Judging by the photographs in the visitor information booklets at Markree Castle hotel, the building was in a ruinous state and nothing short of a mess in the late 1980s. The elder brother of Charles Cooper, who had been offered £6000 to pull it down completely, had recently inherited the property. But Charles managed to purchase the property from his brother, and there begins the story of how this spectacular countryside hotel became what it is today.
But as Charles says, “buying it was the cheap part!”
With a background in the hotel industry in the UK and other parts of Europe, it made sense for Charles to purchase the property which had been the ancestral seat of his family since the 17th century, but the work involved in reviving and subsequently maintaining a property like Markree is beyond immense. The project to restore the ailing property required plenty of injections of cash and Charles and his wife relied on help from relatives and friends, and on bank loans. But, of course, to resurrect an almost derelict property like this, built over the previous 4 centuries, takes not just cash, but a recipe of painstaking work, along with guts and hard manual labour, combined with a heartfelt affection and utmost faith in what you’re striving to achieve… and walking through the doors at Markree, and up the grand staircase being stared down upon by a line of deer heads, you can’t help but feel both a ‘wow’ factor, combined with a sense of genuine fondness for the loves and labours that have clearly gone in to creating what surrounds you.
What we have now at Markree is a stunning 32 room hotel within a building that not only contains an intense and fascinating history amongst its many intricate features, but also maintains a distinct character and style from a guests point of view, which is supported by a team of staff who clearly have as much affection for the property as the owner does.
Markree is set in its own parkland, originally 36,000 acres, now a mere 6,000 acres, and is a great setting for the many activities on offer. During your stay you can take part in horse riding, woodcock shooting, weaving demonstrations, falconry instruction, parkland walks, and Charles even conducts tours of the castle and grounds with talks on the past 400 years of his family history.
Unique character at Markree Castle hotel
Rooms are all very individual so coming back to Markree always offers a new experience. Some of the rooms also named depending on their connections. The Johnny Cash room is where the great singer stayed in the early 90s with his wife, and while staying at Markree Castle, he recorded a video for ‘Woodcarver’ with Sandy Kelly (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_LAp4uw6dM). The Charles Kingsley room is a memory of the great novelist (“Water Babies”, “Westward Ho!”) concerned with social reform in the 19th century, who wrote letters to his wife while staying at Markree, commenting on the terrible poverty in Ireland at the time. Tom Watson, the professional US golfer, was one of the first guests to stay at Markree Castle and it is said that the curtains were only just being hung in his room (now the Tom Watson room) as he pulled in to the car park. W.B. Yeats spent lots of time in County Sligo and a number of stays at Markree Castle – the W B Yeats room is a reminder that the Nobel prize winning novelist was a friend of the Cooper family and he once wrote that “We have always looked on the Coopers and Markree Castle as greater than the Royal Family and Buckingham Palace!”.
Beyond the accommodation, the restaurant is divine and highly rated in Ireland as serving top quality meals in the surrounds of a beautifully restored 18th century dining room with all the period features – a visit to Markree even just for dinner would not be a disappointment!
The gardens, surrounded by the river Unsin, are also stunning with a lovely Victorian rockery slowly undergoing restoration. There are also self-catering properties on the estate, and Charles is hoping to eventually restore and open more parts of the castle for use by guests and visitors. The recently restored chapel is worth seeing, and the former billiard room above the main entrance along with the old dairy are all on the list of jobs to do!
Markree is also a great base to explore County Sligo and the west and north west of Ireland – the cities of Galway and Derry are only a couple of hours drive away, and the town of Sligo is 20 minutes away. From certain parts of the castle you can see the largest prehistoric tomb in Ireland – Queen Maeve’s tomb near the prehistoric cemetery at Knocknarea. Drumcliffe is only a 30 min drive away too, where you can visit Yeats’ grave and the Drumcliffe craft shop. There’s plenty to do in the region and Markree is the perfect setting for a perfect vacation in the west of Ireland!