Carrigeen Castle: Prince or Prisoner?

It’s not every day that I get to spend a night in a castle. In fact, it’s only happened twice in my life: once at Manresa Castle in Port Townsend, Washington State, and then at Carrigeen Castle in Ireland last spring. It makes you feel just a bit like a prince or princess to stay at a castle, and so I thought it would be royal fun to share the experience with our sons…and now with you! There are a number of castles where you can spend the night in Ireland, but most of them were completely beyond our budget.  However, I did find one lovely old castle (featured in all the articles above) that has been turned into a first-rate B’n’B by the Butler family: Carriggeen Castle!Although there was a fortress on this hilltop since the 1500’s, it wasn’t until the 1800’s that an elaborate “bridewell” (jail) was built after more than twice the usual funds were raised by Richard Butler, Baron of Cahir, and the citizens of County Tipperary. Their “jail” was a beautiful, three-story castellated residence made from hand-cut limestone, complete with towers and turrets and battlements…a truly regal retreat for renegades!Although it did hold prisoners from 1816 to 1878, it was bought by the David Butler family in 1919. Fifty years later, when David’s son John married Peig, the newly weds renovated the fortress and opened it as a guest accommodation in the May of 1976…a truly regal retreat for ramblers!Thirty-five years later, Peig (standing at the head of our table) is still the very gracious hostess, and I’m sure she’d be happy to host you too!When we arrived, it was very late, dark, and raining hard. Imagine peering up at this imposing fortress through a shroud of mist with rumbles of  thunder and lightening threatening in the background. It looked more like a haunted mansion or the Dungeon of Despair.  To make matters wetter, it took us quite a while to figure out how to find the front door (which is on the opposite side of the castle from the parking area). (The atmosphere didn’t lend itself to photography that night, so, you’re seeing what it looked like the next morning. At the time, I felt more like Sherlock Holmes than a tourist…)Thankfully, Peig answered our ring and whisked us right inside! Whew. It was starting to feel more like a castle than a prison!      Still, it was quite a unique experience. The hallways were narrow and long.      There was a massive circular staircase leading up to the top of the tower.Each floor was uniquely decorated to give the feel of being in some remote time and place from ages past, but still there was the comforting familiarity of warmth, light, lace and flowers that are woven into the fabric of all times.    To get to our room we had to climb and climb and climb… round and round                                                    and round and round                                               until we made it to the top!        (Note the pillow on the ceiling and the reminder to keep your head.” 🙂 )We were escorted into #3…I double checked  to see that we couldn’t be locked in! Because—as you can see from Stephen and Joel’s room—the walls were incredibly thick, and I knew it would be hard to escape! The “tile” floor in the bathroom was made out of blocks of marble. No karate kid moves in this place!Ah, but if the architecture was a little intimidating, the hospitality was not (unless, of course, we were being poisoned…)  There were inviting rooms for reading and relaxing, so by the time we settled in, we decided that unless a vampire attacked during the night, we were safe.We made it through the night so comfortably that we all felt like princes rather than prisoners as we descended from the tower  the next morning.                The sun was shining brightly through the narrow windows! By the preparations going on in the dining room, we knew breakfast was going to be a royal treat! Besides, Peig had assured us that we’d have the full Irish!The most elegant B’n’B’s seem to provide two complete meals. The first round has carefully cooled toast (no kidding! they have specially designed toast-cooling racks), breads, pastries, cereals, marvelous jams, juices, tea, and coffees.And then, when you’re nicely full, they bring out a piping hot breakfast! Peig served this feast to our table and then chatted amiably with us for over an hour, delighting us with stories about her family, the castle, and Irish culture. Breakfast turned out to be a truly exceptional experience, and we understood why Peig has so many repeat visitors: she sincerely befriends her guests!By this time, we didn’t even need a taste-tester to make sure the food wasn’t poisoned! We knew that we were princes and not prisoners of the castle!I have since reflected on how our stay at the castle is like coming to God. We want to come, but often the circumstances of our arrival are very disquieting, and we wonder if perhaps God will punish us or take us prisoner. It’s hard to trust him at first. But, the truth is, God welcomes us in! Even though the way is long and narrow, and we have to climb and climb and go round and round, we eventually find a wonderful place of rest in a rock solid fortress! God takes our renegade hearts and transforms us from prisoners into princes…ramblers on the journey to heaven. Jesus explained in Luke 4:8, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”  And, we learn in Revelation 1:5-6, “Unto him [Jesus] who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God, and his father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” We can all go from being prisoners to princes just by knocking on the door (even though it’s sometimes hard to find in the dark) and asking Christ to take us in! As we learn to trust him, he provides for us, and his Holy Spirit serves up lavish feasts that are even more satisfying than the full Irish!