Insider View - Busman's Holiday

Hilton Park - County Monaghan IrelandThere is a handwritten card of the utmost sadness pinned up in our local shop, and it reads: 'Polish woman desperate to work. Will do anything.' Whoever would have thought even a year ago that things would have come to this, and so quickly?

I thought of these words looking round the room at the recent AGM of the Hidden Ireland, at Temple House in Sligo. We providers of accommodation in historic private houses were gathered at one of our own, a premises that defines spaciousness, with six of the largest bedrooms in the country, and there wasn't a whiff of desperation in the air.

Some of this might have been due to the exhortations of Leanne, a marketing lady of infectious enthusiasm who reminded us of the reasons to be cheerful. "Come on, guys," she called, fist in the air. "If nobody is going abroad, everyone will holiday at home. There are still plenty of people out there with money. Go forth and welcome them into your homes." No need for assisted suicide here, obviously.

The problem with receiving paying guests in the establishment that you and your loved ones call home is that it does not predispose you to repeat the experience when on holiday. Instead one yearns for the anonymity of large hotels, in particular those of the international chain variety. The wish to savour the indifference of rooms numbered in hundreds can be seductive. Or so I thought.

Then, urged on by the good reports of others, we booked in for a night at The Blue Book's Coopershill House, in Sligo, a family-run business of some years, presently hosted by the affable Simon O'Hara, he for whom nothing seems too much trouble.

Our evening in this beautiful house had, as it turned out, an Agatha Christie-without-the-murders feel about it. An after-dinner coffee in front of the fire and conversation with two Miss Marple lookalikes, a dashing young couple and an enigmatic pair of hand-holding middle-aged Americans, straight from the pages of Henry James, left us wondering why we had ever found charm in larger establishments. Today is all about reconnecting, as Leanne had told us, the need to revive human contact. And if this is the Zeitgeist, can we, whose properties can offer these individual and unique experiences, be blamed for feeling just a wee bit smug?

Leanne had asked us to identify and list our USPs but instead my mind, rarely anxious to do as it is bid, meandered back over the years of staying in hotels with the attendant question: what makes an establishment memorable? Bathrooms do it for me. In particular I think of a high-ceilinged and marble-floored one in Mysore, India, with its scent of sandalwood and polished furniture. It seemed so redolent of the Raj, as I imagined it.

Much of the charm of hotels for this simple mind is about association, whether it is with other times or events or those who have stayed there before. I want to eat chocolate cake again at the Pera Palas in Istanbul or meander around the wide white corridors of the hotel in Luxor - both hotels where the aforementioned crime writer stayed when she wrote Death on the Nile - or visit again the Maison Arabe in Marrakech, where allegedly the 9/11 attack was conceived, and where an atmosphere of secrecy is so rigidly enforced that you feel that the dress code must be a burka.

I'd love to go back to the aptly named Magic Hotel in Hollywood, where the rooms all reek of Shake 'n' Vac, but the swimming pool is lit not just by the night sky, but from floodlights that swoop over the city. It has all the sleazy seductiveness of a B-list movie, and you can be a part of it.

But it's holidays at home this year, so take me back to Ballynahinch Castle to sit at the bar and feel that Ireland is still a place of extraordinary warmth and character, or look out at the Atlantic from one of Paddy Foyle's eclectic bedrooms at The Quay House in Galway, or play on the sands after breakfast at Kelly's in Wexford, or maybe gorge on oysters at Sheen Falls Hotel, or doze on the lough beside Enniscoe House in the shadow of Nephin, or have an oily soak in a seaweed bath. It's all so characterful and imbued with the possibilities of chance encounters awaiting in this watery paradise.

Come on, guys, why risk the perils of air travel and pandemics? Stay at home and spend what little you have on a short break in your own country. Then perhaps this season won't be so bad and perhaps one of us may even be able to offer work to a desperate Pole.

Together with her husband Johnny, Lucy Madden runs their magnificent 18th century mansion, Hilton Park, Clones, Co Monaghan as a country house which is open to private guests, groups, small weddings and conferences. The restored formal gardens are also open by arrangement. Lucy is a keen organic gardener and also a member of the Irish Food Writers Guild.

Kindly supplied by the respected food service and drinks industry magazine, Hospitality Ireland. Click here to read more about them Hospitality Ireland Magazine.

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