Sleep Next to a Castle Surrounded by Whiskey, a Music Festival, and Fairies
Glamping never felt so magical.
When Alex Conyngham wanted to dig a well for his castle in Ireland, first he had to ask the fairies. As much as this might sound like the opening of a Brothers Grimm tale, it’s really just a somewhat normal construction procedure that took place in 2015. After all, there was a fairy fort right where they needed to dig.
"I said, ‘There's a lovely group of trees over there. We're never gonna build there. Would they consider going there?’" Conyngham asked the water diviner, who checked in with the fairies, and everyone seemed a-okay with that plan. The tiny magical creatures presumably got a tiny magical Uhaul, the well was drilled, and prosperity sprung. For this reason—along with a spectacular annual music festival, some homegrown whiskey, and a glamping and farmhouse rental—the over-200-year-old Slane Castle is still a lively place today, just 45 minutes from Dublin. Though the owner still has to remember where the fairy fort moved, for future generations.
“The Irish do believe in fairies,” says Conyngham. It only seems fitting in a countryside where the local River Boyne has mythical origins as the goddess Boann, an ancient Newgrange tomb sits nearby that predates the pyramids and aligns with the winter solstice, and Conyngham’s ancestors played a role in the witchy story of Macbeth, made famous by Shakespeare. The Conyngham family helped hide Malcolm, who (as predicted by three witches) would go on to defeat wicked Macbeth and become king of Scotland. The land here is just oozing with lore.
Sleep in a yurt
The magical feeling is poignant when walking around Slane Castle and the property just across the river, called Rock Farm Slane, where visitors can rent out rooms in the Conyngham farmhouse or yurts for glamping next to the castle. It’s quite the morning view.
The yurts are named after the seven noble trees of the woods, trees which were given the same protection as feudal lords. This fits the owner well since, as he says “I've always thought of buildings as living things.” Each yurt has individual wood-burning stoves, in addition to plush beds and couches inside. Guests can also enjoy the outdoor bonfire pit, wooden hot tub, modern kitchen and showers, swimming pond, and the expansive castle grounds with trails meandering against the river.
Of course, none of this would be possible if not for the help of U2, Madonna, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Queen, and many others. Because Slane Castle is also one of the most epic music venues in the world.
Go to a concert
Slane Castle has been hosting performances since 1981, beginning right in the middle of the Irish Troubles—possibly at a time when music felt like one of the few moments of peace. The idea started when Conyngham’s father needed to come up with finances in order to keep the property going, and it proved a smashing hit. Slane has now grown into a legendary venue that’s considered a bucket list for musicians and attendees alike.
Thanks to the music concerts, Conyngham was able to invest in new endeavors. When many in town lost their jobs from the coronavirus pandemic, Conyngham pivoted to a new industry that could employ more people and bring in some much-needed visitors to help keep the town’s economy afloat. And that pivot was Irish Whiskey.
Drink some whiskey
Slane Whiskey is made from the waters of the mythical river Boyne and grain grown in a sustainable, zero-waste manner. The owner tries to work with nature, and so uses wood casks to ferment the liquid (rather than customary metal). The resulting dark-gold liquid tastes like velvety oak and cherries.
Like all of his undertakings, the project always links back to the land, which Conyngham finds to be more important than heritage and titles. “The whiskey is about more than my family,” he says, “it’s about our community.”
The current resident has a deeper understanding of the land the castle sits on (and whatever fairies come with it). “We will never own Slane,” says Conyngham. “We are custodians.” To him, all of his investments must involve the community and help better people’s situations in some way.
Peruse the local wares
In addition to the glamping, farmhouse stay, and rooms available to rent in the castle around the end of summer, Conyngham has also started a weekly farmers market on the property, where locals can come sell their produce, handmade goods, and seriously delicious nosh, including vegan and Indian cuisine options. It’s as idyllic as the Irish countryside can get.
The town is tight-knit, and many have the castle—and annual concert—to thank. Most everyone on the street stops Conyngham and his wife, Carina, to try to guess who the headliner will be in 2023. But much like their family in the tale of Macbeth, the Conynghams are keeping mum. It seems we’ll all just have to wait to see in a few months what the secret is.
Explore the valley
Until then, there’s a lot to do in the Boyne Valley. Boyne Boats takes visitors down the mystic Boyne River while the owner regales guests with tales of Irish folklore and history. In addition to the national lore, you can also pry stories from the owner about his role in Game of Thrones, as he built these exact ancient-style boats for the show and taught the actors how to navigate them, in addition to being a regular extra in numerous scenes. For this reason, he offers a Game of Thrones-themed boat ride, though you can also come in autumn for the Halloween version, in the country where the holiday comes from.
Just down the road is The Cider Mill, which makes hard cider the same way it was done hundreds of years ago, with no sugar or anything added—just slowly pressed apple juice aged over months. There are a few styles of dry, not-too-sweet ciders, some of which taste as delicate and refreshing as champagne.
Or check out the 12th century ruins on the Hill of Slane; the over-5,000-year-old Newgrange and Knowth tombs, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites; or the Hill of Tara, where ancient High Kings of Ireland were inaugurated on burial grounds.
Or you can hang out on Rock Slane Farm, take a dip in the wild swimming hole on the property, have a bonfire with a cocktail, hike the many trails, tour the distillery, and most importantly, sip the whiskey—maybe while gazing at the castle. It’s the stuff of magic, after all. Though many distillers say the percentage of whiskey lost to evaporation goes to the angels, as Conyngham explains, “We don't give it to the angels, we give it to fairies.”