Visit the Tower of London, the ancient stones reverberate with dark secrets, priceless jewels glint in fortified vaults and ravens strut the grounds. Despite a grim reputation as a place of torture and death, this powerful and enduring fortress has been enjoyed as a royal palace, served as an armory and for a number of years even housed a zoo!
In the early 1080s, William the Conqueror began to build a massive stone tower at the centre of his London fortress. Nothing like it had ever been seen before. Immense, the Tower of London dominated the skyline for miles around. The Tower was protected by Roman walls on two sides, ditches to the north and west up to 25 ft wide and 11 ft deep and an earthwork topped by a wooden palisade. Although many later kings and queens stayed at the Tower, it was never intended as the main royal residence nor was it meant as the first line of defense against invading armies. The Tower’s primary function was as a fortress-stronghold, a role that remained unchanged right up until the late 19th century.
The Tower of London holds some of the most remarkable stories from across the centuries. Gaze up at the massive White Tower, tiptoe through a kings’ medieval bedchamber and marvel at the priceless Crown Jewels. The famous Yeoman Warders have bloody tales to tell; stand where heads rolled and prisoners wept. The Tower held many famous prisoners, from the highest levels of society; some in astonishing comfort and others less so… Visit the places of their confinement and read the graffiti left by prisoners from over 500 years ago.
The ancient art of Falconry is reputed to be the oldest sport in the world. Evidence suggests that the art of falconry may have begun in Mesopotamia, China or Mongolia around 2000BC, as a means of catching food for yourself and your family.
Falconry spread westwards reaching the shores of Europe long before the end of the first millennium. Historically, Falconry was a popular sport and considered a status symbol among the nobles of medieval Europe and Asia. It was largely restricted to the noble classes due to the commitment of time, money and space. Falconry continued to be symbolic of status in art, long after it was popularly practiced.
Falconry is an art that requires long hours, constant devotion, finesse, subtlety and skill. The falconer must train a bird of prey to fly free, hunt and then return to captivity. A beginning falconer should begin with knowledge; learning about the various gaming birds, their stages of life, characteristics, prey, car, feeding and suitability for the falconer and the hunting environment.
Ireland’s First School of Falconry, at Ashford castle, offers visitors the chance to experience the ancient art of Falconry first hand on a private Hawk Walk. They specialize in lessons using beautiful Harris hawks, but in addition to hawks the school is home to a variety of eagles, owls and falcons. Within minutes of arriving, you will have a hawk on your glove and be setting off to fly your hawk or hawks in the gardens and woodlands surrounding Ashford Castle.
Ashford Castle is a medieval castle, located deep in the heartland of Mayo and set against a spectacular backdrop of forests, lakes and mountains. The stately architecture, surrounded by magnificent gardens makes Ashford Castle, a place where time stands still. Ashford Castle was built in 1228 for the de Burgo family, whose surname became the Burkes or Bourkes. They owned the castle for 3 and a half centuries until it was purchased by Noel Huggard in 1939. He opened the estate as a hotel, which became renowned for the provision of its country pursuits, such as angling, shooting and falconry.
In 1951, Ashford Castle played the backdrop to The Quiet Man starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. In its time, the castle has played host to many notable guests including: John Lennon, George Harrison, King George V of the UK, Oscar Wilde, Ronald Reagan, Ted Kennedy, Brad Pitt, Princess Grace and Pierce Brosnan to name a few.
While staying at Ashford Castle, you can enjoy a wide range of relaxing or exciting activities. Book a Spa treatment or Fly a Hawk in the School of Falconry, take a Picnic in the Walled Garden or catch Wild Trout or Salmon here, in one of the most famous fisheries in Ireland. Just 40 minutes from Galway city, and within easy driving distance of Shannon International Airport, Ashford Castle is perfectly situated to welcome all ages of visitors, from every corner of the globe.