The broad southern banks of the Shannon River in County Limerick, Ireland, are home to the seat of the Knights of Glin, a branch of the FitzGeralds who have lived here for eight centuries. Their first home, a medieval 13th-century ruin in the tiny village of Glin, testifies to its historic roots, while a stone’s throw away, their aristocratic 18th-century manor dominates the landscape.
Today, the 400-acre estate in Ireland’s windswept southwest is happily enjoying a resurgence of its famous persona. With its Gothic elements, added in the mid-19th century, the crenellated, fairy-tale fortress strikes an imposing posture along a country road 20 miles from the sea. Boasting vast sloping vistas of the Shannon River estuary, the property feels enchanting; the mere outline of its battlements bespeaks the uniquely Irish experience that awaits within Glin Castle’s walls.
“That emotional tug is due to Desmond’s larger-than-life reputation,” Olda FitzGerald says of her late husband, the 29th Knight of Glin and a raconteur and connoisseur of decorative arts at the Victoria and Albert Museum and Christie’s auction house in Dublin. “The house resonates with his extraordinary hospitality, and his mantra of ‘come and stay’ was legendary. He loved having visitors, and for that reason, we never quite knew who was coming to dinner.”
“It’s wonderful to see Glin thriving,” says Irish historian Robert O’Byrne, who explains why the family title was lost after Desmond’s death. “The loss of this particular hereditary title is somewhat complicated because Desmond had three daughters and no sons. More so, it was bestowed by their kinsman Earl of Desmond, rather than the English Crown. Therefore, it wasn’t recognized in Debrett’s or Burke’s Peerage, but was allowed to continue over the last 600 years or so, as it passed from son to son. When there were no more boys in the family, the title vanished.” The girls reluctantly put the house up for sale but later happily removed it from the market when daughter Catherine FitzGerald and her charismatic husband, actor Dominic West, decided to assume responsibility for its future.
West, star of the American crime drama The Wire and hit TV series The Affair, cheerfully welcomed hundreds of guests to a recent Rare and Special Plant Fair on the castle grounds. Dressed in Wellington boots and wax jacket, the new squire admitted this was one of his favorite places on Earth. Indeed, today things are humming along with a resident manager, while the couple and their five children, ages 6 to 21, are in residence at least five months a year. Catherine’s sisters, Honor and Nesta, visit from Dublin frequently, and their mother lives in the family wing.
“The point is to maintain the estate for the family, to make it financially sustainable, and to develop a viable plan, including fundraisers for the local community to improve amenities in the village,” says Catherine. ”We are holding a food fair next summer and are pleased that the demand for private rentals for family gatherings, weddings, and special events has surged.” (Visitors like Mick Jagger, Talitha Getty, and Taylor Swift, who’ve all spent holidays here, can attest to that.)
The priority for Catherine, a London-based landscape architect whose projects include Hillsborough Castle, the royal residence in Northern Ireland, is to make the family enterprise feasible. “I am the driving force here, but Dominic is totally behind it business-wise, and very keen on the challenge to make it work. We are giving it our best shot,” she says. “My passion is developing the garden. It’s a unique place with a unique history, and I feel deeply responsible for its preservation.”
Today, a walk on gravel paths around the 15-plus-acre garden becomes an illustrative ancestral biography led by the enthusiastic chatelaine. The walled kitchen garden supplies all vegetables and herbs for the table, and the grounds reveal charming Gothic follies, daffodils along the stream banks, and hydrangeas near the white glade. Completing the picture are specimen plants and trees culled from all over, including Chile, Vietnam, China, and even the American West.
Inside, neoclassical interiors are beautifully articulated with delicate Adamesque plaster ceilings, Corinthian columns, and a floating, bifurcating staircase. Vivid colors such as tangerine, asparagus green, electric blue, and Pompeian red highlight the walls, which are hung with hundreds of portraits, paintings, and porcelains. Three spacious reception rooms open off the library, which can be reached through a secret door, while 15 beautifully outfitted bedrooms invite lucky guests.
“The pale pink drawing room has such elegant proportions and is surrounded by windows on two sides, so it’s flooded with light. It also faces west, so on summer evenings you can watch the sunset.” — Catherine FitzGerald
For visitors, days begin with a signature Irish breakfast before a round of challenging golf on landmark courses, rides through Kerry, or toe-tapping with local step dancers. Once back at the castle, guests can visit the chef in the family kitchen or put their feet up in front of the hearth. As in centuries past, the famous hospitality of Glin Castle is at work once again.
Glin Castle Interiors & Gardens
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The claret-red dining room is hung with family portraits.
An antique boudoir chair in the yellow bedroom
By Marion Laffey Fox | Photography by Claire Bingham
Golf on the best courses, shop and dine in area villages, and embark on scenic day trips. Read more.