In 1986, I was travelling to Europe with a friend from school to visit the UK, Ireland and then ski in France and Austria. On our Ireland leg, we hired a car from Dublin and drove south and worked our way around the coast and up to the West, eventually arriving in Cong on about 3rd January 1987.
I saw a sign that said Ashford Castle and thought being a history buff with strong Irish roots on both sides of the family (Doyle, Mullane, McGann and Cody ), let’s go and check it out.
My wife’s great, great grandfather, Patrick Mullane is famous in Australia as he was involved in the apprehension and ultimate capture of Australia’s most famous bushranger Ned Kelly. Patrick Mullane was born in Tralee and left Ireland for Australia in the 1840s and was the Senior Constable at Beechworth in Victoria at the time of Ned Kelly’s capture.
Patrick escorted Ned Kelly from his capture in Glenrowan back to the Beechworth gaol. I think Patrick and Ned, both being of Irish descent had some empathy for each other. Patrick Mullane received part of the £8,000 reward and during the Royal Commission that followed the event, was keen to make sure that history recorded fairly what actually happened.
We drove up to the entrance of the Castle and was met by the a very amenable doorman/concierge. I think he is still working at the Castle? Is that possible. He told us about the New Years Eve celebration that had recently occurred and that it was one of the best held in Europe.
He said the hotel was going to close for the Winter soon on about January 8 which was typical of hotels at that time and that there was a special deal available to stay until the hotel closed for the Winter.
We jumped at the chance. There were very few people staying in the castle at the time, so we got to know all the staff including the head waiter, concierge, and other hotel staff. Because my friend and I enjoyed fine wine, we also visited the cellar and went back of house which was fabulous. A very memorable time indeed in my 20s.
One of the other staff working at Ashford at the time that we got to know was Seamus. When I was leaving, I told him and the other staff that I planned to come back with my girl friend and propose to her on New Year’s Eve in December 1987.
As you could imagine, they all got a shock when I arrived back at the Castle with Susie my then-girlfriend, and now my wife of 30 years.
I proposed to her in the ‘nook’ off the formal sitting room with the seats on either side of the fire place on 31st December 1987.
We are returning to relive this fabulous memory this weekend on December 31 2017, 30 years later to the day. This will be my third stay at Ashford Castle.
Certainly a lot has changed for me, the world, and the Castle since that time. When we announced our engagement at the Castle the only form of communication then was telephone and telegram. Boy how things have changed technology wise since then.
But undoubtedly, it will still be as romantic a location now as it was then.