Rachel Gaffney’s Letter From Texas

The famous foodie who’s flying the tricolour for us in Texas recalls an enjoyably relaxing experience when travelling solo last summer - it was Irish hospitality at its best. Solo travel has been on the increase since the pandemic and, with places like this to stay, that must be set to continue.

The chandelier was the first thing that caught my eye upon entering the castle. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in late August and I had just driven from Dublin. The drive was an easy one, a couple of hours on the M4 and I had arrived at Kilronan Castle in County Roscommon. I had wanted to visit this castle for quite some time and was delighted to carve out a couple of days to visit this enchanting place.

Kilronan Castle, formerly known as Castle Tennison, was built in the 1700’s. In the 1800’s the Earl of Kingston built the gothic revival castle adjacent to the older building. In 1896, it had fallen in to disrepair and the eighth Earl died. The following year, the ninth Earl married Ethel Walker, daughter of a wealthy brewer from Liverpool, and with her came a very handsome dowry which helped Kilronan return to its former glory.

I couldn’t help but ask about the chandelier suspended over the intricately carved reception desk. I wondered if it was Irish crystal. I was determined to find out. I checked in to my room, set my bag down and immediately turned around and walked back outside to enjoy a walk on the estate. The long summer evenings in Ireland make you feel somehow as though you are getting more out of your day (probably because you are!)

There were a few walking trail options. I took the lakeside loop, a brisk 2km walk to the shore of Lough Meelagh and back through a wooded path to the castle. I was the only person on this walk. The only sounds were of the wood pigeon in the distance and the lapping waters along the shoreline and I loved every solitary minute of it.

As I was alone, I asked if I could dine by the window in the Drawing Room. What followed was not what I expected from this property. The service was probably some of the very best I had experienced over several weeks in Ireland that summer. The food was delicious, which made the whole evening perfect. I retired to my room and before my head hit the pillow on my four-poster bed, I was asleep. Breakfast the following morning was served in the Douglas Hyde Restaurant, a beautiful room named after Ireland’s first president and Roscommon’s most famous son, Douglas Hyde.

Crisp white linens, silver, freshly brewed coffee, simple flowers from the garden and a view out to the estate and I was not in a hurry to leave. The food was lovely but even lovelier was the lady serving me. Her name was Mary. I wish I had taken the time to ask her surname. Mary reminded me of how Irish hospitality should be done. Before I had a chance to ask for more coffee, or toast, she was there. Her warmth and local knowledge made me feel good.

I was still wondering about the provenance of the chandelier. It was French. A truly magnificent crystal chandelier and equally spectacular stained glass windows make this reception area impressive.

The sun was shining, yes it was shining and hot too. I walked around the estate again and when I returned I noticed the really quaint Tunnel Café, emerging from a stone pathway beneath the trees. As I enjoyed a creamy latte, the couple next to me began chatting to me and they told me about their travels around Texas and Tennessee. They suggested I visit Drumshambo, home of Gunpowder Irish Gin from the neighboring county of Leitrim. I had time and so I visited. But that is a story for another day.

I stay in a lot of hotels. From luxurious hotels to beach hotels, castles to country houses and city hotels to family run hotels. One can be very misled by star ratings. Kilronan Castle is special. While I was there, I felt welcome. I felt relaxed. After all, when it comes to hospitality, shouldn’t it always be about how it makes you feel? I think Kilronan Castle is a property to watch and my sincerest wish is they continue going from success to success.


* Kilronan Castle is the current Georgina Campbell 4 Star Hotel of the Year (Georgina Campbell’s Irish Food & Hospitality Awards 2022 


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