Glenveagh Castle

© Benjamin B/Shutterstock

Glenveagh Castle

County Donegal

This castle was modelled on Scotland's Balmoral Castle. Henry McIlhenny made it a characterful home with liberal reminders of his passion for deer-stalking. In fact, few rooms lack a representation – or the taxidermied remains – of a stag.

Access is by guided tour only. Cars are not allowed beyond the Glenveagh Visitor Centre; you can walk or cycle the lovely lakeside 3.6km route to the castle, or take the shuttle bus (every 15 minutes).

The most eye-catching of the flamboyantly decorated rooms are in the round tower, including the tartan-and-antler-encrusted music room and the blue room where guests Greta Garbo and Ella Fitzgerald once stayed.

The exotic gardens are similarly spectacular, boasting terraces, an Italian garden, a walled kitchen garden and the Belgian Walk, built by Belgian soldiers who stayed here during WWI. Their cultured charm is in marked contrast to the wildly beautiful landscape that enfolds the area.

The castle was briefly occupied by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1922. Then in 1929 the property was acquired by Kingsley Porter, professor of art at Harvard University, who mysteriously disappeared in 1933 (presumed drowned, but rumoured to have been spotted in Paris afterwards).

Six years later the estate was bought by his former student, Henry McIlhenny, who sold the whole kit and caboodle to the Irish government in 1975.

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