AN HOUR (OR SO) FROM DUBLIN
Carlingford, Co Louth
Ghan House, Carlingford, County Louth Just an hour’s drive from Dublin airport, the Carroll family’s 18th century house is attractively situated in its own walled grounds on the edge of Carlingford village. Accommodation is in four rooms of character in the main house, each with sea or mountain views, and eight newer bedrooms in a separate building. As well as a comfortable sitting room with an open fire, there’s a little bar where you can enjoy an aperitif or an after dinner drink. Dinner is a high point at Ghan House, where the Carrolls also run a popular cookery school. Pride is taken in meals based on home-grown, home-made and mainly local produce, including seasonal meats and seafood; oysters are synonymous with Carlingford, of course, and there are also mussels from the lough and lobsters from Ballagan.
Mornington, Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath
Mornington House, Multyfarnham, County Westmeath Warwick and Anne O’Hara’s gracious Victorian house is surrounded by mature trees and just a meadow’s walk away from Lough Derravaragh (of Children of Lir fame); has been the family home since 1858, and is still furnished with much of the original furniture and family portraits - and, although centrally heated, log fires remain a central feature. Bedrooms are spacious and well-appointed and Anne, who is well-known for her skills in the kitchen, cooks proper country house dinners and lovely breakfasts for residents. There is a wealth of wildlife around the house, and there are gardens and archaeological sites to visit nearby - this is a tranquil and restorative place for a short break.
Coursetown Country House
Stradbally Road, Athy, Co Kildare
Coursetown House, Athy, County Kildare Jim and Iris Fox’s fine 200 year old house just off the Stradbally road is attached to a large arable farm. The house is welcoming, immaculately maintained and very comfortable. Bedrooms are thoughtfully furnished in a pleasantly homely country house style and have direct dial phones, tea/coffee facilities and hair dryers. Then there is breakfast, where nothing is too much trouble and the emphasis is on delicious healthy eating: fresh juices and fruit salad jostle for space alongside poached seasonal fruit (plums from their beautiful garden, perhaps) and pancakes - and the traditional cooked breakfast includes lovely rashers specially vacuum-packed for Iris by Shiel’s butchers, in Abbeyleix. Iris doesn’t offer dinner, but will direct guests to the best options locally.
Lorum Old Rectory
Kilgraney, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow
Lorum Old Rectory, Kilgraney, County Carlow This fine Victorian cut stone granite rectory was built for the Rev. William Smyth-King in 1864, and it now makes a warm and welcoming family home. There’s a lovely drawing room where guests can gather around the fire and relax; spacious accommodation includes one particularly impressive guest room with a four-poster. But it is Bobbie Smith’s easy hospitality and delicious home cooking - using mainly organic and home grown ingredients - that keeps bringing guests back. Residents dine at a long mahogany table, where wonderful breakfasts are also served. Lorum make as an ideal base for exploring this lush and unspoilt area, with its rivers and wonderful gardens.
St Mullins, Co Carlow
Mulvarra House, St Mullins, County Carlow Noreen Ardill’s friendly modern house is in a stunning location overlooking the River Barrow above the ancient and picturesque little harbour of St Mullins. Comfortably furnished bedrooms have balconies to take full advantage of views of the romantic Barrow Valley, for example, and there is a range of treatments to help guests unwind from the stresses of everyday life and make the most of this magical place. Noreen prepares dinners for residents to enjoy in the dining room which also overlooks the river: quality produce, much of it local, is used. Genuinely hospitable and reasonably priced, this is a tranquil place where the hosts want their guests to relax and make the most of every moment.
Gleanealy, Ashford, Co Wicklow
Ballyknocken House, Ashford, County Wicklow Perfectly placed for walking holidays in the Wicklow Hills, playing golf, or simply for touring the area, Catherine Fulvio’s charming Victorian farmhouse provides comfort, cosiness, home-cooked food and hospitality. A gently Victorian theme prevails: bedrooms have been charmingly done up, with antique furniture and very good beds - and pretty bathrooms, five of which have Victorian baths. Catherine cooks four course dinners for guests, based on local produce, including vegetables and herbs from the Ballyknocken farm (with wine list including some specially imported wines). All this, plus extensive breakfasts, a relaxing atmosphere and the option of cookery classes, ensure guests keep coming back for more..
Red Bank House & Restaurant
Skerries, Co Dublin
Gourmet golfing breaks are a speciality at Terry McCoy's renowned restaurant with accommodation in the characterful fishing port of Skerries. The restaurant is in a converted banking premises, which adds to the atmosphere (even the old vault has its uses - as a wine cellar) and Terry is an avid supporter of local produce, with fresh seafood from Skerries harbour providing the backbone of his menu. Menus, written in Terry's inimitable style, are a joy to read and a statement at the end reads: "All items on the menu are sourced from Irish producers and suppliers. There are too many items for us to list all ingredients after each dish but you can take my word for it, we use local Irish because it's the freshest & so the best." Local seafood stars of course (especially the Dublin Bay prawns that Skerries is famous for), and the dessert trolley is legendary - a large space should be left if you fancy pudding. The 18 fine, comfortably furnished guest rooms have all the amenities normally expected of an hotel.
Mountrath, County Laois
It is hard to see how anyone could fail to love this unspoilt early Georgian house, which lies secluded in mature woods of lime, beech and chestnut, at the foot of the Slieve Bloom mountains - a sense of history and an appreciation of genuine hospitality are all that is needed to make the most of a stay here. So just relax and share the immense pleasure and satisfaction that Frank and Rosemarie Kennan (recently joined by younger members of the family) derive from their years of renovation work. Although unconventional in some ways, the house is extremely comfortable and well heated, and all the bathrooms have been renovated; each bedroom has its particular charm, although it might be wise to check if there is a large group staying, in which case the bedroom above the drawing room may not be the best option… Dinner (8 o’clock, at a communal table is based on the best local and seasonal ingredients (notably locally reared beef and lamb); Rosemarie’s food suits the house - good home cooking without unnecessary frills - and Frank is an excellent host. An informative and surprisingly extensive wine list includes a generous choice of half bottles. Children, who always love the unusual animals and their young in the back yard, are very welcome and Rosemarie does a separate tea for them.
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