‘Once Upon A Time in Sligo’ – Markree Castle Review

Once upon a time, a fort nestled in the middle of luscious green fields of Sligo was given to the Cooper family by King Charles II.  Centuries passed, the fort became a Manor, and was passed down from one generation of Coopers to the next.  Ten generations later, the Cooper family decided it was time to retire.  By this time the Manor had become a fine castle, designed in the 19th century by the very architect who had designed iconic buildings in Ireland such as the GPO and the chapel in Dublin Castle.  

And so here we are in 2021, Markree Castle, taken over by the Corscadden family in 2015, continues to be the epitome of a fairytale castle – the entrance, the rooms, the antiquities, the gardens.  This castle and its owners truly deserve a ‘happy ever after’ ending. 

The first thing that came to mind as we drove up the long drive to Markree Castle was the stillness.  This castle is not at the edge of town or within earshot of a motorway.  It is nestled snuggly in acres of green fields – the only sounds are birds chirping and bees buzzing.  If you have forgotten what blissful silence is like, this place is for you. 

The real fun begins when you walk towards the entrance.  If you are not captivated instantly by the grandeur of the castle, the entrance stairway will definitely take your breath away.  Twinkly lights and flickering candles light your way to Reception (passing the Chapel on your way up).  We received a warm Irish welcome and were invited to consider the castle our home during our stay. We were encouraged to wander both the castle and the grounds to discover the many many nooks and crannies throughout the property. 

Our room was magical – the bedroom window a frame for the beautifully manicured gardens beyond.  In the shade of the window, sat a luxurious stand-alone bath. All the furniture was in keeping with a bygone era, but the bathroom facilities were what we have come to expect in the twenty first century with a range of toiletries by Irish designer Paul Costello. 

We ate in a wonderful dining room flooded with warm evening light through long century-old windows.  Chandeliers, fireplaces, paintings from another era all work together to create an air of classic opulence in the main dining room.  We enjoyed a table by a window so, not only could we enjoy the views, but we were intrigued watching Rosin the Irish Wolfhound play in the gardens (if you like, you can ask for a lead and take Roisin for a walk in the extensive grounds). 

Our amuse bouche was smoked salmon with a salmon mousse.  It was fresh and light and a perfect start to the evening. 

For starters we chose the Markree seafood plate and the pork belly and black pudding fritter.  The seafood plate included vodka-cured sea trout, prawns, lobster and Goatsbridge trout caviar with watercress and a saffron water dressing. Presentation and portion size were perfect, and while the dish had plenty of substance, it wasn’t overpowering or too filling. 

Mr D was reluctant to share his starter which is always a very good sign. Pork belly and black pudding lovers will love this fritter which was served with apple puree, green beans, radish and cider jus.  The addition of apple in the forms of puree and cider jus are just the perfect accompaniment to this dish. 

Starters were followed by a gin and elderflower sorbet which was a lovely little palate cleanser. 

For mains, Mr D chose duck breast and leg confit served with a red wine poached pear, carrot and peanut puree and a honey and thyme sauce.  Presented beautifully, the flavours were excellent, but the meat was cooked slightly more than the medium he had requested. 

I chose the roast chicken supreme with Gubeen chorizo and sautéed cabbage. Delicious! 

Both dishes were served with seasonal vegetables and creamy mashed potatoes. 

Dessert was a trio of desserts bringing to the fore the classic tastes of chocolate, lemon and apple.  I always appreciate getting a selection of sweet treats to enjoy with my favourite breakfast tea. By the time the petit fours arrived, I had to admit defeat much to Mr Dillon’s delight – not one was left! 

After dinner, we wandered through the castle, explored the little nooks and discovered a snooker room, lots of reading rooms, little bars and sitting rooms, but I fell in love with the Butlers Pantry.  In Markree Castle you might enjoy the ultimate hotel hospitality but at any point during the day, you can wander down to the Butlers Pantry and make yourself a Cafetiere of coffee or a nice pot of tea.  You can take it back to your room or enjoy it in this wonderful farmhouse-style kitchen. 

We then wandered outside and sat in the moonlight in an area that is reminiscent of many international honeymoon destinations. 

Breakfast the next morning was of the standard we had come to expect at Markree Castle with a good, varied menu. This set us up for a walk throughout the grounds and I, hand on heart, did not want to leave. 

Markree Castle is magical, ethereal and enchanting.  It draws you in and you will not want to leave.  This is also the ultimate wedding venue – not just because of the chapel, but in the woods, they have created a wonderful area for a Humanist wedding.  This castle is a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of real life. It is calming. It is elegant. It is rich in history.  

And like every good fairytale, if you visit Markree Castle I believe you will find your ‘happy ever after’ ending. 

WRITTEN BY FIONA DILLON

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