The popularity of shows like Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey make many of us dream of being king or queen of a castle.
Roscommon native Sean Simon also had a head full of those dreams – and he’s working on making that dream a reality for guests at Cloontykilla Castle, Roscommon, from the middle of next year.
A successful acting career in musicals and theatre productions in London’s West End, as well as appearances in several major movies, gave Sean the opportunity to fulfil a childhood dream in the place where he grew up.
Talking to Dublin Gazette, he said: “When I was a child, I told my parents that one day I’d have the money to buy the two castles, known as Cloontykilla Castle and McDermott’s Castle, in Lough Key Forest Park.”
Originally from nearby Boyle, he had played among the ruins of Cloontykilla Castle, known locally as Rockingham Castle, when he was a small child.
Built in 1839, the castle was designed by famous architect John Nash, who also designed Buckingham Palace, and was built by Lord Stafford King Harman.
The Stafford King Harmans left Ireland in 1957 after a fire destroyed the living quarters in Rockingham Castle.
Sean bought the two castles from the Irish Forestry Board in 1997 with the dream of restoring the once great buildings to their former glory.
So began two decades of hard graft, which have pushed Sean to the very limits.
He said: “It has been a very interesting and challenging project as both castles had been abandoned and neglected and were in ruins.
“I’m currently turning Cloontykilla Castle into a magnificent five-star luxury retreat that will be a completely authentic experience.
“If you’ve ever wanted to have your own castle for a week, then it will be the place for you!
“When I open in the Summer , guests will be able to rent the castle and experience what life was like in the 13th Century, but with 21st Century luxury touches such as underfloor heating, and so on.
“It will be a fantastic venue for small private weddings, and parties, set among the most beautiful countryside, that is abundant with wildlife.
“There’ll also be horse riding available, and wonderful country walks, as well as a private harbour with access to the Shannon.
“It’s a great concept. It’s not a hotel, there’s no bar, and no restaurant – it’s a private castle you can rent out.
“If you need anything from a chef to a driver, we can organise all that, no problem at all. There’ll be a phone number for guests to call if need be.”
His work on Cloontykilla Castle has even featured on the hit Channel 4 show, Grand Designs, in 2012.
Sean proudly said: “That show had the highest-grossing viewership in the history of the programme, and the production team are coming back for a return show next Summer.
“It’s a massive deal – that episode is available on US Netflix, and was watched by 107 million people, coast to coast, in the USA!
“I can’t wait for people to come and experience Cloontykilla Castle. It is going to be something they have never, ever experienced before.
“This historical experience is not something currently available anywhere else in Ireland, and will leave guests with unforgettable memories.”
Cloontykilla Castle is due to open next Summer. For further information, see their website here.