August 2, 2012
By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
The Irish have totally mastered the art of bed and breakfast accommodation, offering many wonderful and welcoming B&Bs all across the country where you will experience so much more than just a bed for the night and breakfast. I enjoy staying in B&Bs of every sort and will choose that option over most hotels.
For the Ireland traveler, Tourism Ireland (disoverireland.com) lists accommodation by county and type on its informative website and puts out an annual B&B book. You can stay in a city or countryside B&B, or stay on working farms, which are always fun. All properties are thoroughly inspected and must adhere to rigid standards in order to be included.
If you, like me, arrive at Shannon completely wiped out after an all-night flight from Boston, do consider my favorite Co. Clare farmhouse B&B, Cahergal Farm, in Newmarket-on-Fergus, just minutes from the airport. It’s so great to get my luggage, hop into my rental car – I have most successfully rented from dandooley.com for many years – and drive the short distance to Cahergal, where Noreen McInerney greets me, offers breakfast and a clean, comfortable bed where I sleep for a few hours to overcome the jet lag. Noreen and her husband, Michael, are the most welcoming hosts and Noreen’s cooking can’t be beat. See more at cahergal.com.
There’s lots to do in that area, too, if you want more than just to get some sleep. There’s Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Craggaunowen, Knappogue, Dunguaire, and more. There are fun shops at Bunratty Village Mills nearby and also in historic Ennis – I love the Seoidin store there - and even the Cliffs of Moher are not far away. It’s an easy drive that’s well sign-posted.
As much as I enjoy revisiting familiar B&Bs, it is always fun and interesting to stay someplace new and meet new people.
This year, a friend and I stayed at magnificent Clonalis, a property that has been the ancestral home of the O’Conor family for more than 1,000 years and is listed in Hidden Ireland, one of my favorite accommodation organizations (hiddenireland.com.) Hidden Ireland features only private country homes with a limited number of bedrooms in each. You meet the owners, chat over drinks, and often join them and other guests for meals around a large communal table.
Clonalis (clonalis.com) is the Castlerea, Co. Roscommon, home of Pyers and Marguerite O’Conor-Nash and offers four elegant and large ensuite bedrooms. I slept like a baby in the most comfortable four-poster bed and woke to a grand view across some 700 acres of parkland. The bathrooms, converted from what were once dressing rooms for the lords and ladies, are immense and mine even had a fireplace.
Pyers and Marguerite joined us for a pre-dinner drink in the well-stocked library. Dinner followed in a magnificent dining room with an enormous table in the middle that was laid with silver flatware and candlesticks and fine china. The dining scene is carefully scrutinized by the watchful eyes of the many O’Conor ancestors looking down from portraits on the walls.
For more information or to book at this wonderful house, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website, clonalis.com. To see Hidden Ireland’s accommodation in other private homes around Ireland, email: email@example.com or visit the website, hiddenireland.com. The Hidden Ireland brochure says it all: “In short, Hidden Ireland offers you a fascinating and unique alternative to conventional tourist accommodation. Our houses and their surroundings are all very different and they provide an experience that is charming, engaging and rewarding.”
Roscommon is an interesting county and one that not too many of us take the time to visit. Percy French was born there, and Turlough O’Carolan, the famed blind harpist, often played in Roscommon. O’Carolan’s harp, by the way, is included in historic memorabilia at Clonalis.
Boyle is home to Lough Key Forest Park, which offers nature walks, ring forts, cruising, fishing, a bog garden, an old icehouse, picnic grounds and a fully-serviced caravan and camping site.
If you’re in Roscommon, be sure to stop by the arts festival in Boyle from Aug. 1-4 which will feature music, drama, workshops, family fun and, of course, art. And, don’t miss the fascinating King House, built in Boyle for Sir Henry King in the early 1700s; it is well worth a visit. In 1755, the King family had more than 30 servants to care for 40-plus rooms and 35 fireplaces. The house was converted to use as a military barracks in the 19th Century for the Connaught Rangers and, at the end of the Civil War in 1923, was passed over to the Irish Free State’s army. After many years as a merchant’s store, the house was saved from demolition in the 1980s and restored by Roscommon County Council. The house is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and bank holiday Sundays and Mondays. For more information, visit the website, kinghouse.ie
Also worth a visit is the Douglas Hyde Interpretive Centre in Portahard, Frenchpark, Co. Roscommon. Hyde was the first President of Ireland and co-founder of the Gaelic League. The interpretive and information center is in the Portahard Church of Ireland where his father, Rev. Arthur Hyde, was rector. The church was built in 1740 and restored in 1988 by the Roscommon County Council.
Also in Roscommon this summer is a 10-day Roscommon International Reunion (roscommoncoco.ie/rosreunion) planned for Aug. 1-11 when the County Council will welcome Roscommon Associations from around the world. Many activities are planned, including golf, an expo of historical heritage and genealogical resources at the King House, a tour of the Castlecoote House, a GAA Race Day at the Roscommon Racecourse, and an evening of Percy French music and poetry. Sounds like a great time.
Other attractions in County Roscommon include the Arigna Mining Experience, Drumanone Dolmen, Boyle Abbey, the ruins of Roscommon Castle, Derryglad Folk Museum, Elphin Windmill, Rathcroghan Celtic Royal Site in Tulsk, and the famine museum at Strokestown Park House. Most of these have websites and more information can also be obtained from visitroscommon.com and discoverireland.com.
Isn’t it shocking to hear that actress Grace Kelly – better known as Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco - has been dead for 30 years? I found that unbelievable as I noted that a Grace Kelly Film and Cultural Festival is being planned in Newport, Co. Mayo, from Sept. 14-16 to honor her memory.
Grace’s grandfather, John Peter Kelly, was from Drimurla near Newport. He left Ireland for Philadelphia in 1887 and made his fortune there.
Princess Grace and her husband visited Newport in the 1960s and 1970s and stayed at the gracious Newport House in the town. During the festival, seven films will be shown in the 100-seat Cinemobile in the grounds of the National School.
On opening night, Sept. 14, there will be a “Red Carpet Gala” with a screening of “High Society.” There will also be exhibitions in the Newport Tourist Office with memorabilia of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III from their Newport visits.
For more information, visit gracekellyfilmfestival.ie
Summer may be ending but the activities and fun in Ireland are still going strong. Enjoy Ireland whenever you visit and be sure to take advantage of some great flight/ground deals offered by Aer Lingus and other airlines. Direct flights from Boston to Shannon are often available although there are more flights from Logan direct to Dublin, especially at this time of year.