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Ireland’s Leading Independent Food & Hospitality Guide

FARM STAYS & RURAL RETREATS - TEN OF THE BEST

Recognising that farm stays and country houses offer a unique insight into our history, culture and food production, discerning visitors who can well afford the five star treatment are beginning to seek out more modest rural destinations, to experience the ‘real Ireland’ - and it’s there for all of us to enjoy.

Ballymaloe House Shanagarry Co Cork

Ballymaloe HouseWhile the Allen family’s East Cork home has been welcoming guests for over half a century and is indisputably Ireland’s most famous country house, it has retained its sense of self. Set amidst the farmland and gardens that sustain it and inspire its legendary kitchens, Ballymaloe may - with over thirty bedrooms - be a very large house, but it remains unspoilt; there is a sense of community, the food is refreshingly simple and the thoughtfully furnished rooms are proper country bedrooms. It is proud to be a farmhouse and there are many additional gems on and around the property - including Darina Allen’s equally famous cookery school, with its own organic farm - that underline the authenticity of the uniquely Irish experience that is offered here.

 

Lough Bishop House Castlepollard Co Westmeath

Lough Bishop HouseIn a beautifully scenic area awash with lakes, gentle hills and rich farmland, Helen and Christopher Kelly offer a warm welcome and a genuine Irish family home experience on their organic farm, famed for its rare breed animals, especially moiled cattle and Irish Draught horses. Everything is spotless and gleaming, and the very comfortable rooms are TV-free zones. Dinner offers excellent home-cooked food, some of which is grown or reared on the farm, and there's home-baked bread, fresh fruit and apple juice from the orchard at breakfast. Magical midlands!

 

Ballyvolane House Castlelyons Fermoy Co Cork

Ballyvolane HouseJustin and Jenny Green are the current custodians of this gracious East Cork mansion. Surrounded by its own farmland and magnificent wooded grounds, it has formal terraced gardens, a trout lake and salmon beats on the River Blackwater. Justin's father, Jeremy, cares for the gardens and woodland - garden lovers will find a stay here especially rewarding. Justin and Jenny are an extremely hospitable couple, committed to continuing the standards of hospitality, comfort and food and drink for which this lovely house is renowned. Superb roast Hereford beef McGrath’s beef from legendary butchers McGraths of Lismore, their own saddleback pork and Ireland's first whey-based gin, Bertha's Revenge, are among the treats here. Families are made very welcome, especially at mid term break weekends.

 

Coolanowle Country House Ballickmoyler Co Carlow

Coolanowle Country HouseThere are so many good things about staying at Bernadine and Jimmy Mulhall’s organic farm that it's hard to know where to start, but their home-produced organic food and traditional home cooking has to be the trump card, especially as it is served with a generous dose of genuine hospitality – tea with home bakes on arrival, great breakfasts, dinner by arrangement – even a traditional Sunday lunch featuring joints of their own organic meats. The location allows easy access to much of the South-East (and indeed to Dublin) but, with a real country living experience available on site, you may well prefer to stay put: it's an ideal destination for family holidays, and for people of any age who enjoy rural life. Farm shop too.

 

Ballinwillin House Mitchelstown Co Cork

Balinwillin HouseTruly a hidden gem: a security gate at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac opens to reveal Pat and Miriam Mulcahy’s extraordinary 18th century home and farm. Once inside the 80-acre estate, you’ll find deer grazing - and also some unexpectedly modern and luxurious accommodation in a converted courtyard. Just the spot for a real rural holiday, with farm tours (safe walking tracks to ‘roam free with the deer’), traditional food with a difference (their wild boars make very tasty breakfast meats), wine tastings in a secret cellar, artisan producers to visit nearby - and even Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Trails (www.ballyhouramtb.com), which is the largest network of its kind in Ireland. Magic.

 

Killiane Castle Country House & Farm Drinagh Wexford Co Wexford

Killiane Castle

The Mernagh family’s home is a real castle: the farmhouse and Towerhouse are 17th century and some of the 13th century Norman Castle still stands - complete with dungeon, which pleases younger guests mightily. Children, especially, also love the working farm - where visitors can see a modern dairy in action - and the hens that supply the eggs for delicious breakfasts. It’s a spacious and comfortable house, with an open fire in the residents’ sitting-room, a TV room and a relaxingly quiet, away-from-it-all feeling. Kathleen Mernagh earned a reputation for Killiane Castle and is still involved but her son, Paul, has a hotel management background, so the ante has been upped in terms of the accommodation standards of late. Evening meals are offered in the summer months, too.

 

Coopershill House Riverstown Co Sligo

Coopershill HouseYou will see the fallow deer farm alongside the driveway as you arrive at what is undoubtedly one of the most delightful and superbly comfortable Georgian houses in Ireland. Peacocks wander elegantly on the croquet lawns (and roost in the splendid trees around the house at night) yet, while immaculate and quite grand, this sturdy granite mansion is a warm and friendly place under the management of Simon O’Hara, who runs it with the seamless hospitality born of generations of family experience. Delicious dishes cooked up by Simon's partner, Christina McCauley, feature seasonal home grown fruit and vegetables (and possibly home produced venison) and at breakfast, while you plan the day’s excursions - Lissadell, perhaps, or the seaweed baths at Strandhill - you can enjoy watching red squirrels scampering around outside. A particularly perfect country house.

 

Longueville House Mallow Co Cork

Longueville House"The history of Ireland in miniature”, the story of the O'Callaghan family's wonderfully productive estate and their beautiful yet relaxed 18th century house is very romantic. The river, farm and garden supply virtually all the fresh produce for William O'Callaghan's kitchen and for the artisan products he makes for sale, including delicious Longueville House Cider and Longueville House Apple brandy. Longueville lamb is legendary - as is the superb breakfast, where the centerpiece on a laden buffet is a whole baked ham - and a wander round the gardens is always rewarding, with enclosures for livestock like pigs and poultry tucked away in unexpected corners. It's a luxurious and relaxing place to stay, well located for exploring a wide and rewarding area, including Cork city and south Kerry - and dining here is always a special treat.

 

Temple House Ballinacarrow Ballymote Co Sligo

Temple HouseSurrounded by 1,000 acres of farm and woodland, and home to Percevals since 1665, this vast and fascinating mansion in may not have the most guest rooms (other well known ‘farmhouses’ able to accommodate much larger numbers include Ballymaloe House and Longueville House), but it must hold an unrivalled position as Ireland’s largest farmhouse. The present incumbents, Roderick and Helena Perceval, bring their own brand of energy, warmth and enthusiasm to running this amazing house – and attending the traditional Irish music and dancing sessions held nearby is often part of the experience. A true country estate, this unique place offers many rural activities on site, including boating on the lake, fishing (fly & coarse), hunting, shooting, bird watching, walking, croquet and snooker – and there is much else to do nearby.

 

Trean House Tremone Lecamy Inishowen Co Donegal

Trean HouseWay out on the Inishowen peninsula in wonderfully wild Donegal, Joyce and Mervyn Norris’s farm B&B is tucked into a sheltered corner in stone-walled countryside beside the Atlantic. Surrounded by a large garden with mature trees and welcoming flowers, it makes a comfortable base for a relaxing away-from-it-all holiday in a homely atmosphere. Guests have the use of a cosy sitting room with an open fire and simple country bedrooms have everything that is needed - the only room without an en-suite shower room has a private bathroom nearby - and Joyce’s home cooked breakfasts will really set you up for the day. The real deal, it’s ideal for a family holiday – there’s a lovely beach just a few minutes walk away – for walkers, or anyone who enjoys quiet rural pleasures and a relaxed, away from-it-all atmosphere.

 

Lough Owel Lodge Mullingar Co Westmeath

Lough Owel LodgeYou’ll pass the family’s donkeys, Sonny and Cher, in their paddock as you approach the house on Martin and Aideen Ginnell’s organic farm overlooking Lough Owel, west of Mullingar. Their gentle presence sets the tone for a very comfortable family home where guests immediately feel genuinely welcome. The setting is lovely, with activities including walking, fishing, bird watching and tennis all to hand, and the option of a cosy sitting room with an open fire and plenty of books to read - the area is steeped in history and the curious will find much of interest in the Ginnell library. The family ethos is environmentally aware - the farm has been certified organic since 2011- so good food is an important element of a stay at this homely place, and guests wake to the aroma of freshly baked bread. Very relaxing and, should you feel like a change of scene, there is much of interest in the area.

 

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