You can have an affordable fairytale holiday in Ireland

Have you ever dreamed of being hosted by royalty in a real ancestral castle? Or maybe you prefer to live in an old stone tower house, like Rapunzel? Do you dream of wandering through the green valleys and misty bogs of Ireland, where cows outnumber people – at least for now? Fancy sipping whiskey with the Jameson sisters?

Siobhan Byrne Learat is here to help make your Irish fairy tale dreams come true. Here, she shares only two of her favorite nuggets, which are real restored castles where you can stay at an affordable price: Tubbrid Castle and the Belle Isle estate.

Learat is the owner and founder of Adams & Butler, a travel agency specializing in making affordable luxury vacations. Learat is both a Travel + Leisure A-List travel advisor and a Conde Nast travel specialist who won the Best Travel Professional award at the latest Irish Travel Industry Awards held in 2020.

Although Adams & Butler is a small company of just ten employees, it has attracted a loyal international clientele for over 18 years, including celebrities such as the Kardashians and Taylor Swift. The company designs unique, authentic and personalized travel and cultural experiences in Ireland, the UK, Africa and around the world.

“We design itineraries for our clients that others simply can’t, whether it’s around a theme, a private experience, or encounters with people not normally accessible to the public,” says Learat. . “We are doing unique things, moving traffic away from over-visited sites and towards lesser-known gems, allowing small local communities and businesses to survive and thrive. We also strongly believe in affordable luxury and sustainable ecotourism.

From an early age, Learat always loved traveling and learning languages. With her family from the age of four, she spent summers in France and Spain, exploring the countryside in a pop-up motorhome. “There wasn’t a hamlet we hadn’t visited over the years,” she says. After college, she married her first husband, a Moroccan of Berber and Arab descent. They traveled each year with their children through his country of origin, often visiting unusual places in Berber country.

After graduating with honors in Spanish and Arabic, followed by postgraduate degrees in business, Arabic and Middle Eastern history, Learat began her career in travel. Her first job was as sales manager for a hotel which was, she says, “The Bel Air of Dublin and the home of Bono from U2”. She went out on her own to found Adams & Butler in 2002.

Learat later divorced her Moroccan husband and married an African from the Kenyan Samburu tribe. In 2009, she launched Adams & Butler Africa, designing bespoke safaris with intimate camps and authentic tribal experiences. She also set up a charity, the Nalepo Educational Fund, to provide basic education to Samburu children in northern Kenya and equip their mothers and other young women with essential life skills.

“When I travel, I always try to respect the people I meet – not just the people who market, sell and own properties, but especially the people who work at those properties and look after me. respecting the traditions, local cultures and religions of the places I travel in. When locals engage with you and share their own story, it is often life-changing,” says Learat.

Here are two of Learat’s favorite properties in Ireland, each offering a magical experience at an affordable price.

1. Tubbrid Castle, Kilkenny

Tubbrid Castle is a unique tower that rises from the green hills near Kilkenny. It was built in the mid-15th century on the site of a much older fort. John Campion, its current owner, comes from a long line of Campions who have farmed the surrounding land for generations. His great-grandparents, however, left the tower house at the turn of the 20e century when it began to collapse.

When Campion’s father and his ten siblings were young, they used to run along the castle walls, 70 feet in the air. By then the tower had lost its roof and his father began to dream of restoring it. Finally, in the early 2000s, he teamed up with his son to begin the immense restoration process. John Campion hired architects, commissioned archaeological reports and applied for planning permission, and eventually commissioned local contractors to carry out the necessary work. He, meanwhile, worked full-time as a doctor in Dublin.

When the restoration was nearing completion, Campion hired a local interior designer. He yearned to move away from a dark gothic look, opting instead for a warmer Scandinavian approach. Using local materials wherever possible, they designed an inviting space for guests. Each of the three floors of Tubbrid Castle contains only one room – a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor, a kitchen, dining room and living room on the second, and another bedroom with a mezzanine and a bathroom. bathroom at the top.

John and his mother Helen Campion welcomed their first international guests in early 2019, just six months after his father passed away. “Although my father couldn’t see the last fruits of his labor, he knew the restoration was coming to an end,” says Campion. “His final resting place is within sight of the castle he saved from abandonment.”

Those who stay at Tubbrid Castle love sleeping in a four-poster bed under a vast stone vaulted ceiling, relaxing in a deep bath overlooking lush hills, lounging in front of a wood-burning stove where the original restored fireplace reads 1596 and sipping their morning coffee overlooking the plains where a thousand soldiers once camped.

“There is an Irish proverb, ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine – we live in each other’s shadows, which shows our innate interdependence,” says Campion. “When I encounter a challenge, I turn to my networks of friends, family and colleagues. I ask what I can learn from their experience, successes and failures and, if possible, I help them to learn from mine.

2. Belle Isle Estate, Northern Ireland

Belle Isle Estate consists of a 17e century castle and cottages set on a 400 acre private conservation area in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. The area has a rich history, as the famous Annals of Ulster were written here in the 15e century. Home to many generations of nobles, the property has the distinction of hosting public events since 1760.

These days Belle Isle is often enjoyed by friends and family who rent out the entire chateau for private events such as weddings, bachelor/bachelorette parties and family reunions. The castle itself extends over a vast territory and can accommodate up to 26 people. It has two separate wings which provide guests with plenty of privacy. Each bedroom has its own bathroom. The setting, on the edge of a lake and surrounded on all sides by water, is peaceful. Visitors can enjoy kayaking, fishing, biking, hiking and many other outdoor activities.

James Hamilton, the Duke of Abercorn, bought Belle Isle in 1991 and completely renovated it before opening its doors to visitors. This was during a turbulent time in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles. Violence frequently broke out between Catholics and Protestants who held different political and religious views. Concerned about the plight of local children, James Hamilton’s wife, Alexandra, Duchess of Abercorn, founded the Pushkin Trust. Named after the Duchess’s direct ancestor, Russian writer Alexander Pushkin, the charity supports the education and creative learning of Irish children.

The biggest challenge Hamilton has faced is the castle’s distance from Belfast and Dublin airports. However, this becomes less of a problem over time. “At the turn of the last century Fermanagh tourism, which is now vibrant, was still in its early formative years,” he says. “However, thanks to the high level of education here in Ireland, there is now an abundance of young entrepreneurs who have the right positive attitude towards life and who, on top of that, are successful. Thus, new innovative products are formed here, many of which have a global market and attract international travelers.

About Wesley V. Finley

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