Ireland’s Ashford castle became couple’s lavish COVID-19 lockdown

At 800 years old, Ireland’s Ashford Castle has been visited by the likes of Brad Pitt, Barbra Streisand and James Bond himself. Pierce Brosnan held his wedding reception at the elegant property in 2001.

But the hotel’s pandemic occupants have the most exclusive experience of all.

Because of the coronavirus, employees Laura Jamieson, 23, a senior guest executive, and Michael Smith, 28, the estate manager, were, for months, the property’s sole inhabitants.

They’re the girlfriend-and-boyfriend caretakers of its luxurious 83 bedrooms (which can run up to $600 a night) and amenities including a wine cellar, spa, tea house and cinema. It sits on 350 acres of wooded estate on the shores of Lough Corrib, Ireland’s second-largest lake. The five-star hotel in County Mayo, which gets shining reviews, is now open to residents from the nearby Galway area.

“We feel incredibly proud and lucky to have been trusted with the important job of custodians,” Jamieson tells The Post. Tasks included vacuuming and dusting, plus fielding guest inquiries and bookings in advance of its July reopening.

Oh, and flushing the manor’s daunting 160 toilets to keep the plumbing in order. That chore actually takes a few hours, but they’ve figured out a trick. “We work as a team and that helps to speed up the process,” adds Jamieson.

The couple, who met while working at the castle and have been together for a year and a half, likened their experience to a reality show that no one is watching. While their regular bedroom is a five-minute drive away in the city of Cross, their new one, in the Victorian wing of the castle, is something out of a fairy tale.

“It has the most stunning view out over Lough Corrib,” says Jamieson. “The room has high ceilings, a working fireplace and silk on the walls. There is ample wardrobe space and is most definitely something we will miss when the time comes to move out.”

In their downtime, Jamieson and Smith go for walks on the estate and visit various animal friends, taking treats to the horses at the Ashford stables and checking in with the falconry school, which houses falcons, hawks and an European eagle owl named Dingle. Says Jamieson, “They have 38 birds in total and the whole vicinity is essentially a 5-star luxury hotel for birds.”

Laura Jamieson and Michael Smith, who met while working at the Ashford Castle hotel, were responsible for keeping it in tip-top shape during Ireland's lockdown.
Laura Jamieson and Michael Smith, who met while working at the Ashford Castle hotel, were responsible for keeping it in tip-top shape during Ireland’s lockdown.Ashford Castle

And in their explorations of the hotel, they found favorite spots, like the billiards room, with leather-clad armchairs and adjoining cigar terrace, and the elegant Connaught Room, where afternoon tea is served with views of manicured gardens and the lake.

“In the morning, with the sunlight coming through the windows, it is particularly lovely,” Jamieson says.

But while having a gigantic palace to yourself can be a dream, sometimes it’s nice to have people around. Especially at mealtime. “While the facilities [in the kitchen] are state of the art, they can be rather daunting for a beginner,” admits Jamieson.

And while the castle’s George V dining room is usually a highlight of a guest’s stay, with locally sourced tasting menus served under Waterford chandeliers, having it to yourself can be a little lonely. “The George V fine-dining restaurant is normally so full of life,” Jamieson says. “The fact it was only us in the restaurant just felt wrong.”

Jamieson and Smith instead prefer a good game of Monopoly, or pairing wine from the cellar with snacks and screenings in the hotel’s 1920s throwback cinema, with their choice of 32 plush velvet seats. They’ve worked through “Game of Thrones” as well as John Ford’s 1952 classic “The Quiet Man,” starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.

Much of the that movie was filmed on the castle grounds.