Carlow / Ireland's Ancient East / Leinster

Huntington Castle – exploring the house and gardens

We took a day trip to Carlow recently and our first stop was Huntington Castle. It’s a place I have been wanting to visit for some time now. Located in the picturesque village of Clonegal, we almost missed the rather discreet entrance from the street. Thankfully a signboard on the side of the road set us straight!

Driving down the tree-lined avenue we caught our first glimpse of the castle behind the impressive wrought iron gates. We followed the drive just a little further around to the parking area, looking forward to exploring another beautiful Irish Castle.

Our first glimpse of Huntington Castle from the avenue as we drove past to the visitor carpark

View across to the courtyard entrance from the parking area.

Percy and Friends

Before even reaching the courtyard entrance we bumped into Percy. Percy being the resident Peacock at Huntington Castle! Actually, I think it may have been Percy’s son but I’m not quite sure on that one.

He certainly isn’t the only animal you’ll find roaming the grounds here though. Just inside the courtyard was a cute dog taking in the view of the castle, while nearby a few chickens wandered about in the sunshine. You’re likely to come across plenty of sheep and cattle as you explore too and maybe even a couple of potbellied pigs. In short, any animal lovers in the family will be happy! Note that as it is a working farm, there are no dogs allowed on the grounds.

Percy the resident peacock at Huntington Castle, relaxing on a window sill in the courtyard.

We came across Percy again later on, relaxing on a window sill in the courtyard!

The family dog stands in the courtyard looking towards the house.

Tea Rooms and Entrance Fees

First up, we headed into the tea rooms to purchase our tickets. Entrance to the gardens is €6 but you can take a tour of the castle and also enjoy the gardens for just €10, so we opted for the latter.

Huntington Castle visible across the courtyard through the entrance archway.

There’s a small gift shop in the tea rooms including lots of yummy treats, should you wish to take home a souvenir or gift. Of course there’s plenty to indulge in while you’re there too! As we had 20 minutes till the next tour started, we grabbed a quick cuppa and a scone and took a seat outside in the sunshine. A hen shuffled around at our feet in the hope that the odd crumb or two would make it down to her!

Looking through an open door into the tea rooms at Huntington Castle

Shelves of sweets and other treats for sale in the tea rooms at Huntington Castle

Huntington Castle Tour

Tours of Huntington Castle are available daily (during the afternoon) from May to September. Given the family who currently own the castle live here, it’s great that it’s even an option. I certainly wasn’t going to say no to the chance to have a peek inside! The tour is about 40 minutes long and I’d highly recommend it if you have the time. There is no photography allowed in the living quarters though, hence the lack of interior shots.

History of the castle

The owners, the Durdin Robertsons, are direct descendants of the first Lord Esmonde. Lord Esmonde built the castle back in 1625. His wife, the first lady of the house was Ailish O’Flaherty. Ailish was the granddaughter of Grace O’Malley, the famous Pirate Queen of Ireland.

The family name has changed due to the fact that the house was twice inherited by female members of the family. This practice was not common back in the day but then this is family that embodied girl power long before it reached the masses.

The castle viewed through beautiful pink blooms in the formal gardens.

Entrance to Huntington Castle from the courtyard.

The castle was first built as a garrison and later adapted to make a more comfortable family home. The families who have lived here since, have added a number of different extensions over the years. On the tour our guide pointed out the older and more modern parts as we walked through the house. And when you take the tour and you’re asked how you can spot the older parts of the castle, tell the guide you know by the super thick walls. You’re welcome!

The Living Quarters

There’s a lot of history within these walls and so many interesting artefacts. It’s like visiting a castle and museum all in one. First up was natural history, as our tour started by the trophy room. Not a fan of animals mounted on walls, I found myself backing away slightly from the armadillo and the crocodile head, which greeted us just inside the door.

It’s worth nothing though, that the crocodile (with all 110 teeth on display) was shot by 17 year old Nora Parsons in India. Nora was clearly another family member who wasn’t just going to roll with the stereotypes!

Exploring the beautiful gardens.

One of the buildings at the entrance to the gardens

Our guide passed around a cast iron breastplate from the collection of armour. Though it looked small enough for a child, a fully grown soldier would have worn it. Men from poor backgrounds were very malnourished and much smaller in stature than the average male today.

In the dining room hangings from Bedouin tents adorn the walls. The guide also pointed out a beautiful child’s high chair made from oak, which even predates the house. A stained glass window traces the lineage of the family to the 1750s. After that, there was no more space left to continue.

We visited a few more rooms including the tapestry room and the kitchen. There we saw some intriguing early inventions of some modern machines. I won’t give away these ones, you’ll have to try and guess when you see them!

From the formal gardens steps at the side of the house led up to the conversatory.

Stairs leading up to the conservatory from the formal gardens.

My favourite was the conservatory though. It’s so light an airy and I could imagine sitting out there every morning enjoying my breakfast overlooking the garden. Overhead, grapes hang from a vine which started as a cutting from the great vine at Hampton Court Palace. As impressive at it looks though, our guide warned us not to taste the grapes. Past their best it seems or maybe she was just saving them for herself! 

The Temple of the Goddess

If you were asked to think of a basement inside a castle, I’m pretty confident that the basement of Huntington Castle is not what you would imagine. While it once held the dungeons, strongroom and the old kitchen, it is now the Temple of the Goddess. The only constant is the sacred well of St. Brigid and it’s the very reason the castle was built here.

St Brigid's Well in the basement of Huntington Castle.

St Brigid’s Well in the Temple of the Goddess

The Temple of the Goddess celebrates the Devine Feminine. Olivia Robertson and her brother Lawrence Durdin Robertson established the Fellowship here in 1976.  It is a recognised religion with members from all over the world. There are numerous altars within the temple, along with lots of pictures and other items depicting various goddesses.

It’s definitely unique and worth seeing. It’s also the only part of the castle where you can take photos on the tour.  Sadly, the tour ended here too but at least we still had the gardens to explore!

The Gardens at Huntington Castle

The gardens are also open daily from May to September during the hours of 10am and 5pm. Even if you can’t take a tour of the caste, the gardens alone are worth the visit. A definite highlight is the Yew tree walk. These 500 year old trees really are magnificent and have created a most spectacular natural archway in the garden.

The 500 year old Yew tree walk in the gardens at Huntington Castle form a spectacular archway.

The sun creates a dreamy haze over the lake in the gardens at Huntington Castle.

Much of the gardens were laid out and planted in the 1680s by the Esmonde family. However, the current owners have undertaken many new projects in recent years too. Grab a map from the tea rooms and give yourself at least an hour to fully explore the gardens.

There’s heaps to see including the rose garden, greenhouse (with new & juicier grapes!), ponds, the formal Parterre Gardens and even the ruins of a 14th century abbey.

A pink rose in bloom and lit from behind by the sun, in the gardens at Huntington Castle.

Ruins of the 14th century abbey near the house

Stay overnight at Huntington Castle

If you want to spend more time at Huntington Castle, you can actually stay over in one of the castle rooms. How amazing would that be? A couple on our tour were staying and I have to admit I was a tad envious! It’s such a beautiful location and it would be so relaxing to spend a weekend there. There’s even a restaurant and pub within walking distance so you’d be totally sorted.

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