The brilliant Belleek Castle is one of my favourite castles in Ireland.
Built as a Neo-Gothic family home and now a luxury hotel near Ballina, Belleek Castle has a fascinating history.
Surrounded by scenic woodland beside the River Moy, this restored castle is crammed with authentic antiques.
In the guide below, you’ll discover everything you need to know about visiting Belleek Castle, from having a meal here and the tour to the castle accommodation.
Some quick need-to-knows before visiting Belleek Castle in Ballina
As Belleek Castle is one of the more popular places to visit in Mayo, a visit is nice and straightforward, however, there are a handful of need-to-knows.
Belleek Castle is surrounded by woodland just over 2km north of Ballina. It is located on the banks of the River Moy, which marks the border between Mayo and Sligo. Now one of the most unique hotels in Mayo (along with a museum and restaurant) this historic manor is 35 minutes from Knock Airport and a similar distance from Downpatrick Head.
2. A whole lot of history
Belleek Castle was built as a Neo-Gothic family home between 1825 and 1831 on the site of a 13th century Tower House. It remained part of the Knox-Gore family for several generations before being sold in 1942. Purchased by Mayo County Council in the 1950s, it was used as a hospital and military barracks before being abandoned. In 1961, it was bought and magnificently restored by Marshall Doran and is now packed with treasures.
3. Belleek Castle Tours
History lovers and those curious to see behind closed doors will appreciate the guided Belleek Castle Tours which take place daily at 10.30am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm. Learn about castle history, visit the splendid Medieval Banquet Hall, Spanish Armada Bar and the Tween Deck and see some of the unique collections and curiosities.
A speedy history of Belleek Castle
The first Belleek Castle was a 13th century tower house. In 1825, Sir Arthur Francis Knox-Gore, Earl of Arran, commissioned this magnificent Neo-Gothic castle to be built in the extensive woodland beside the river. Designed by architect John Benjamin Keane, it cost £10,000 to build.
Belleek Castle was a family home for Knox-Gore, his wife and nine children. When he died in 1873, he was buried in the woods along with his horse.
The Monument can still be seen, quietly marking the grave. The castle passed through the generations to William Arthur Cecil Saunders-Knox-Gore, who sold it in 1942.
Belleek Castle restoration
Belleek Castle was used as a stud farm, hospital and military barracks being falling into disrepair. Fortunately the story has a happy ending when Marshall Doran bought the property in 1961 and restored it.
He was a merchant naval officer, adventurer, and some say a smuggler! He was also a craftsman, restoring the rooms and filling them with fine antiques, collections of armour and Jurassic fossils before opening the castle as a hotel in 1970.
Things to do at Belleek Castle in Ballina
One of the beauties of visiting Belleek Castle is that there’s plenty to see and do within its grounds, from the tour and the woods to a very beautiful bar.
1. Head off on the Belleek Castle Tour
The best way to learn more about Belleek Castle is on a guided tour. You’ll get to see some of the private rooms along with the museum, Medieval Banquet Hall, wood-panelled Spanish Armada Bar and the Tween Deck.
The castle is filled with chandeliers, stone-carved fireplaces, coffered ceilings, elegant antiques and curiosities, many with nautical connections.
Don’t miss the “Pirate Queen’s Bed”, the last wolf shot in Connaught, and the largest collection of mediaeval armour, weapons and Jurassic fossils in Ireland.
2. Explore Belleek Woods
Now for a breath of fresh air in beautiful Belleek Woods, one of the largest urban forests in Europe. Surrounding the castle, Belleek Woods has two car parks and is free to visit. Wheelchair-friendly trails make this a wonderful place to appreciate the lush greenery and wildlife including red squirrels, foxes and badgers.
The main path runs beside the broad River Moy with scenic views across to Ballina Quay. You might spot swans, herons and oystercatchers along with local boats. Points of interest include the Knox-Gore family mausoleum and the Creteboom, a concrete boat abandoned after WW1.
3. Sip a pint in one of the most beautiful bars in Ireland
The Armada Bar is truly one of the most intimate and beautiful bars to sit down in and enjoy a pint. It also has a quirky tale attached to it.
Hand crafted by Marshall Doran from wood salvaged from a 16th century Armada ship, the fine craftsmanship and authenticity add to the unique ambience of this astonishing bar. Relax in carved armchairs beneath the timbered ceiling and ponder what these walls have witnessed over the centuries!
4. Live like royalty for a night
Belleek Castle is arguably the best of the many hotels in Ballina. It has just 10 boutique bedrooms, each individually furnished with fine antiques, luxury linens and rich window drapes. Some guest rooms include hand-carved four poster beds and views of the estate and woods.
Start your evening in the wood-lined Armada Bar before dining in the gourmet restaurant. After a night of good food and fine wine, retire to bed to sleep it off.
In the morning, enjoy a continental or full Irish breakfast to send you on your way. Note: The link below is an affiliate link.
5. The Café
Within the restored 19th century coach house, Jack Fenn’s is an upscale café-cum-bistro with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the courtyard. Full of character and furnished with castle knick-knacks, it was awarded Café of the Year 2019. It serves its own house blend freshly ground coffee, a range of teas and a fabulous light menu of tasty snacks and meals.
Things to do near Belleek Castle
Below, you’ll find everything from beaches and walks to historical sites and some of the best cliff views on the Wild Atlantic Way.
1. Enniscrone Beach (20-minute drive)
Fancy a stroll on 5km of golden sand? Then hop across the Sligo border to Enniscrone Beach. Popular for swimming, surfing and sunsets, it has Blue Flag waters and a shallow river outlet. Backed by dunes and a golf course, it hides a secluded treasure. Within the dunes is the Valley of Diamonds with a series of mysterious volcano-like formations.
2. Downpatrick Head (35-minute drive)
There’s lots to see and do at Downpatrick Head. Amble along to see Dun Briste, a dramatic sea stack just offshore, then visit the remains of St Patrick’s Church and the statue of Ireland’s patron saint. A short walk away is the remarkable blowhole, Pul Na Sean Tinne which means “Hole of the Old Fire”. Stand on the viewing platform and you’ll see why!
3. The Ceide Fields (35-minute drive)
If you want some mind-boggling history, the Ceide Fields is the place to find it. These ancient stone-walled fields are evidence of a Neolithic community that inhabited this clifftop beauty spot over 6000 years ago. This Stone Age monument is the oldest-known field system in the world with megalithic tombs, stone-walled fields and dwellings preserved beneath blanket bogs until a local peat-cutter discovered them in the 1930s.
FAQs about visiting Belleek Castle in Mayo
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from what is there to do at Belleek Castle to where to go nearby.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
What is there to do at Belleek Castle?
You can take a guided tour, head off on the Belleek Woods walk, eat in the beautiful Armada Bar and, if you fancy, spend the night.
Is Belleek Castle worth visiting?
Yes. If you’re into castles, this one is well worth ticking off. You can explore the castle, discover it’s history and then eat in the castle bar or cafe.
What is there to see near Belleek Castle in Mayo?
You’ve Enniscrone Beach a handy 20-minute spin away and some of the North Mayo coasts’ top attractions just 35 minutes away.
Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.