The Real-Life Magic Behind Ireland’s Fairytale Castle Wedding Venues

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“It’s every little girl’s dream to get married in a castle, isn’t it?” thinks Marnie Corscadden.

Kerry-based Marnie knows what she’s talking about.

She and her husband Rory O’Sullivan celebrated their big day within crenellated walls and have since welcomed other bride and groom to their own castle, Ballyseede, near Tralee.

The reception at Ballyseede.

In fact, Marnie’s family, the Corscaddens, run four castle hotels across Ireland – and all four feature in a list of the ‘best castle wedding venues‘ unveiled this week.

Ireland is known internationally for its abundance of historical and romantic buildings.

Some of them are original historic houses and others are buildings renovated especially for the wedding market.

Fairy tale exterior: Ballyseede.  Image: Stay Wild Images
Fairy tale exterior: Ballyseede. Image: Stay Wild Images

“These truly stunning wedding venues are ideal for couples after a fairytale atmosphere for their celebrations or for those looking for the right balance of historic charm and luxury for their big day,” says Shell Holden of Dublin-based SaveMyDay. .

So are TV series like Downton Abbey and Netflix hits like Bridgerton behind the popularity of these grand bridal homes away from home?

“The ‘Bridgerton Postman’ and those fascinated by the elegant settings, manicured gardens and opulent interiors of the hit show have also sparked increased interest in castles and stately homes to host wedding ceremonies and receptions,” adds Shell, who set up SaveMyDay.ie with partner Ian Menzies in 2021 to showcase alternative Irish venues available to hire for weddings.

Covering over 800 years of history and dotted across Ireland from Dublin, Cavan, Roscommon, Louth, Kerry, Sligo and Clare, SaveMyDay.ie has compiled a list of the best castle wedding venues in Ireland to help couples planning their ultimate big day.

The living room of the Cabra castle.
The living room of the Cabra castle.

The list includes Clontarf Castle, Cabra Castle, Kilronan Castle Estate, Bellingham Castle, Ballyseede Castle, Markree Castle, Fitzpatrick Castle, Temple House Estate and Castlefergus Lodge. Of these, Cabra, Markree, Bellingham and Ballyseede belong to the Marnie family.

A wedding at Markree Castle.  Image: Photograph by Emily Doran
A wedding at Markree Castle. Image: Photograph by Emily Doran

Marnie, from Kildare, her brothers and sister all toasted their future happiness as newlyweds in castles.

Marnie comes from a family that owns and operates Ireland’s award-winning Romantic Castles Collection, Ireland’s largest independent and private collection of luxury castle wedding venues.

The honeymoon suite on the courtyard of the Château de Cabra.
The honeymoon suite on the courtyard of the Château de Cabra.

The Corscaddens opened Cabra Castle in 1992. Then Ballyseede Castle in 2005, Bellingham Castle in 2012 and the newest addition to the collection, Markree Castle, which was acquired by the hoteliers in 2015.

“My parents and grandparents were all hoteliers,” she says.

“My brother and I went to Shannon [College of Hotel Management], the hotel school, as it is called. Howard, my brother, later worked at Dromoland Castle. When he was around 25, he saw the potential of Cabra Castle and the family bought it in 1992.”

The Corscaddens had previously run a hotel in Kildare which they sold. “We all moved to Cavan and realized that weddings and castles go hand in hand,” says Marnie. “Cabra had a captive market.”

It was after attending a funeral that Marnie’s mother added another castle to the family estate. “My mother had come to a funeral in North Kerry,” says Marnie.

“She stopped here at Ballyseede Castle on her way back and met the previous owner, Barth O’Connor.

“She basically bought Ballyseede over a cup of coffee.”

Castles like Ballyseede are popular wedding venues.  Photo: Bruno Rosa Photography
Castles like Ballyseede are popular wedding venues. Photo: Bruno Rosa Photography

At this point in her life, Marnie was traveling the world as an international tourism consultant.

“On February 1, 2005, I landed in Ireland to run Ballyseede,” she says.

Of course, this was the height of the Celtic Tiger era – with all that that entailed.

“Would you believe we had to bring builders from Cavan, we couldn’t bring builders here at the time? she says.

For her own nuptials, Marnie returned to what she considered the “family castle” Cabra, which her brother Howard still runs.

The Golden Room of Cabra Castle.
The Golden Room of Cabra Castle.

“I told my brother that I wanted the wedding planning to be a total surprise – I let them do what they do best,” she says.

“My brother Patrick got married at Bellingham Castle, which the family also owns, and where he works, my sister Patricia got married at Ballyseede, and my brother Howard was working at Dromoland when he got married and that’s where her marriage took place.”

A bedroom at Markree Castle.
A bedroom at Markree Castle.

INTERIORS

The interiors and history of Ballyseede, Ballyseede, are also key aspects of owning and running a castle that Marnie loves.

She worked with designers GDC, gdcgroup.global and Audrey Gaffney of Tailor and Wolf, Tailorandwolf, on the set.

This venue is steeped in history and is set in 30 acres of ancient woodland.

The Orangery at Ballyseede Castle.
The Orangery at Ballyseede Castle.

Ballyseede Castle was the main garrison of the legendary Fitzgeralds, Earls of Desmond, and its elegant interiors include impressive drawing rooms with ornate cornices, marble fireplaces and fine furnishings.

A wedding in Ballyseede.  Image: Black Diamond Photography
A wedding in Ballyseede. Image: Black Diamond Photography

“Our policy is that whatever we do, we reinvest in the chateau, we keep reinvesting,” says Marnie.

“You have to do it or you back down.”

Hosts who open the doors of the Great Hall to newlyweds “have to make it better and more special every year,” adds Marnie.

Josephine's kitchen at Cabra Castle.
Josephine’s kitchen at Cabra Castle.

“For us, we understand weddings. We know what a bride is looking for, so when we renovate old castles, we do it being aware of what the bride wants,” she says.

“We enter the psyche of couples.”

“We gutted two hotels, Bellingham and Markree, and rebuilt them into successful wedding venues,” adds Marnie.

The key to a successful chateau interior is to “stay classic,” says Marnie.

“You try to follow a trend and it’s outdated the next year,” she says. Of course, when your castle hosts guests like a hotel or a wedding venue, she adds, “It has to be durable and can handle a lot of drunken Irish guys singing The Fields of Athenry.

Third, good quality is essential, she believes. “You have to pay for quality,” says Marnie.

“And you have to change before the year looks crummy. We have a painter and a maintenance technician constantly on call.

COMING

Today, sustainability is key.

“When we do construction work right now, we think about the future, how it will last and how it will look 20 years from now,” says Marnie.

“We seek to do our part for the environment.

“We are installing solar panels in Cabra Castle and will do the same here in Ballyseede, we will install a roof full of solar panels.

“We have completed a full renovation with only four rooms remaining in this latest round of renovations which began five years ago.”

HAPPY SPACE

As for Marnie’s favorite perch?

“Love to sit on the half landing and look out the large open windows to take in the view of the countryside below.”

RESIDENT

Like many castles, Ballyseede also has its own resident ghost, Hilda.

The exterior of Ballyseede Castle.
The exterior of Ballyseede Castle.

“Hilda welcomed us here and we feel she is still watching over us,” says Marnie.

“We close for January and February and something big always happens in March when we reopen, when the building hasn’t been inhabited for a few months – a picture will fall off the wall or a door will open that shouldn’t have s ‘open. Something that will wake things up.

Clontarf Castle was on the list published by SaveMyDay.ie.  Image: Love It Visuals Photography
Clontarf Castle was on the list published by SaveMyDay.ie. Image: Love It Visuals Photography

“And it feels like 100% positive energy.”

Marnie and Rory have two young daughters, Daisy and Lily who already show interest in running the castle, according to their mother, with Daisy developing a flair for all things culinary and Lily for business.


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