It’s difficult to imagine a more perfect destination for business or pleasure travel than Ireland. This island country has it all, from superb accommodations and gourmet dining to world-class music, theater and art; trendy shopping; tony clubs and cybercafes; sporting events; and outdoor activities, including more than 400 links and parkland golf courses.
Ireland has long been a destination for business as well as pleasure, so luxurious accommodations with state-of-the-art conference facilities are sprinkled liberally across the country, and are complete with the latest in networking capabilities for today’s mobile work force.
There are innumerable options for gracious accommodations in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland. Reserve a room in a castle hotel, or rent the entire castle. Stay in an elegant, historic manor house and join the owner’s family and other international guests for a formal evening meal, as at Glenlo Abbey in Bushypark, County Galway, or dine at a private table in an elegantly appointed dining room, as at the five-star Park Hotel in Kenmare, County Kerry, where service is tops on the menu.
Numerous organizations represent Irish properties, including the Irish Country Houses and Restaurants Association, which publishes an annual member directory called Ireland’s Blue Book (www.irelandsbluebook.com); The Hidden Ireland (www.hidden-ireland.com), which represents a unique collection of private homes where guests sample Irish country life in its truest form; and the U.K.-based Small Luxury Hotels of the World (www.slh.com), which counts nine Irish properties among its elite membership.
There’s also the Green Book of Ireland Web site (www.greenbookireland.com), which primarily lists three-and four-star hotels. Great Fishing Houses of Ireland (www.irelandflyfishing.com), which includes the K Club (Kildare Hotel and Country Club in Straffan, County Kildare), where former U.S. President Bill Clinton reportedly owns property, is another option. Manor House Hotels of Ireland (www.manorhousehotels.com) is a worthwhile resource. Visit www.lodgings-ireland.com to learn more about castle and country houses, or www.irelandhotels.com for information about the Irish Hotel Federation.
Some organizations simply require a fee to list property, while others offer membership by invitation only. The latter includes the Irish Country Houses and Restaurants Association, which puts out a new Blue Book every year. Existing Blue Book members, who must comply with rigorous standards, vote on new applicants. There are four categories for membership: Country House, Country House and Restaurant, Restaurant Only and Restaurant with Accommodation.
All Blue Book properties with accommodations must be registered with the Irish Tourist Board or the Northern Irish Tourist Board, and must have operated for at least two years under the same ownership. Country houses must have “interesting or historic architecture” and be set on their own grounds; also, the bedrooms must have private baths. Blue Book members are admitted on the basis of a two-year probationary period. If during that period the committee feels a property’s standards do not comply with the rules, membership may be terminated. If three complaints about a member are registered (and substantiated) in one year, the member may be asked to resign.
With that in mind, read on.
Irish castle hotels meld the fairy-tale charm of once-upon-a-time with the convenience and panache of modern day. Many offer spas, gyms and health clubs, expansive golf courses and other outdoor pursuits and amenities and, of course, complete conference and Internet facilities for the business traveler as well as dining facilities, gourmet meals, deluxe bedrooms and suites.
County Clare’s Dromoland Castle and its sister property in County Mayo, Ashford Castle, offer rooms ranging from standard and deluxe to staterooms and even a presidential suite. Appropriately, President George W. Bush visited Dromoland last spring the night before he departed Ireland from Shannon Airport, just eight miles away. A 16th century Renaissance structure on a 410-acre estate, Dromoland has 100 bedrooms, an award-winning restaurant, spa, health and leisure center, and conference and meeting rooms.
There’s also a tasteful gift shop and numerous outdoor activities, from a par-72 golf course to fishing, horseback riding, tennis, archery, and clay pigeon and game shooting in season. Ashford and Dromoland both offer the services of ghillies (local fishing guides) for those who want to take a chance with a rod and reel. For more information, visit www.dromoland.ie.
Ashford is set on a private 350-acre estate on the shores of Lough Corrib — Ireland’s second largest lake — in the village of Cong, 85 miles north of Shannon. The castle, once home to the Guinness family, is now a five-star hotel with high standards of service and comfort. There is much to do here: you can explore the vast estate, go fishing on Lough Corrib, ride horseback, play golf, indulge in falconry or walk the trails. Or you can relax with tea and scones, pamper yourself with a beauty therapy treatment or go off shopping in nearby Galway City. For more information, visit www.ashford.ie.
Speaking of Galway, another of Ireland’s five-star hotels — Glenlo Abbey — lies just outside the city center, in Bushypark. The 60-room luxury hotel, sited on a 138-acre waterfront estate on Lough Corrib, hosted former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1999, when she received an honorary doctorate in law from the National University of Ireland–Galway, and was made a Freeman of the City of Galway, an honor previously bestowed on former Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.
Glenlo Abbey is the former ancestral home of the Ffrench and Blake families, two of the 14 tribes that ruled over Galway for centuries. The original house dates to 1740, and is still privately owned. The hotel is listed with Small Luxury Hotels of the World; visit www.glenlo.com for more information.
Heading south, the five-star Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort in County Limerick is 21 miles southwest of Shannon International Airport (SNN) and offers an 18-hole championship golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. on an 840-acre estate. Also available on site and in the area you’ll find a spa, world-class dining, an equestrian center, fishing, shopping and sightseeing. The historic bedrooms have been decorated with wood furnishings and fabrics chosen by renowned American interior designer Carlton Varney. Each room has a marble bathroom ensuite, cable television, direct-dial telephones and 24-hour room service.
There are four room categories, varying in size and price, comprising five Dunraven staterooms, eight staterooms, 34 deluxe rooms and 16 standard rooms. Each room is available with either one king or two queen beds. Adare Manor is listed with Small Luxury Hotels of the World; go to www.adaremanor.ie for more information.
Heading west into the aerie, a 100-square-mile stretch of limestone landscape called the Burren, in County Clare, you’ll find another castle hotel, this one listed with Ireland’s Blue Book. At the base of Corkscrew Hill in Ballyvaughan is four-star Gregan’s Castle Hotel, an 18th century hotel that has been owned and operated by the Haden family since 1976. Comfort, peace and quiet are integral themes at Gregan’s, so the 16 classic and superior bedrooms and suites are blessedly devoid of televisions. The house overlooks Ballyvaughan Valley and Galway Bay, and offers an extensive dinner menu focusing on such specialties as organic Burren lamb and beef as well as locally caught fish and shellfish from the Atlantic. For more details, visit www.gregans.ie.
Moving south again, to County Cork, you’ll find elegance in Cork City’s only five-star hotel, Hayfield Manor. Set on a two-acre estate, this member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World features a total of 88 superior rooms, executive suites and the master suite. Rooms at Hayf ield are noted for their grand proportions and luxuries such as marble bathrooms and individual climate control. Also included are television sets, complimentary daily newspapers, direct-dial telephones, and fax and modem ports. Voicemail and broadband are available in some rooms.
The head chef at Hayfield Manor is Philippe Farineau, formerly of Le Bristol in Paris and Ireland’s noted K Club. He and his 12 chefs have garnered a number of prestigious awards for their blend of Irish and French cuisine, served in the Manor Room restaurant.
Hayfield promises serenity, privacy and seclusion, and yet is located within a mile of Cork City center. Cork, incidentally, was chosen by the European Union as its European Capital for Culture 2005, and is reveling in presenting a year’s worth of multicultural programs in honor of that designation.
South again into County Kerry, the five-star, 46-bedroom Park Hotel Kenmare, managed by Francis Brennan and his brother, John, is one of Ireland’s foremost privately owned hotels. It offers the ultimate in service and luxury, and its restaurant has won numerous international awards for classical and progressive Irish cuisine. Added attractions are the newly opened deluxe spa, Samas, which was recently named second best spa in Europe by Condé Nast Traveler; a new yoga pavilion; and a 12-seat movie theater where classic films are screened nightly. Go to www.parkkenmare.com for more information.
Located just 75 miles south of Dublin, in Thomastown, County Kilkenny, the Mount Juliet Conrad is billed as “the largest and most exclusive private rental property in Ireland,” and enjoys the many benefits of carefully blending old and new. The 18th century Georgian manor house, owned by Conrad Hotels, sits on a 1,500-acre estate complete with an 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus. The property — with 32 individual bedrooms, reception rooms and a highly trained staff — is available on an exclusive-use basis throughout the year. Imagine dining al fresco by the lily pond, casually in the old cellars or formally in the elegant Lady Helen Dining Room, with its view across the River Nore. For further information on the Mount Juliet Conrad, visit www.conradhotels.com.
The five-star Merrion Hotel, in Dublin’s city center, was created from four Georgian townhouses. The goal, according to hotel literature, was “to create a space with sensitivity to the 18th century heritage of the building, with light and airy bedrooms.” There are 122 guestrooms and 20 suites. The interior was designed using Irish fabrics and antiques to reflect the architecture and original interiors of the Georgian townhouses. Visit www.merrionhotel.com for more information.
With 259 bedrooms and suites, the Four Seasons Hotel Dublin offers the city’s most extensive selection of guestrooms. The six-story building is located on the grounds of the historic Royal Dublin Society, in the quiet residential community of Ballsbridge. The 75-seat Seasons Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner; the fare is contemporary European while focusing on the best of the Irish produce. Visit www.fourseasons.com/dublin for more information.
Heading north out of Dublin and up the coast into County Antrim, Northern Ireland, you’ll find the Blue Book–listed Bushmills Inn Hotel. The 32-bedroom hotel is in the charming village of Bushmills, which is between the Giants Causeway and the Royal Portrush Golf Club, a course consistently ranked in the world’s top 10. In addition to an exceptional restaurant, the hotel is enhanced by gaslight ambience in the bar and the glow of turf fires in public rooms. Visit www.bushmillsinn.com for more information.
Northern Ireland is no stranger to luxury, or to four- and five-star hotels. In Belfast, a vibrant and fun city, you’ll find the 60-room Malmaison Belfast (formerly the McCausland Hotel) on Victoria Street, in the Laganside, formerly a busy port district. The hotel was created from two 1850s warehouses. It opened in fall 2004, featuring 64 rooms with cable TV and free broadband internet access.
Then there’s the Europa, a four-star in the heart of Belfast and undeniably this city’s most famous hotel. The Europa is often the choice of visiting dignitaries, presidents, and stars of stage and screen; in fact, Clinton stayed there in 1995 and 1998 during the Irish peace talks. Having recently completed a major extension, with the addition of 56 new executive bedrooms, the Europa — with a total of 240 bedrooms — is now the largest hotel in Northern Ireland. Visit www.hastingshotels.com for more information on the Europa or its sister property, the Culloden Hotel.
Twenty miles or so from Belfast International Airport (BFS), you’ll find the Culloden in Holywood, Belfast, with 78 rooms and suites. The property was originally built as a bishop’s palace and looks out on the Holywood Hills and Belfast Lough. Throughout the Culloden, you’ll find antique furniture and Louis XV chandeliers. The Culloden is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Coming back into the Republic again, near Clifden in Connemara, is an intimate four-star Victorian retreat known as Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel in Recess, County Galway. Built as a fishing lodge in the 1880s, the house has 12 bedrooms (five furnished to deluxe standards), open log fires in the library, an oak-paneled bar, and seafood and wild game specialties at the dinner table, as well as an extensive wine list. Outdoor activities include fishing, shooting, pony trekking and riding, hill climbing and walking, golf and more. Lough Inagh is listed with Great Fishing Houses of Ireland; for details, visit www.loughinaghlodgehotel.ie.
This is just a sampling of the endless variety of comfortable, luxurious accommodations available in Ireland, which make this island an outstanding travel destination.
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