mer, the seed of a palm tree.
The tour also includes the Grace O’Malley room which houses her four poster bed. Grace O’Malley was the Pirate Queen of Connaught and you can read more about her here.
Marshall Doran sounds like a real character, there’s a great post about him over on the Belleek Castle blog, well worth a read. I’d have liked to meet him – imagine the blog post from that! Belleek Castle is an absolute must visit if you are near County Mayo. Do check out the beautiful wood too, it runs alongside the River Moy there’s a fairy trail for the younger folk and keep a look out for squirrels too.
Let me know what you think if you go to visit. You can see the rest of my photos here.