27 June 2020

A lockdown ‘virtual
tour’ of a dozen
hotels in Ireland

Sunrise at the mouth of the River Slaney at the Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

The lockdown introduced in response to Covid-19 pandemic is beginning to be eased, and many of us are probably beginning to think about – if not planning – staycations in Ireland as soon as the opportunity arises.

When I was in my late teens, I hitched hiked all over Ireland and England, staying in youth hostels, over pubs and in bed and breakfast guesthouses.

It is left me with a taste for ‘cheap and cheerful’ hotels, rather than the expensive plush hotels I have sometimes found myself staying in during working trips.

But there are some hotels I have stayed in that I have come to regard as worth staying in, no matter where they are, simply because of themselves. And at the tope of this list in Ireland is the Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford.

In the spirit of my recent ‘virtual tours’ during this lockdown, I offer this ‘virtual tour’ of a dozen of my favourite hotels in Ireland. Perhaps it might help readers as they think about a ‘staycation’ later this year.

1, The Ferrycarrig Hotel, Wexford:

All bedrooms in the Ferrycarrig Hotel look out onto the River Slaney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

If there is one hotel in Ireland that I would stay in just for its own sake, then it has to be the Ferrycarrig Hotel, is just 3 km from Wexford Town.

I lived in Wexford almost 50 years ago, and still feel that I am part of Wexford and that Wexford is part of me. In the past, when I returned to Wexford, I wanted to stay in the town, staying with friends or in a variety of hotels and guesthouses. Ferrycarrig seemed to be far out, even though I walked there regularly in my early 20s.

Now I know it is actually very convenient to the town, and I have stayed in the Ferrycarrig Hotel on a number of occasions in recent years. and before dinner last night two of walked around the streets of the old town.

All the bedrooms in the Ferrycarrig Hotel look out onto the River Slaney, and there is nothing comparable to waking up to this sight any morning, any time of the year.

In the corridors of the Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the morning, the colours on the Slaney and in the skies slowly can change from greys and dull blues to contrasts of bright orange and silver sparkle and then to bright blues and reflections of the landscape in the water. Time moves on – in history, in life and on river – and each passing phase brings new opportunities and new blessings.

in one of the corridors of the hotel, among a large collection of posters from the Wexford Festival, I came across a poster from the 1994 festival, that is the same as a block-mounted poster in the my house in Knocklyon.

However, unlike my own poster in Dublin, the hotel’s copy is not fading, a reminder of my continuing, harboured and cherished memories of Wexford that never fade.

2, Castle Leslie, Co Monaghan:

Castle Leslie exudes old-world grandeur and hospitality(Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I stayed many years ago in Castle Leslie, Co Monaghan, while I was attending the ordination of four former students. Castle Leslie, at the village of Glaslough, is a country house hotel exuding old-world grandeur and hospitality, and is free from distractions and intrusions.

The 1,000-acre Castle Leslie Estate includes the charming and eccentric Castle Leslie with its own equestrian centre and hunting lodge set in unspoiled countryside, with ancient forests, rolling hills, green fields, lakes and streams. Castle Leslie stands on the site of an earlier castle, and was designed in 1870 by Charles Lanyon and WH Lynn for Sir John Leslie in the Scottish baronial style.

Castle Leslie is beside the pretty village of Glaslough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The colourful history of the Castle Leslie Estate is a story that is bedecked with politics, royalty and war, with a family that includes much-married bishops, exiled opponents of William of Orange, a woman said to be the granddaughter of George IV and his mistress, cousins of Winston Churchill, prisoners-of-war, and eccentrics who believe we are about to be invaded by flying saucers and UFOs.

Swift wrote many verses about the Leslies, not all of them complimentary:

With rows and rows of books upon the shelves
Written by the Leslies
All about themselves.

3, The Zuni Hotel, Kilkenny:

The Zuni Hotel is close to all the attractions of Kilkenny

I have stayed in many hotels in Kilkenny, at clergy conferences, church meetings, eating in some of my favourite restaurants, or visiting some of my favourite places, including Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny Castle, Rothe House and Ballybur Caste, or exploring the streets, lanes and churches of Kilkenny.

But one of my favourite places to stay in Kilkenny is the Zuni Hotel on Patrick Street, a short walk from Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny Design Centre and Kilkenny’s main shopping district and many fine restaurants and bars.

The Zuni Hotel has its own award-winning restaurant

But, despite all these attractions so close at hand, the Zuni Hotel is a boutique hotel with its own award-winning restaurant.

4, Markree Castle, Co Sligo:

Markree Castle, near Collooney, Co Sligo … this was once the coldest place in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I stayed at Markree Castle, near Collooney, Co Sligo, during a family wedding in Sligo Cathedral. Markree Castle is a small family-run hotel, owned by the Corscadden family who also own Cabra Castle Hotel, Co Cavan, Ballyseede Castle Hotel, Co Kerry, and Bellingham Castle, Co Louth.

The hymn-writer Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) is said to have written the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful while she was a guest there of the Cooper family in 1848.

The staircase leading into Markree Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Markree Castle, which is partially moated by the River Unshin, is the ancestral seat of the Cooper family. The castle, as we see it today, dates from 1802 with exterior changes by the architect Francis Johnston. Some later changes, mainly to the interior, were made in in the late 1860s and in the 1890s.

Charles Cooper transformed his ancestral castle into a hotel in 1989. The castle’s restoration was featured in a television documentary, and the renewed facilities included a hotel and restaurant.

Markree Castle was run as a hotel by Charles and Mary Cooper, the tenth generation of the family to live there. After four centuries, the castle finally changed hands in 2015 when it was sold for an undisclosed sum after being on the market with an asking price of €3.12 million. The hotel is now run by the Corscadden family.

5, Castle Durrow, Co Laois:

Castle Durrow was built over 300 years ago by the Flower family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Castle Durrow, in the Midlands village of Durrow, Co Laois, is a country house hotel on the N8 old Dublin-Cork road, about an hour from Dublin. The house was built over 300 years ago in 1712-1716 as his family home by Captain William Flower, whose family later held the title of Viscount Ashbrook.

The pre-Palladian design and formal gardens were the height of fashion in those days, and the grey/blue cut stone contrasts with the breath-taking views of the landscape.

In the grounds of Castle Durrow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The banks foreclosed in 1922, and the Flower family were forced to sell up and move to England. The Land Commission divided up the lands and the Forestry department took over many of the woods for plantation, but the great house was left empty. The Parish of Durrow bought the estate for a mere £1,800 and Castle Durrow was transformed into Saint Fintan’s College and Convent.

Peter and Shelly Stokes bought Castle Durrow in the 1990s and began renovating the castle over three years. The Stokes family manage the daily running of the castle and are an intricate part of this charming hotel.

6, Strand Hotel, Dugort, Achill Island:

The Strand Hotel looks out onto the beach at Dugort, below Slievemore, on Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Strand Hotel is north coast of Achill Island, Ireland’s largest off-shore island. The hotel is beneath the slopes of Slievemore, Achill's highest mountain, and looks out across the beach at Dugort facing out onto Blacksod Bay.

I first visited Achill Island in 1974, and first stayed in the Strand Hotel around 1979. The proprietor, Billy Scott, was so kind, that in the 1980s it became a regular retreat on occasions when I needed solitude and a place to write in peace and quiet, just a short walk from Saint Thomas’s Church.

On the beach at Dugort, below the Strand Hotel, on Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This became a regular venue for family holidays in the 1990s. Although I have been back in recent years for summer schools and seminars, I have not stayed in the Strand Hotel for 15 years or more.

However, the location remains inviting, and the view of the beach in Dugort remains inviting.

7, The Station House Hotel, Kilmessan, Co Meath:

The Station House Hotel, Kilmessan, Co Meath … an old railway station with all the charm of a country house hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Kilmessan is a quite village off the M3 and just a short distance from Dunshaughlin, Navan, Trim and Ratoath. The Station House Hotel is a country house hotel and restaurant set in acres of woodlands and manicured gardens, providing an idyllic a country escape, away from the bustle of daily life.

This has been run as an hotel for more than 35 years but was once a train station and the hotel grounds retain some of the original fixtures, including the old railway bridge and turntable.

The old signal cabin still stands at one end of the former station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Chris and Thelma Slattery, who also owned the Waterside House Hotel in Donabate, Co Dublin, bought the Station House Hotel in 1981, the third family to own the old train station, and transformed it into a guest house in 1983.

The remains of the old station at the Station House Hotel today include the safe made by Milners Safe Company Ltd, London and Liverpool, fireplaces and the platforms, which stand outside the main door of the hotel. The remainder of the turntable lies at the end of the wooded area near the bridge.

8, Mount Wolseley, Tullow, Co Carlow:

Mount Wolseley House near Tullow, Co Carlow … sold in 1925 for £4,500 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I stayed some years ago in Mount Wolseley on the edges of Tullow, Co Carlow, during a family wedding. Mount Wolseley House is the ancestral home of a branch of the Wolseley family from Wolseley in Staffordshire, and the Irish branch included the famous general Viscount Wolseley and Frederick York Wolseley who gave his name to a stylish car.

Mount Wolseley was bought by the Morrissey family in 1994 and has been developed into a four-star hotel. The house and gardens are private and remain the home of the Morrissey family, but they can be viewed in the near distance from the entrance gate beside the hotel.

The hotel at Mount Wolseley retains many memories of the original family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The hotel and the grounds are now owned by Lismard Properties and Enterprises. One wing of the hotel includes Aaron’s Lounge, a name that comes from a misunderstanding of the name of Mount Arran, first given to the estate by the Butler family, Earls of Arran, in the late 17th century. The name of Frederick’s Restaurant is a tribute to Frederick York Wolseley.

However, as the estate was developed over the past 20 or 30 years, the replica site of the Battle of Waterloo in the grounds was turned into an 18-hole championship golf course, and the Duke of Wellington’s battle plan can no longer be traced in the greens, fairways and the willow-lined ponds.

9, BrookLodge, Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow:

Autumn colours at the BrookLodge Hotel … a country spa hotel near the forgotten borough of Carysfort, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Another recent family wedding took place in Macreddin Village in south Co Wicklow, when I stayed overnight in BrookLodge Hotel, a country spa hotel 6 km north of the village of Aughrim.

The BrookLodge Hotel and Wells Spa opened in 1999, and the resort includes an equestrian centre, golf course, bakery, smokehouse, pub and microbrewery, and food, wine and craft shops. BrookLodge includes the Strawberry Tree, which claims to be Ireland’s only certified organic restaurant, and La Taverna Armento, an Italian taverna.

Macreddin, once known also as Moycreedin, is said to take its name (‘the Valley of Credin’) from Credin, a fifth century local saint chief who is said to have been killed by his enemies and brought back to life by Saint Kevin of Glendalough.

The Strawberry Tree claims to be Ireland’s only certified organic restaurant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Macreddin was granted to the monastery of Saint Saviour, Glendalough in the 12th century. When the Diocese of Glendalough was merged with the Archdiocese of Dublin, Macreddin was transferred to the Priory of All Hallows in Dublin. On the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, it was transferred to Dublin Corporation.

Co Wicklow was shired in 1606-1607, and so was the last county to be formed in Ireland, taking in the southern part of Dublin (with the exception of three ‘islands’ or enclaves of church property, and the northern part of what was then ‘Catherlough’ or Co Carlow, including Arklow. Two decades later, when Henry Cary, 1st Viscount Falkland, was Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1625-1628, a fort was built at Macreddin and was named Carysfort in his honour.

10, WatersEdge Hotel, Cobh:

The WatersEdge Hotel in Cork is a special venue in every sense of the word (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The last hotel in Ireland I have stayed in is the WatersEdge Hotel in Cork, which is a special venue in every sense of the word. Nestled in the harbour town of Cobh near Cork and situated on the waterfront, we really had a ‘room with a view.’

This is a boutique hotel that commands breath-taking views, with spacious, comfortable accommodation and bistro-style food. It is an hotel to come to time after time.

A view of Cork Harbour from our room in the WatersEdge Hotel, Cobh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The large balcony rooms are spacious and comfortable with a waterside terrace that is hard to leave.

We had a view right across the harbour with its islands, and we were within walking distance of the see-front museums, restaurants and the sites linked with the stories of the Titanic and the Lusitania.

11, Mustard Seed, Ballingarry, Co Limerick:

The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge … fine dining in a country house setting in Ballingarry, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Mustard Seed, an oasis of countryside bliss surrounded by verdant pastures in the heart of Co Limerick. It is within my own parish in West Limerick, but also on the doorstep to Adare.

This boutique hotel with a restaurant that is legendary with superb food and warm hospitality. Sitting on acres of manicured lawns, an orchard and a working kitchen garden, this hideaway is perfect house for a stopover, romantic nights, lazy days and special occasions.

The Library at the Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge in Ballingarry, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Originally, Echo Lodge was a long, thatched dwelling located in what is now the kitchen garden. This thatched house was a stopping house for the great Daniel O’Connell on his journey from Derrynane to Dublin.

The Revd Timothy Ryan Shanahan built the present Echo Lodge as a parochial house in 1885. Later, it passed to the Sisters of Mercy for one penny. Dan Mullane set up the Mustard Seed restaurant in Adare in 1985, and 10 years later moved the Mustard Seed to Echo Lodge, allowing diners the opportunity to stay overnight.

The Mustard Seed changed hands from Dan to his manager John Edward Joyce in 2016.

12, Charlemont Arms Hotel, Armagh:

The Charlemont Arms Hotel … three and a half centuries of history in Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In recent years, when I have been in Armagh at General Synod of the Church of Ireland, I have tended to stay in the Charlemont Arms Hotel in English Street, a third-generation, family-run hotel in the centre of the cathedral city.

The motto on the coat-of-arms of the Earls of Charlemont, over the hotel front door, which gives its name to the hotel, proclaims boldly: Deo Duce Ferro Comitante, ‘God is my leader, the sword is my companion.’ The first part of the motto may be appropriate for synod members staying in Armagh – but I have serious problems about the second part.

The hotel, which has thrived throughout the centuries, was originally home to a Dr Atkinson. By the 1760s, it had become a hostelry known as ‘The Caulfeild Arms.’ It was renamed in 1763, when James Caulfeild (1728-1799), fourth Viscount Caulfeild, was given the title Earl of Charlemont.

In the heyday of the Volunteers, there was a Charlemont Arms in every Irish town of note. However, this hotel may be the only one to survive – something that makes the current proprietors very proud.

In Victorian times, the facilities on offer included Turkish, plunge and other baths. It passed to Robert and Elizabeth Forster in 1934. Today, a third generation of the Forster family is involved in running the hotel.

A monument to the Caulfeild or Charlemont family in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The hotel is perfectly located between the city’s two cathedrals and close to the beautiful Mall, the theatre, city centre shops, the Armagh Planetarium and Observatory, the Armagh County Museum and the old Armagh Women’s Gaol. But it is also a short stroll from the synod venue and many synod members stay here, meaning this is often a place where a lot of back-room synod work is done.

There are many other hotels I could have named. During church and clergy conferences, I have stayed in hotels such as the Dunraven Arms in Adare, Arnold’s in Dunfanaghy, the Skelligs Hotel in Dingle, and other hotels in Athlone, Enniskillen Strandhill, and Kilkenny.

Presents and gifts have allowed me to stay in the Wineport Lodge, the Lough Erne Resort, the Ice House in Ballina, Tinnakilly House in Wicklow and the Maritime Hotel in Bantry.

And, of course, there are many more hotels, as well as the wonderful guesthouses I have stayed in across the island. But I thought I would next look at 12 more hotels in England and across Europe.

Some recent ‘virtual tours’:

A dozen buildings in Tamworth (Part 1);

A dozen buildings in Tamworth (Part 2);

More than a dozen Comberford family homes;

More than a dozen Comerford and Quemerford family homes;

A dozen Wren churches in London;

Ten former Wren churches in London;

More than a dozen churches in Lichfield;

More than a dozen pubs in Lichfield;

A dozen former pubs in Lichfield;

A dozen churches in Rethymnon;

A dozen restaurants in Rethymnon;

A dozen churches in other parts of Crete;

A dozen monasteries in Crete;

A dozen sites on Mount Athos;

A dozen historic sites in Athens;

A dozen historic sites in Thessaloniki;

A dozen churches in Thessaloniki;

A dozen Jewish sites in Thessaloniki.

A dozen churches in Cambridge;

A dozen college chapels in Cambridge;

A dozen Irish islands;

A dozen churches in Corfu;

A dozen churches in Venice.

A dozen churches in Rome.

A dozen churches in Bologna;

A dozen churches in Tuscany.

At the Dunraven Arms in Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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