Modern Ireland is leaving its imprint on the world. Gone is the fusty old Irish stereotype of the feisty colleen personified by Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man, the leprechauns in Darby O’Gill and the Little People and the village idiot of Ryan’s Daughter.
Tourists are flocking to the foreboding tree lined Dark Hedges and the old Titanic shipyard where much of Game of Thrones is filmed, not to mention Luke Skywalker’s windswept island lair on Skellig Michael, off the coast of Kerry. Ireland is much more than the Brexit backstop, it is about a new attitude, a national self-confidence that is best summed up in the Irish government’s ambitious diplomacy programme to brand itself as ‘a small island in the centre of the world’.
Ireland is still the land of a hundred thousand welcomes, and naturally the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is still the most visited in the country. But it also plays host to several world class attractions, hotels, spas and restaurants to savour this St Patrick’s Day.
Follow in the footsteps of Tiger Woods at the K Club
The K Club was built by the wine magnate Hugh Barton of Chateau Leoville Barton fame, in 1832, and modelled on a French chateau. Only 25 minutes from Dublin airport, Frank describes it as ‘a wonderful place to unwind’
This is personified by the stately Straffan House in Co. Kildare, built by the wine magnate, Hugh Barton of Chateau Leoville Barton fame, in 1832, and modelled on a French chateau. Only 25 minutes from Dublin airport, it is a wonderful place to unwind.
It is majestically set in woodlands along the winding sweep of the River Liffey. The swashbuckling Irish billionaire, Dr Michael Smurfit, bought it in 1988 and transformed it into the five star K Club Hotel & Resort.
Many billionaires conceal their artwork from public view. Not Smurfit – the gorgeous Yeats room is tastefully adorned with some of Jack Butler Yeats’ finest works, including a portrait of his Nobel Prize winning brother, William. It’s the perfect spot to relax and have a pre-dinner drink.
Horse-racing and Bordeaux wine are two passions of Smurfit, so it’s not surprising that the award winning restaurant, the Byerley Turk, is named after the equestrian thoroughbred stallion.
Frank says the hotel and spa, having just undergone a €20 million refurbishment, effortlessly combines natural old world elegance with indulgent luxury
Diners can enjoy a suitably festive Connemara whiskey cured hickory smoked Irish salmon with cauliflower puree, toasted pine nuts, sorrel and pine oil and a main course of whole black sole meuniere and vanilla scented bisque and crayfish tails.
The resort has two championship golf courses, one of which was designed by golfing legend Arnold Palmer. It hosted the 2006 Ryder Cup that has gone down in the annals of golfing history as one of the most pulsating of all time.
The hotel and spa, having just undergone a €20 million refurbishment, effortlessly combines natural old world elegance with indulgent luxury. At the K Club Spa, try the Diamond Life Infusion Ritual facial to recapture your ‘youth elixir!’
Horsing about at the National Stud and Japanese Gardens
The National Stud and its inspired Japanese Gardens (seen above) were built by Colonel William Mackay of the Mackay whisky-making dynasty
When the Queen visited Ireland for the first time in 2011, she indulged her love of horse racing by visiting the National Stud, only ten minutes down the road from the K Club. The stud and its inspired Japanese Gardens (probably the finest in Europe) were built by Colonel William Mackay of the Mackay whisky-making dynasty.
Mackay was the most successful breeder of his day, and the stud’s finest hour came when Sun Chariot won a place in British racing history by winning the Triple Crown – the Oaks, St Leger and the 1000 Guineas – for Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI.
Over 120,000 visitors a year come here to enjoy the humped-back bridges, mini streams, stepping stones and to observe such retired equine superstars as Moscow Flyer, Hardy Eustace and Beef or Salmon, living like kings of the turf and basking in their immaculately maintained paddocks.
Make like Kim and Kanye at Ballyfin
Frank says Ballyfin Demense first came to international prominence when it hosted the honeymoon of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. The five star hotel is set within a classic Irish Regency country house
Thirty minutes from the National Stud is the most delightful five star hotel in the world, Ballyfin Demense, set at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Co. Laois. It is so full of character and romance, not to mention surprises. This is a classic Irish Regency country house, built in the 1820s and set in 600 acres of parkland (laid out by Sir Edwin Lutyens of ‘The Ned’ fame), with a lake, a medieval tower folly and hidden grottoes.
After a long winding drive, guests are greeted, on arrival, on the doorsteps of the house, Downton Abbey style. Walking over an ancient Roman mosaic in the Entrance Hall, guests enter the former Morning Room, with a whispering gallery, that feels straight out of the Oscar winning film, The Favourite.
Ballyfin first came to international prominence when it hosted the honeymoon of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Staff are far too discreet to reveal if Kim swam in the lovely 14m heated indoor pool overlooking the courtyard or experienced ‘whole body relaxation’ with an exclusive WellnessFusion Journey Experience by Pevonia’ treatment incorporating elements of Amma, Shiatsu, and Swedish massage.
With its secret doors and whispering gallery, exquisite Thomas Chippendale mirrors, the 20-room Ballyfin offers some of the most original and charming features of any hotel in the world. The wonderfully atmospheric Library runs the entire length of the south façade, and the beautiful wrought iron Conservatory is accessed through a secret hidden door at the back of the library.
The house was lovingly restored over 10 years by the American tech entrepreneur, Fred Krehbiel, and his Irish wife, Kay. If the Irish had an honours system, Fred would surely be knighted for his stunning contribution to Irish architectural heritage.
Frank says that with its secret doors and whispering gallery, exquisite Thomas Chippendale mirrors, the 20-room Ballyfin offers some of the most original and charming features of any hotel in the world
Dinner is a delightful gastronomic affair in the grandeur of the state dining room. Courses on the tasting menu include the divine potato and smoked gubbeen ravioli coppa; the delightful truffled little milk brie apple jam and the dessert of spiced poached pineapple crispy rice and watermelon granita.
It’s all locally sourced, with the eight acres of walled garden and estate grounds, providing the chef, Sam Moody, with a rich variety of fresh vegetables, herbs, fruit and a diverse selection of wild foods throughout the year.
The Sir Charles Coote suite is named after the owner who built the house in the 1820s, and it has many intriguing original features. It was once Sir Charles’s private study, and is entered through a secret door in the main stairwell of the house. It features a marvellous curved door, a pair of portraits and a comfortable canopied bed. The bathroom has been masterfully created from Coote’s original Strong Room – a fireproof brick vault that is entered through the original iron door, the centre piece of which is Lady Caroline’s spectacular original Roman sarcophagus bath.
For those seeking splendid, yet sumptuous, isolation, the hotel has refurbished the old Gardener’s Cottage, which has a lovely, homely drawing room, open fireplaces, quirky prints and artwork, an astonishing polished copper and steel bath (positioned to have dreamy views of the lake), and its own golf buggy to roam around the grounds.
Go Wilde in Dublin
Frank says one of the most exciting places to visit in Dublin is The National Gallery in Merrion Square, with its collection of European and Irish Fine Art. Closed for five years, it has newly re-opened after an impressive refurbishment
One of the most exciting places to visit is the National Gallery in Merrion Square in Dublin, with its collection of European and Irish Fine Art. Closed for five years, it has newly re-opened after a truly spectacular and impressive refurbishment. A must see is Caravaggio’s Taking of Christ, dating back to 1602.
It sat for decades unloved and neglected in a Jesuit presbytery in Dublin until an Italian conservator at the National Gallery spotted it in the 1990s. It is now on indefinite loan to the Gallery and it is now proudly displayed with works by Vermeer, Velazquez, Picasso and Yeats.
On the other side of the square is the Georgian house where Oscar Wilde was born and raised. It is a good place for a selfie, where Wilde’s epigram can be put to the test: ‘A man’s face is his autobiography. A woman’s face is her work of fiction.’
Wilde was a scholar at nearby Trinity College Dublin, and spent many hours perfecting his witticisms in the Long Library, de rigueur on any literary tour of Dublin. Next stop should be the quirky Little Museum of Dublin in an 18th-century town house on Stephen’s Green. Highlights include exhibitions of John F Kennedy’s state visit to Dublin and Irish rock legends, U2.
Afterwards head over to the Chester Beatty Library with its mesmerising collection of ancient manuscripts, rare books and artworks, all housed in a former Clock Tower in the gardens of Dublin Castle. Then pop in for some tasty dishes at the museum’s evocatively named Silk Road Café.
Follow it with a decadent dessert of red wine prunes and vanilla mascarpone at Etto on Merrion Row. A favourite of Nigella Lawson, she tweeted ‘last course of a truly exquisite dinner. If you’re in Dublin, you must go’. Perhaps like Wilde, the Domestic Goddess can resist everything except temptation.
Whiskey galore at Midleton
Frank says one of the best whiskey tours is the Jameson Experience in the village of Midleton, in Co Cork
Records show that whiskey has been distilled in Ireland since the 12th century, over 400 years earlier than the first record of whisky production in Scotland in 1494. Last year, almost 10 million cases were sold globally, making Irish whiskey the world’s fastest growing spirits category. A lot of this is down to the popularity of whiskey tourism.
One of the best tours is the Jameson Experience in the pretty village of Midleton, in Co Cork. It is the oldest existing distillery in southern Ireland, and the most atmospheric, with giant copper pots (including the largest pot still in the world) and aromas of malted barley drying in kilns.
After discovering that the ‘angel’s share’ is the amount of alcohol that evaporates from the cask during the maturation process, guests will get the chance to sample some Jameson, and to be rewarded with the Irish whiskey taster certificate.
Jameson offers the ‘Bottle Your Own’ experience, where you can hand fill a bottle of Jameson from a cask before personalising the label with your name, date, and bottle number. For a fee of €100, visitors can ensure that their bottle will become part of whiskey history forever, by logging it in the Jameson Select Reserve Cask Strength Black Barrel ledger.
A castle fit for a king – Dromoland Castle
Dromoland Castle has recently been refurbished and it boasts a beautiful parkland golf course, with a panorama of the castle and Lough Dromoland
A 16th century demesne set in 450 acres, the newly refurbished Dromoland Castle has enchanted royals like King Juan Carlos to world leaders Nelson Mandela, US Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush, and stars like John Travolta, Bruce Willis and Jack Nicholson. One of its first guests were The Beatles, who were smuggled in and out of the Castle in linen baskets, and iconic photos of them having sword fights and playing croquet on the front lawn are all part of Fab 4 lore. It has a beautiful parkland golf course, and the 7th hole has the finest view in Irish golf, with a breathtaking panorama of the castle and Lough Dromoland.
Breakfast and dinner is in the elegant Earl of Thomond dining room with its quartet of Waterford Crystal chandeliers, damask wallpaper and dishes delivered in silver domes that are opened with aplomb to reveal the likes of roast wild pheasant, green apple gel, savoy cabbage, salsify and calvados jus lie, with more delicate options like roast monkfish with puy lentils, and kale, salt baked celeriac, parsley, puree, hen of the woods, jus lie. All of this as a traditional musician plays mellifluous sounding music on an Irish harp.
At the Spa, indulge yourself with the ‘Dromoland Kings and Queen signature journey’ that combines a relaxing ‘rose garden massage’ with the ‘superfood pro-radiance facial’ using Elemis products. The hotel is in the final phase of a multi-million euro refurbishment and state rooms are tastefully decorated, one of which is named after the Irish King Brian Boru, who famously defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. His forebears, the O’Briens, have been in residence at the Castle ever since. Indeed the current O’Brien, the 18th Lord Inchiquin, still lives on the estate.
Frank says breakfast and dinner at Dromoland Castle is served in the elegant Earl of Thomond dining room with its ‘quartet of Waterford Crystal chandeliers, damask wallpaper and dishes delivered in silver domes that are opened with aplomb’
The staff are discreet, but when approached will regale you with anecdotes of Baronet Sir Edward O’Brien who bet his entire estate on a horse in the 1700s. Luckily it won, the estate was saved and the Temple of Mercury gazebo was built as a delightful tribute.
Original features include numerous family portraits of Lord and Lady Inchiquin, log fires, spectacular stag’s head trophies and a medieval knight’s armour in the entrance hall, all lending the castle a warm and cheerful baronial atmosphere.
Ireland has enacted strict new drink driving laws that has impacted on dining out. Ian Scott, the gregarious sommelier at the Castle, has cleverly added some non alcoholic wines to the impressive wine list. Just don’t expect too many to be ordered on Paddy’s Day.
A saintly back cure at Ardmore
Ardmore is Ireland’s earliest Christian settlement, founded by St Declan around 400AD. Above, the round tower which dates back to the 12th century and stands on the original site of the monastery
Twenty minutes from the Jameson Distillery is the charming village of Ardmore, on the south east coast, on Ireland’s ‘ancient east’ route.
Ardmore is Ireland’s earliest Christian settlement, founded by St Declan around 400AD. Declan was a contemporary of St Patrick, who confirmed Declan’s appointment as bishop of Ardmore at a synod in 448AD.
Take an hour-long walk around the beautiful coast, taking in Ardmore’s wonderful curved beach and a round tower dating back to the 12th century, which stands on the original site of the monastery.
St Declan is believed to possess miraculous powers of healing, particularly for back ailments, so take a dip in his Well or lie underneath the flagstone on Ardmore beach. Legend has it that Declan made a miraculous return from Rome, crossing the seas on a flagstone that ran aground at Ardmore.
Take a trip to cliff side spa
The Cliff House Hotel overlooks Ardmore Bay, and Frank says it is the best place to stay in the south east. The glass-walled ocean-facing House restaurant (seen above) boasts a Michelin star
The Cliff House Hotel overlooks Ardmore Bay, and is the best place to stay in the south east. Owned by the ambitious tycoon, Barry O’Callaghan, the Cliff House is the only five star hotel in Ireland by the sea.
In fact every one of its 39 suites has sea views, the ones with balconies have double showers that overlook the wide expanse of the sea. It is all designed to create the impression that you are out over the water.
The glass-walled ocean-facing House restaurant has a well deserved Michelin star, overseen by talented Dutchman Martijn Kajuiter with dishes, all sourced locally, including Atlantic halibut with beetroot, dill, quail egg and gin, and Irish rose veal, Lismore morels, potato, kohlrabi, red wine jus, and a foraged dessert of seabuckthorn with rice, cream and meringue.
The hotel drops down to the sea over six levels, all connected internally by a lift and a spiral staircase. It’s as if the Il San Pietro in Positano had given itself an ultra-modern make-over and teleported to the south coast of Ireland.
The Well by the Sea spa maximises its cliffside location with a 15m indoor infinity-edge swimming pool
As if that’s not reason enough to stay, the spa, The Well by the Sea, maximises its cliffside location with a 15m indoor infinity-edge swimming pool. The spa (and all the bedrooms) feature its recently launched award-winning handcrafted botanical products. The ocean vistas and floor-to-ceiling windows create a sense of the pool merging into the sea.
For those who would like a refreshing, bracing swim, the spa has a natural outdoor rock pool that can be enjoyed at high tide, and an outdoor heated hot tub and relaxation terrace with two stone baths, allowing guests to enjoy the full impact of the refreshing sea air while having a soothing organic peat and ginger bath or an organic seaweed bath (billed as a skin plumping soak that relaxes muscles and supports skin rejuvenation using seaweed harvested from the Irish coast).
‘Active wellness’ is encouraged here, so try paddle boarding, kayaking, or whale watching. Or take a cycle ride along the beautiful Waterford Greenway, a spectacular 28 mile off-road and walking trail along the old railway line connecting Waterford with Dungarvan over three viaducts, the river and the sea. The hotel will provide the bikes and a deluxe hamper backpack. This is coastal chic at its finest.
Gone fishin’ at Ballymacmoy House
The Blackwater is one of Ireland’s finest salmon and trout rivers, says Frank, and it is known as the ‘Irish Rhine’
It is said that a bad day’s fishing is better than a good day’s work. Ireland has over 45,000 miles of rivers and streams, with 150,000 anglers visiting from Northern Ireland and overseas. The Cork Blackwater is one of Ireland’s finest salmon and trout rivers, and is known as the ‘Irish Rhine’.
One of the most picturesque fishing spots in Ireland is at Ballymacmoy House. Just over 20 miles from Cork airport, Ballymacmoy is a 23-acre estate located at the edge of the little village of Killavullen, with over three miles of exclusive fishing rights along the Blackwater river, which includes beautiful stretches of streams and pools. There are many peat bogs on the river, which give the Blackwater its distinctive peaty colour, and ultimately its name.
Ballymacmoy House itself is the ancestral estate of the Hennessys of Cognac, and is still owned and inhabited by their descendants. The Coach House is available to rent and is a wonderful refuge from a long rainy day of fishing.
Richard Hennessy, a young Irish soldier, fresh from fighting alongside King Louis XV at the Battle of Fontenoy, arrived in Cognac in 1765, and began distilling wine into brandy. He created one of Cognac’s best-known brands. It’s still going strong over 200 years later and is often mischievously referred to as an ‘Irish drink, made in France’. Sounds like a suitable alternative to the black stuff (Guinness) this St Patrick’s Day.
Full of blarney at Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle is the home of the Blarney Stone. Millions have flocked here over the centuries to kiss the Stone of Eloquence at the top of the 15th century tower, built by the King of Munster. It is said that those who kiss it will never be lost for words
Ballymacmoy House is only a few miles from beautiful Blarney Castle, home of the Blarney Stone. Millions have flocked here over the centuries to kiss the Stone of Eloquence at the top of the 15th century tower, built by the King of Munster. It is said that those who kiss it will never be lost for words!
With a population of only five million, Ireland has a sprawling diaspora of 70 million.
Almost every US President since John F Kennedy has claimed Irish heritage. Even Barack Obama discovered Irish roots, his great-great-great grandfather emigrated from the tiny village of Moneygall, Co Offaly, during Famine times.
The President proudly proclaimed in a speech in Dublin’s College Green in 2011: ‘My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall O’Bamas, and I’ve come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way!’ With oratory like that, there is certainly no need for him to ever kiss the Blarney Stone!
Frank Mannion is a film producer, and he is currently in production on the feature documentary Green Wine, about how the Irish conquered the Bordeaux wine world.