Ashford Castle is a historic Irish property straight out of a fairytale, with sprawling green grounds and every room brimming with heritage. While on-property, guests can enjoy an array of activities such as falconry, horseback riding and fly-fishing, as well as enjoy fine dining and a vast range of wines. There’s also a spa to indulge in massages and facials — this property will truly make you feel like royalty.
Yes, it’s entirely possible to spend your entire trip at Ashford Castle enjoying all 350 acres the estate has to offer, however the surrounding landscape and incredible people are too good to not experience in person. That’s why the property offers guests to spend a day outside of the castle through their ‘Meet the Maker’ program spearheaded by general manager Niall Rochford and led by Eoin Warner, during which guests can experience seven different themed itineraries such as food, craft, music and archaeology. “Niall wanted to offer guests an opportunity to engage in immersive Irish cultural experiences,” says Warner. “To extend the reach of Ashford Castle’s offering outside of the estate walls, while supporting these valued artisans in our local communities.”
During a day in the Maker program guests can have three different experiences and are invited into the homes and private workshops of local artisans to see their craft first-hand. One such artisan is basket maker Joe Hogan who uses traditional techniques and local willow to craft beautiful baskets and display pieces. While in the past baskets were an essential part of agriculture, today they may be used as home décor. “In Anne Michael’s novel, Fugitive Pieces, one of the characters says, ‘Find a way to make beauty necessary, find a way to make necessity beautiful,’ says Hogan. “As these baskets were no longer needed here with changes in farm practice, I wanted to keep the techniques alive in another way.”
After a morning session with an artisan, the Maker program continues with lunch which reflects the rich culinary heritage of Ireland, a place like the The Sea Hare. Headed by Sinéad Foyle and Phillipa Duff, the Sea Hare started as long table dinners in surprise locations and eventually became a pop-up restaurant. Here you can sample Ireland’s famous dairy products such as butter and farmhouse cheese with freshly baked bread. For main dishes you’ll try the famous Connemara mountain lamb and, of course, being on the coast, copious seafood. “You will never taste crab, lobster or oysters as delicious or as fine in flavor as here,” says Warner. No meal is complete without the floury potatoes Ireland is famous for, and to close out the meal you’ll sample baked goods like rhubarb crumble served with homemade vanilla ice cream.
A day of meeting the makers is filled with human interaction but also notably, gives guests an extensive view and appreciation of the Connemara region’s landscape. You will traverse rolling hills and bogs, stumble upon large lakes and small rivers, as well as get an incredible view of the rugged coastline. During the day you’ll also get to experience the vast variety of Irish weather which can go from sun to clouds to rain within the span of an hour, making it easy to understand why the land here is so rich in vegetation.
Depending on your choice of program you may end the day at an Irish pub, where you’ll enjoy a pint of Guinness (try to pour one yourself), hear live Irish music, and if you’re lucky see locals break into Irish dance. A day experiencing the maker program will show you the wealth of Irish culture and artisans who are proud to show you their craft. “These are days of adventure and discovery, opportunities to meet the flag bearers of Irish culture and learn an age-old skill,” says Warner. “Most of all these unique experience days are about creating memories and connecting with the real Ireland and her people.”
You’ll return to regal Ashford Castle with a wealth of new knowledge on how things are made and deep appreciation of Irish culture.