The Ashford Castle estate

In my experience, everyone in Ireland is an entertainer. And when it comes to pubs, the more modest the establishment, the richer the stage. When the evening’s conversation turns their way, I have witnessed the Irish quite naturally taking their personal stage. Performances have included singing, Sean Nos-style, a solo song; playing an instrument such as the penny whistle; dancing to a slip jig or reel; or even telling a joke or reciting a poem.  

“Conversation is all part of the fun of Ireland. ‘The pub’ was a sitting room. It’s where we hung out,” said comedian George Casey, a Dubliner who emigrated to America in 1970. “When I visit home and listen to my Irish brothers talk, I have to tell them to slow down so I can understand them.”

“Irishness” is Casey’s comedy brand. He wears his heritage on his sleeve and jokes about it while performing on stages aboard cruise ships, including Oceania’s luxury vessels. He was even a hit for years in the country music theaters of Branson, Missouri.

Casey is now based in Central Florida, southwest of Orlando, where other native Irishmen have settled to dispense their country’s famed hospitality.

Michael Patrick Shiels with Irishman Garrett Kenny and his family at Balmoral Resort.
Michael Patrick Shiels with Irishman Garrett Kenny and his family at Balmoral Resort.
Photo by Harrison Shiels

Central Florida’s Tourism Connection to Ireland 

Garrett Kenny, similarly a Dubliner, developed the expansive Balmoral Vacation Home Resort in Haines City. His resort’s restaurant pours pints of Guinness and serves the traditional “full Irish” fry-up breakfasts. Balmoral Resort’s annual St. Patrick’s Day party presents Irish musicians and troops of traditional ceili dancers performing poolside in the Florida sunshine.

Kenny can be forgiven if his thoughts drift back to Galway – an Irish city and region he finds soulful.

“Galway has rich culture, beautiful scenery, lovely beaches, and great people. I know a few literary types who went there to write books amidst its peace and quiet,” he admits.  

Kenny’s countryman and colleague Chris Follenus represents Visit Central Florida. But he meditates about the medieval Christan history at Glendalough. Also the incredible places to walk and hike back in County Wicklow just to the south of his hometown of Dublin.

“Wicklow is the ‘idyllic Ireland’ due to the waterfalls, woolen mills, a rolling mountain range, and old estates,” Follenus said, before citing another form of inspiration and commiseration. “Wicklow is also home to Ireland’s highest pub: Johnny Fox’s.”

Follenus and I were a long way from Wicklow when we met at the Irish-themed Raglan Road Pub at Disney Springs in Orlando for, what else, pints of Guinness Stout.  

Guinness History is Good for You at Ashford Castle Resort

Cycling through the gates of Ashford Castle
Cycling through the gates of Ashford Castle. Image courtesy of Red Carnation

Guinness-guzzling tourists to Dublin depart the Temple Bar area to make a pilgrimage to the prized porter’s birthplace: Guinness Storehouse and Brewery, nearby at St. James Gate.

The immersive tour there is now as theatrically thorough and elaborate as a Disney World attraction. Plus, it concludes with a free pint from a top-floor, glass penthouse panorama overlooking all of Dublin. It is not easy to do, but since I am blessed to have been to Guinness HQ several times, I confess I have, when accompanying tourists on subsequent visits, managed to find a way to skip the 10 floors of attractions and go straight to the top.

For those who wish to authentically embrace the Guinness roots, Ashford Castle, one of the eponymous Red Carnation Hotels, is a luxury experience in Cong, County Mayo.

Fishing and boating at Ashford on Ireland’s second biggest lake
Fishing and boating at Ashford on Ireland’s second biggest lake.
Image courtesy of Red Carnation

“Ashford Castle was the home of the Guinness family,” said Niall Rochford, the resort’s managing director. “They used to come here in the winter to do some hunting and shooting and, in the summer, fishing. We still have some of the best salmon fishing in Ireland and on the lake some of the best trout fishing in Europe. They were a wonderful, benevolent family locally. Oscar Wilde used to come and visit. They lived here until 1939 until they bequeathed it to the Irish state.”

Ashford Castle, with its golf, falconry, boating and white-glove, gourmet elegance, has hosted nobility and prominent figures as one of Ireland’s most celebrated landmarks.

Ashford Castle Glam      

Rochford told me he toasts every day he manages Ashford Castle. “I have the privilege of driving in every day through the gates and I come around what we call the ‘Oh my God corner.’ What you see in front of you is this wonderful, 13th-century castle right on the edge of Lough Corrib – Ireland’s second largest lake. Ashford Estates 365 gorgeous acres straddle both County Mayo and County Galway when you come over the drawbridge.”

Not long after an international flight to Shannon Airport, or a drive from Dublin, guests will be as grateful as Rochford when they are transported to the idyllic Ireland they have dreamed of and seen on the screen such as the classic movie “The Quiet Man.”

Ashford Castle’s cozy cinema
Ashford Castle’s cozy cinema. Image courtesy of Red Carnation

The Quiet Man

“We’re still talking about the making of ‘The Quiet Man’ in 1951 when director John Ford brought Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne here to the property and shot the movie on the Ashford Estate and in Cong. It is still very much part of our fabric,” Rochford said.

The film presents delightfully stereotypical Irish characters, including the impish, leprechaun-like role Barry Fitzgerald brought to life; the brutish boxer Squire Danaher, played Victor McLaglen; plus, the requisite Protestant minister and village Catholic priest more interested in fishing than fighting.

“Believe you me, some of those characters still exist around this area. You still get that sense of true Irishness in this area,” insisted Rochford, who also said physical remnants of The Quiet Man movie remain.  

“We still have ‘Squire Danaher’s’ house, which we’ve just restored, here on the Ashford estate. It’s amazing the amount of people who still come to the village of Cong and Ashford Castle just to see where this 129-minute movie was shot.

We have our own 32-seat cinema in Ashford Castle and when it plays every day people are just mesmerized by it. It’s a great, evocative movie, particularly for Irish Americans.” 

American Admiration

The Ronald Regan Presidential Suite at Ashford Castle
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Suite at Ashford Castle. Image courtesy of Red Carnation

Americans may also relish the resort’s Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy Presidential Suites await guests who chose to enjoy stately luxury dedicated to those Irish-American U.S. Presidents.

“Ireland is a great country. I am really proud to be Irish; but it’s not an idea. Great Britain is great; but it’s not an idea. America is an idea. That idea belongs to everybody who wishes to serve it. That’s how we see you around the world: as one of the greatest ideas in human history right up there with the Renaissance, crop rotation and The Beatles ‘White Album,’” he said during a speech he gave at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.

“You and me are created equal. America was the first to claw its way out of darkness and put that on paper. These aren’t just American ideas anymore. There’s no copywrite on them. You brought them into the world. These truths – your truths – are self-evident.”

Ireland’s U2

Bono, the superstar lead singer of Irish rock band U2, is a great admirer of America. He and his bandmate The Edge know a little about luxury hotels, too, having just sold The Clarence Hotel, a four-star hotel they’d owned in Dublin’s city center since 1992. U2 famously performed on the hotel’s rooftop.

Just before St. Patrick’s Day, 2023, Bono, and the U2 band saluted Ireland on stage in Las Vegas about to perform their song “Peace on Earth” in the globe-shaped, dynamic new concert venue called The Sphere.

“We are a Saturday night/Sunday morning kind of band, so I think it is okay to confess in this ‘service’ how religion can so enrage us sometimes,” Bono preached. “I understand how ridiculous ‘love thy enemy’ sounds right now, but we cannot live with just ‘love thy neighbor.’ It is a divine commandment – not advice…but almost impossible to enact.”

A Dubliner, Bono grew up through an era of sectarian violence to the north – which the Irish referred to as “The Troubles” – depicted in U2’s song “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

“In Ireland, we now have a fragile but beautiful peace that we are grateful for. It’s not perfect but we are proud of what we have in Ireland. Tonight, we pray for the peace that passes all understanding.”

Faith and Begorrah

Irish musician Patrick Browne grew up attending Mass on St. Patrick’s Day in the little village of Ballingarry (“town of gardens.”) “Father Lyons was an unforgettable character of a priest who lorded over our village for decades, but I liked him. He used to play football and was known to be nasty on the rugby field,” Browne revealed.

“After Mass, my mother would always have a roast chicken stewing while my dad, sister and I loved going to a shrine to pray to Our Lady – Jesus’ mother. My father said, ‘If you want somebody to do something, ask their mother.’”

Browne, at age 16, left home to study medicine in Galway, a city and county along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way – and then moved to California. He’s currently working in Atlanta and exploring America. While Americans are planning visits at

Read more of Michael Patrick’s work at The Travel Tattler and contact him at [email protected] Order his book Travel Tattler – Less Than Torrid Tales at 

Michael Patrick Shiels

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