Castle Durrow Hotel in County Laois is a piece of Irish history embodied in stone. As a building, its massive solidity is combined with an old-world charm and elegance that is distinctive and attractive. It is the creation of an Anglo-Irish landlord family, a relic of an age that has vanished forever. Castle Durrow is the first country house of importance that still stands in close to its original condition and is one of the few 18th century houses for which precise building records survive.
Built by earlier generations of Durrow inhabitants, the legacy of Castle Durrow is its unique sense of proportion, restrained good taste, and a spaciousness that has largely disappeared from present-day living. Complex traditions unite at Castle Durrow – it was built and lived in during a period of high taste and high culture.
Formerly the home of the Flower family, Barons Castle Durrow and Viscounts Ashbrook, it was built in the early 18th century (1712 – 1715) when domestic architecture in Ireland was developing an independence of the need for defence and economy that had characterised earlier construction.
The construction began after the Cromwellian and Williamite wars; this resulted in a new Protestant aristocracy that was beginning to enjoy the lands that they had inherited. The fashion of this new era dictated that inherited land should now separate the burden of agriculture from that of class, and create elegant mansions that could not in any way resemble the farmhouse type buildings of the previous age.
Colonel William Flower commenced with the construction of the Manor in 1712. The Flower family assumed residency of Castle Durrow in 1716 and continued to expand and improve their Estate on various occasions during their 214-year reign. Past research indicates that the Ashbrooks were generally regarded as benevolent landlords and of course the largest employers of Durrow Village.
In 1922 the banks finally foreclosed and the Flower family was forced to relocate back to Britain. Subsequently, the property was sold to Mr. Maher of Freshford, Co Kilkenny who was primarily interested in the rich timber reserves of the Estate. By 1928 the old hard wood forests of Durrow were scarce.
Eventually the Land Commission divided up the arable portions of the property and the Forestry Department took over many of the woods for further plantation. During this time the great manor house which stood in a commanding position near the town overlooking the beautiful River Erkina remained entirely empty for a few years. The Bank of Ireland acquired the town and consequently for the next 40 years house property in Durrow was purchased from that bank.
In 1929 with the Bishop’s approval the Parish of Durrow acquired the Estate for the purchase price of £1800 and Castle Durrow was transformed into a school, St Fintan’s College and Convent. The advent of a school at Castle Durrow was testimony to the fact that beautiful buildings of the past could be used in the modern world.
Peter and Shelley Stokes bought the castle in 1998 and transformed it into the luxurious Castle Hotel it is today.