Insider View

Hilton Park - Clones County Monaghan IrelandA younger friend told me recently that I was totally out of touch with current trends and had no idea at all what people want. Me, old fashioned? Fiddle-de-dee.  

Her observation was based on remarks previously made by myself about certain establishments that have been refurbished and, in my opinion, rendered hideous and out of character with the original buildings. The word ‘funky’ is often to be heard on my friend’s lips. She may of course be right in what she thinks about what her contemporaries admire, but I have ears and I use them. Many people from overseas are dismayed by what they find here because the reality is very different from the expectation, and the gap is widening.

The Lonely Planet Guide recently found the British to be a nation of beer swilling, soap opera and celebrity obsessives who talk about little else but football and the weather. What was expected? Bowler hats and cricket on the green? I may not understand funky but I do know what visitors expect here and it is very often not what they find. The dreamy landscapes still exist but on the whole not in the parts tourists are directed to. Take Leitrim for example, and Fermanagh, parts of Cavan; you can still drift off there into the rural idyll that is sold abroad. However, visitors from overseas are more likely to find themselves having the kind of experience a family from Australia told us about recently.

They had come to Ireland to marry their son to an Irish girl. They chose to stay in a newly converted mansion house that promised “a tranquil haven in unspoiled lakelands.” What they found, to their dismay, was a once lovely building that had sprouted ugly protuberances set in a landscape that resembled, as they described it, “an airport”. Yes, it is the kind of place you would go to find funkiness but in this case I know they would have liked to have their holiday destination more accurately represented before they set out. “It wasn’t what I expected” was the phrase most often repeated. They hadn’t come for the golf course or the spa, they had come because they had been sold a dream of ancient woods. Here is the rub, you can exceed expectations but can you overcome disappointment?
Curiously, I think you can and it happened to our new acquaintances from Oz. They were won over and this is how it happened. Their first impression of this country was shock at the inappropriate development that met their eyes. Then they were shocked at the cost of everything. By the time the day of the wedding arrived they seemed to close in amongst themselves and the impression was that their experience in our country was not a very positive one. But then the wedding guests arrived, bottles were opened, a ceile band struck up and platters of food appeared. Merriment was in the air. You could say that there are weddings like this all over the world, but I’ve never seen demonstrated so well Ireland’s USP – and that is the friendliness of its people.

It’s this that I would guess is most associated abroad in other people’s perception of the Irish. People will say it’s being lost, but when you find it, it’s overwhelming. There can be few other nations on earth whose citizens are more practiced in the art of congeniality. Ireland must, too, be one of the most egalitarian nations in Europe. The wedding guests came from a wide social mix, and different places, very few of them had met before and yet, as someone remarked “You would think we were all old friends.”

I watched the Australian family as the evening progressed and they dispersed through the marquee like people coming out of a cave into the sunshine. They were seduced by the jollity, the conversations, the fun. It was dawn when the party ended and at breakfast the next morning the family were as people reborn.
It seems to me that everywhere you go around Ireland there are people whose language and observations about the world are quite unique. In the most unlikely places you can find a humour and lightness of delivery in the way strangers will speak to you that you just don’t find in other countries. And growing up, as I did, in the straitjacket of class-conscious England, the levelling effect of the friendliness here, is all the more marked.
As the mother of the groom left for the airport, through tear-filled eyes she said goodbye. “We’ll remember this for the rest of our lives” she said, and she didn’t mean the high prices paid, or the disappointment of not finding the ancient woods.

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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