DUBLIN -- Steeped in history and buzzing with activity, Ireland's capital city is in the midst of a massive makeover.
Fueled by what locals call "the Celtic tiger economy" and a backlash to "the brain drain," the undercurrent in the late Eighties and Nineties that lured Ireland's well-educated young adults overseas, Dublin is doing what it can to present a more polished image.
With about 35,000 people relocating or returning to Ireland annually, restaurants, bars, galleries, hotels, stores and American businesses are moving in to try to cash in. This year, 6.5 million people visited Ireland and poured $4 billion into the local economy. The number of visitors is expected to double in the next five to nine years.
Out-of-towners generally head to Dublin Castle and Powerscourt for castle tours, but many usually miss Luttrellstown Castle, a Gothic estate with 560 acres that dates back to the 12th century. Used mostly for private parties, secluded getaways and corporate events, the site has 14 bedrooms and a 25-person staff -- one quarter of the help once used to run the estate in its heyday.
Over the years, the castle has seen Queen Victoria and Princess Grace dine there, Fred Astaire dance, Mel Gibson film "Braveheart" and Ronald Reagan and friends re-enact scenes from films on horseback complete with period costumes. It's the kind of place where R.E.M., Van Morrison and the Glen Miller Orchestra play, provided the party is private and closed to the media.
Madonna grabbed recent headlines by exchanging vows in a Scottish castle, but not before Posh Spice and Manchester United soccer star David Beckham tied the knot last year at Luttrellstown Castle.
Located about 15 minutes outside of Dublin, the 60-room estate is undergoing major renovations. Its 18th century four-poster beds, paintings, antique claw-foot bathtubs, tapestries and white marble chimney pieces aren't going anywhere, but a limited number of $1 million homes are in the works, and a 160-bedroom hotel, a new clubhouse and nine-hole golf course are also being planned near the 18-hole course just outside the castle's massive gates, according to Eamonn Coghlan, a three-time Olympic runner who is a consultant for the castle.
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