Who doesn't want to be the king or queen of their own castle? Well you can fulfil that fairytale dream, for a short break at last, at the majestic Markree Castle in Collooney, Co Sligo, which has got to be the most authentic and historic Irish castle on this island.
As soon as you drive up the long lane and are greeted by the sight of the extraordinary building, you will be stunned at its domineering presence on the landscape.
Owned by a renowned family of Irish hoteliers, The Corscaddens, the castle has been lovingly and extensively renovated to the highest standards.
With such a romantic setting it isn't surprising that the 31-bedroom building forms part of the family's Romantic Castles of Ireland hotel and venue portfolio and is a hugely popular wedding location.
Throughout their renovation, which protected and restored its character, furniture and original features were painstakingly rebuilt and reclaimed.
The castle itself dates from the 14th century. Cromwell reputedly allotted the castle and its surrounding lands to Edward Cooper, who had served under Cromwell when his army defeated the O'Brien Clan in 1663.
And history is everywhere in this magnificent gothic-style castle.
In the mid-1800s, it inspired the composition of the famous hymn, All Things Bright and Beautiful, and a century later was occupied by Irish soldiers who caused extensive damage, burning furniture and leaving bullet holes in the walls. The castle has also made the record books for recording the coldest temperature ever measured in Ireland of -19.1C in 1881.
As well as hosting countless weddings (with an onsite chapel) it has also provided refuge to some major celebrities, including the late singer-songwriter Johnny Cash and Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood.
So we knew we were in good company when we checked in to the castle's Maude Gonne Suite, named after the English-born Irish republican, suffragette and actress. She was the love of poet William Butler Yeats' life and turned down at least four marriage proposals from him between 1891 and 1901. He is buried in a graveyard a short drive from the castle.
Discreetly located along the flag-stoned corridors of the oldest part of the castle, this three-room suite is a wonderfully quirky and luxurious space. It has an in-room bar in the sitting room with a cosy open fire.
The bathroom and dressing rooms offer 'his & hers' showers, vanity unit, sinks and a Victorian freestanding-clawed bath tub. The bedroom is richly decorated with crisp linens and soft, indulgent fabrics adorn the spectacular king-size bed.
As the castle dates back to the 14th century, you would be forgiven for worrying that the large rooms could be quite cold but the owners replaced the entire heating system so you will definitely not feel any cold whatsoever.
The rooms have such a homely yet historic feel that you could just hide away from the world there but Markree has so much to offer that you won't want too.
Take a wander around the narrow corridors to find one of the quirkiest afternoon teas ever. You just walk into a beautiful little kitchen, pour your own tea or coffee and help yourself to sandwiches or cakes which are left out each afternoon from 3.30pm.
It may all be self service but exploring the castle and following the signs to find the kitchen is a fun mission in itself.
Dinner is served in a large dining room facing over the castle lawns. It is a feast for the eyes as well as the senses.
For starter I had a beautiful smoked duck breast and confit leg served in a pastry basket with asian slaw, roast plum and teriyaki dressing. My partner enjoyed the salt baked and pickled beetroot served with Fivemiletown goat's cheese cones, rocket salad and toasted hazelnuts.
In between courses a sublime champagne sorbet was served to cleanse the palate.
Mains for me was a tandoori roast pork fillet with a confit pork belly bon bon, pak choi and a spiced carrot and peanut puree. I am the first to admit that a pork dish for dinner wouldn't be in my top choices but I was never so glad that there was a menu that night which wasn't serving steak.As if steak had been on the menu, I probably would have opted for it and missed the most succulent, flavoursome piece of pork I have ever eaten. Being a big fan of Indian cuisine, this was a delight for me.
My other half went for the roast quail stuffed with a garlic and thyme stuffing and served with crispy black pudding, pearl barley and a celeriac and chorizo risotto.
Dessert was a magnificent Markree tasting plate of various sweet treats. It didn't take long for those plates to be cleared!
Next morning, after an exquisite eggs benedict, we decided to try a fascinating falconry experience. It was a first for us but we were so glad we decided to step out of our comfort zone and do it.
In the capable hands of Darren from Sligo Falconry, a mobile birds of prey business, and his Harris's hawk Eden, we went for a walk around the castle grounds.
We were taught how to 'cast' the hawk into trees and recall it to land on our gloved fists.
As we walked for an hour in the morning sunshine the hawk, which had an excellent temperament, followed us from tree to tree. It was very clear that the bird had been trained to a very high standard.
Any initial trepidation about a bird of prey swooping down onto our gloved fists soon disappeared and we had such a fun and informative morning. Try it if you ever get the chance.
Horse riding is also available on the estate and clay pigeon shooting and archery can be arranged in advance.
Located on the Wild Atlantic Way and in the beauty of the landscape that inspired WB Yeats, there is loads to see and do in not only county Sligo but also counties Donegal and Leitrim just up the road.
From climbing up to Queen Maeve's grave, a neolithic passage tomb, on the top of Knocknarea mountain, to watching surfers from the comfort of a beach-front pub in Strandhill, there is no shortage of excursions. WB Yeats' grave at Drumcliffe Cemetery and the shops, bars and restaurants of Sligo town are also a short drive from Markree Castle.
For a truly unique experience, make sure to check out Markree Castle.
For more details on Markree Castle, Collooney in Co Sligo, telephone 00353 719167800 or check out www.markreecastle.ie
Valentine's Offer at Markree Castle for €145pps. This package includes:
The morning after:
Markree Castle will be opening for overnight stays from March onwards for the first time. Rates starting from €200 per room per night including a full Irish breakfast and complimentary mini afternoon tea on arrival.
Markree Castle is part of the Romantic Castles of Ireland collection. Check out www.romanticcastlesireland.com