8 Hotels Where You Can Get Your Irish Sport On

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A bird's eye view of Ashford Castle.

Sport Like an Irishman

Learn the art of manor-born heritage games on the Emerald Isle.

Try falconry at Ballyfin or The K Club.
The equestiran center at Mount Juliet.

By Elaine Glusac

Falconry: Befriend a falcon.
The practice of falconry (flying trained raptors) volleys between visceral intimacies with sharp talons and purposeful beaks and a gentle walk in the park with a pet.

The Hotel: Falconry has a fitting home at the historic manor house Ballyfin, reopened in 2011, after a decade of careful restoration, as a 15-room hotel filled with period art and antiques. A new indoor pool and spa provide a modern complement to its well-stocked library and costume collection for period dress-up dinners.

Or Try it Here: The 69-room K Club, set on 550 acres in County Kildare, offers a falconry menu that includes appearances by owls, golden eagles, and kestrels. Guests can also fly-fish on the River Liffey, shoot clays, and ride horses.

Archery: Hit a bull’s-eye.
Since the Paleolithic era, archery has been a weapon of war and the hunt. When rifles made bows obsolete, archery became a sport, celebrated by kings and commoners alike. Today, it’s an Olympic event, a hunting challenge, and, as a resort attraction, pure novelty.

The Hotel: Ancestral home of the O’Brien clan, Dromoland Castle Hotel & Country Estate now houses 113 recently refurbished rooms, each with high ceilings, Louis XV-style furnishings, and unique decor. Diversions include falconry, lake fishing, and 18 holes of golf on its 450-acre grounds.

Or Try it Here: The 57-room Mount Juliet manor near Kilkenny in the southeast offers traditional archery on its forested grounds to archers as young as age 6. A Jack Nicklaus golf course, equestrian center, and lake and river fishing provide a full spectrum of on-property sports.

Clay Pigeon Shooting: Shatter clay prey.
The idea is to track the moving object—an eco-friendly understudy for a game bird—down the barrel of a 12-gauge Beretta pressed against your shoulder and tilted skyward.

The Hotel: Just before it empties into Kenmare Bay, the River Sheen cascades in front of aptly named Sheen Falls Lodge. All of its 66 rooms have water views, and several also overlook a circa 1777 stone-arch bridge. Its grounds include gardens planted in 1861 to welcome Queen Victoria, and a resident gillie guides fishing outings on the river and in the highlands.

Or Try it Here: In addition to its famous links course, the 189-room Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in Doonbeg on the coast of County Clare offers clay pigeon shooting in view of the sea, as well as archery and more contemporary pastimes such as surfing and yoga on the beach.

Salmon Fishing: Earn an Irishman’s respect.
Fishing is meditation disguised as sport, disturbed by rare minutes of frenzied activity, all the better to appreciate the mallard family paddling past, the osprey circling overhead, and the magnificent Anglo-Norman castle on shore.

The Hotel: Set on 350 acres near Galway, the crenellated, multi-towered Ashford Castle was founded in 1228 as a stronghold of the de Burgo family. With 83 regal guest rooms, the property is undergoing an extensive renovation this year. Guests can explore the property’s sunken gardens, wooded trails, and riverside paths on horseback, bicycle, or foot.

Or Try it Here: Near Killarney National Park in County Kerry, the 74-room Aghadoe Heights Hotel and Spa overlooks Lough Leane, the largest of the three Lakes of Killarney, where it offers guided trips to troll for salmon and fly-fish for trout.

Tip: “At Ashford Castle, introduce yourself to Paddy Costello, the legendary doorman. He’s been there for 37 years and will tell you immediately if you have any Irish relatives.” —Martha Gaughen, travel advisor, Atlanta

Originally appeared in Virtuoso Life magazine, September 2014.

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