Three years ago today my husband and I were staying at the most fabulous Airbnb – Pete’s castle in Galway, Ireland. It’s also known as Cahercastle, Craughwell, and according to the Irish Times it is one of the most popular listings in Europe.  I’d spotted it many, many months before while googling for fairytale places to visit (a trip planning technique my daughter taught me). I mean, seriously – it’s a CASTLE!!! And you get the two whole top floors to yourself – plus the battlements. Pretty much beyond belief to an Australian urban sketcher from a little wooden house with a corrugated iron roof. I do love my home country, but sadly we are pretty short on castles. And no, Kryal Castle theme park really doesn’t count.

I seriously couldn’t believe it when we drove up in our hire car. We turned a corner, and there it was in real life – a TOWER. A TOWER with a PIRATE FLAG!!  And maybe that says it all. For only Pete – a one of a kind character, truly – would put a pirate flag on his tower. It was so … right. It was the beginning of a wonderful adventure into a land of quirkily perfect imperfection. So much to draw. Sooooo much to draw. Just as well I had booked two nights. I knew I’d be busy sketching. I didn’t even mind the rain – I mean, you really can’t complain about being stuck inside your very own castle.

The scaffolding has gone now – testament to decades of hard work by Pete, including using his car as a pulley to haul tons of stone blocks up to the top one by one. Yes, he really did restore this amazing tower, which was just a roofless and floorless husk when he got it. That alone is an incredible feat. 

It was pretty mindblowing from the outside, especially for an urban sketcher. But the inside was no disappointment either. How can you possibly describe a bathtub hidden underneath a TRAPDOOR in the main living area? How pirate-y and castle-y is that? What about the bathroom with a castle door, mosaic floor, wooden THRONE (of course) and a seat inset with barbed wire (not as uncomfortable as it sounds). What about the bed made of logs and twigs? The shields in the bedroom? The gorgeous old stove? What a paradise for an urban sketcher …..  sigh, even now I feel a little jilt of pleasure thinking about it.


I filled six double pages with sketches – although admittedly in a tiny A6 Hahnemuhle watercolour book. It is amazing how much you can fit in a tiny space.

There were a bucketful of stories behind each of these sketches, and I share them in this video.

Pete was keen to have some of my artwork, so I made up some prints and sent them to him. You can imagine how exciting it was to get these photos back from Pete in return. Now I can say I have a gallery in an Irish castle!

I just love to hear from people who have seen my artwork in the castle. There is a shared feeling of absolute joy at having visited such an amazing place, and it reminds us just how small our world really is. 

I find myself reminiscing quite often these days, while in the midst of a strict coronavirus lockdown in Melbourne. Facebook reminds me what we were doing one, two or three years ago, and yesterday it was a little video of a pirate flag that got me travelling back in time to Pete’s castle.

This year’s planned trip to Italy has been cancelled, and Australian planes wrapped up in dust cloths. When we can barely leave our front yard it is hard to even imagine traveling again. But in some ways that has made my travel sketchbooks even more precious. My sketchbooks have replaced photo albums, and friends ask to see them when we get home. Even my husband enjoys telling stories about where we were, and who we talked to as I sketched. I will never, ever, forget how amazing Pete’s castle was. How incredibly lucky am I?

What about you? Do you have a favourite fairytale place? Have you stayed in a castle and drawn it too? What is your favourite travel memory? Where should we go when the world goes back to ‘normal’? All recommendations for magical places ripe for urban sketching would be gladly accepted!

PS: If you’re interested in the prints too, you can find them here ….



  1. Thank you for sharing a Helen. How exciting to actually stay in a castle. I loved Galway for the very short time I had there. Your sketches are amazing they really bring your Holiday to life. How lovely that your sketches are framed and have pride of place in Pete’ s castle.

    • Thanks Kate – it was an incredibly special experience for both my husband and I. I got him a pirate flag for Christmas and he immediately raised it on the shed!

  2. What a wonderful story Helen! And your paintings really do it justice! I am from Irish heritage and we had planned a trip to Ireland this year! Galway was on the list, so your story is very meaningful. Like you, my photo albums are now sketch books
    Thank you.
    Irene Ryan

    • Thanks Irene! I have an Irish background too – some of whom may *cough* not have come to Australia by choice …. We retraced some of those footsteps on our trip, but made sure that we could fit in Pete’s castle. I’m so glad we did 🙂

  3. Helen the first of your sketches I ever saw were of your trip around Ireland and I have been totally besotted since. Love the way you tell your story through vivid sketches – you take me on a virtual tour with you and I love it. I see places i have visited again through your eyes.
    Thank you..please don’t stop recording your life and travels. It is wonderful.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words – I’m so glad you are enjoying my sketches as much as I do. I feel especially lucky to have these opportunities, and have no intention of stopping! I am looking forward to the day we are able to continue travelling, but there is lot of inspiration at home too. So many wonderful memories come back when I flip through my sketchbooks 🙂

  4. Hi Helen! I love hearing about Pete’s castle and seeing your gorgeous watercolor sketches! It makes me want to go there but after reading your blog post and sinking into your beautiful paintings, I feel like I just took a virtual mini vacation!!?

    • Thanks Clare! It is a fabulous place – truly an experience ?. We could all do with a mini vacation at the moment I think, so I’m glad to be a virtual tour guide. I’m thinking of you coming up to say hello when I was sketching in the Rijksmuseum – wonderful memories of that trip too

  5. Helen, a lovely summary of Pete’s ‘wonderland’ – a must for everyone to visit for an overnight stay and to avail of Pete’s hospitality and a display of his amazing skill in the restoration of castle,
    Your artwork & sketches which I first saw in CaherCastle give an overview of the accommodations for your stay, a picture of castle life in bygone days. Its a compliment to your work to see your ‘gallery’ of prints displayed there.
    Ireland is an artists paradise with spectacular landscape no matter what part of the country you visit with a special mention of The Wild Atlantic Way, a road trip along the West Coast. ☘️

    • Oh how cool that you have seen my sketches in the castle itself!! Aren’t Pete and Eva amazing? The Wild Atlantic Way sounds amazing. We tried to see the Cliffs of Moher on the day we left the castle, but the weather was shocking and visibility was non existent. We ended up having a nice lunch at a chocolate shop instead (where I cleverly managed to wear my lunch …). I hope we can return one day to beautiful Ireland, with its lushest of lush greens 🙂


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