They have the castle all to themselves, but there is a twist

(CNN) – Laura Jamieson and Michael Smith fell in love working in an 800-year-old castle. But they never expected to live in their workplace.

But that’s exactly what they’ve been doing since March 25, when, thanks to the coronavirus, they packed their things and moved to Ashford Castle, a five-star hotel on the north coast of Lough Corrib in Mayo County, Ireland.

“Who else can say they spent time in prison at the castle?” says Smith, 28, a real estate manager.

Temporary excavations

In the real world, the couple, who have been hanging out for a year and a half, live in an apartment in Cross, a small village about five kilometers from the castle.

Laura Jamieson and Michael Smith, employees at Ashford Castle (and also a couple), never expected to move into wonderful football boots.

Courtesy of Ashford Castle

Nothing prepared them to move into the former Guinness family farmhouse, with a 32-seat cinema, two gourmet dining rooms, a spa, wine tasting tunnels and 83 guest rooms.

In 1939, it was converted into a luxury hotel; past guests include U.S. presidents and celebrities like Barbra Streisand and Brad Pitt. Pierce Brosnan, who filmed an episode of the TV series “Remington Steele” in Ashford, returned to marry Keely Shaye Smith here in 2001.

Both Smith and Jamieson, who are in charge of guest services, were surprised – and thrilled – when CEO Niall Rochford asked them if they could consider the spell. They suspect it’s because they complement each other as a team.

“She does great on everything inside, and I have a lot of experience outside and on the field, so those were almost perfect yin and yang,” Smith says. “We’re balancing each other. So I have to believe that’s one of the reasons they asked for it.”

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Have fun yet?

Was it scary at first to be the only traveler of a place so big? Little.

During the day, part of the hotel staff comes to perform various jobs, but the couple is mostly alone.

During the day, part of the hotel staff comes to perform various jobs, but the couple is mostly alone.

Courtesy of Ashford Castle

For starters there was a Fiasco dessert.

“We have a five-star kitchen, but between the two of us, we’re a two-star chef,” says Smith, who grew up in Perthshire, Scotland. “We both have a sweet tooth, so we tried banana bread. It was a disaster. When you turn on the smoke alarm in the house, it’s just in the kitchen. But when you go to the hotel, the whole place goes off.”

The castle, which dates from 1228, is a huge space for only two people.

The castle, which dates from 1228, is a huge space for only two people.

Courtesy of Ashford Castle

Then there was the Spirit of Ashford of the past — or at least, the one in their heads.

“The castle dates back to 1228, and we remain in the Victorian wing,” says Jamieson, who has been in Ashford for five years. “You’ve had all these pictures of the owners through the ages. You almost feel like you’re in someone’s house watching you.”

Her boyfriend had fun jumping in front of her “to make sure he had toes.”

“It wears out pretty quickly,” Smith admits.

A day in the life of a castle

A typical day wakes them up at 8 a.m., when they walk about 350 acres of gardens and private woods and then head to the bar for coffee. It is a typical eight-hour workday, full of Zoom meetings and greetings from colleagues who have come to the castle for a few hours. They could stop at a barn or falconry school to see hawks and owls.

Then the fun really begins.

As part of their additional caring responsibilities, they must vacuum floors, dust chandeliers with Waterford crystals and cover showers in every guest room. Real calorie burning comes from 160 toilets that flush every day – just to keep everything in good condition.

“For us, it was a good exercise,” says Smith, who estimates they record an average of between 25,000 and 30,000 steps, which could take up to 7 or 8 hours.

To keep the castle in good condition, Smith and Jamieson run all the showers and flush all the toilets daily (160 in total).

To keep the castle in good condition, Smith and Jamieson run all the showers and flush all the toilets daily (160 in total).

Courtesy of Ashford Castle

Once a week, they hold a night out at the 32-seat cinema, which “looks like something from the 1920s,” Jamieson says.

They bring candy, popcorn, some wine and pretend to be in the cinema instead of in their own private cinema. The first film they watched was John Ford’s film “Silent Man,” starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, which was shot in Ashford.

They also enjoyed “Game of Thrones” and “The Greatest Showman” – “things worthy of being on the big screen,” Smith says.

A date night often takes place in an empty cinema.

A date night often takes place in an empty cinema.

Courtesy of Ashford Castle

The couple met three years ago, when Smith first started working at a hotel. Jamieson worked in different departments, wearing a different uniform in each, and she soon saw Smith in his eyes — though he was confused as to whether she was one person or a set of sisters. “But I managed to narrow it down,” he says and eventually created the nerves to ask her.

The couple changed into a luxurious state room in the original wing of the castle (circa 1228), with antiques, tapestries, Connemara marble, Murano glass chandeliers, an antique grandfather clock, 15-foot ceilings and magnificent lake views.

Before arriving, they bought a Polaroid camera to document their experience. “We were creating a book of memories for ourselves,” Jamieson says. “This isn’t real life. That’s why we look prettier than we are.”

The hardest part, they say, was not being able to see their friends and family in person. But with them, FaceTime, usually from another part of the estate, is doing a virtual tour.

Laura Jamieson and Michael Smith fell in love working in an 800-year-old castle. But they never expected to live in their workplace.

Michael Smith is from Scotland and Laura Jamieson is Surrey in England, but they fell in love across the Irish Sea.

Courtesy of the Red Carnation Collection

Direct ‘eviction’

The castle is scheduled to reopen on July 2nd. They are currently unsure when they will be evicted. “We avoid asking questions,” Jamieson says.

Although the castle will reopen on July 2, the couple is unsure when they will be asked to leave.

Although the castle will reopen on July 2, the couple is unsure when they will be asked to leave.

Courtesy of Ashford Castle

In addition to the novelty of playing Eloise, they learned a lot about themselves as people and as a married couple. “We’re a relatively young couple and it was the craziest experience,” Smith says. “I’m not saying this is a Disney story. I’m sure there are times when he wants me to go the other way or send me to jail. But we didn’t argue or get sick.

But, he adds, “she might change her mind soon.”

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