By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
Let’s have a show of hands, please, from all readers who have visited County Monaghan.
Where are all those hands? Hate to admit it, but I wouldn’t have been raising my hand, either – until this spring. Apparently, I’m not alone in overlooking Monaghan’s many charms. The county’s tourist board admits on its website (monaghantourism.com) that “County Monaghan is Ireland’s best-kept secret.” The board adds, “There’s more to Monaghan” and notes that the county is “home to Lough Muckno, a world-class center for angling and wakeboarding; Clones and Carrickmacross lace, an exquisite technique used in royal wedding dresses over many centuries; round towers, historic houses, and the drumlin-dotted landscape that inspired the poems of Patrick Kavanagh.” Who knew?
This spring, I visited a magnificent historic home – Hilton Park in Co. Monaghan - that I found through Hidden Ireland, an accommodation group.
I have long been a fan of Hidden Ireland (hiddenireland.com), which offers exceptional accommodation in country homes around the Republic and the North. All homes are privately owned and visitors are treated as honored guests – often as visiting royalty. There is little that the owners overlook in an effort to make your stay absolutely seamless. As the brochure says, “Hidden Ireland houses offer a hospitality that only a family home can.”
Over the years, I have enjoyed the hospitality of homeowners at Temple House in Co. Sligo, Ashley Park in Co. Tipperary, Bruckless House in Co. Donegal, Clonalis in Co. Roscommon, Delphi Lodge and Quay House, both in Co. Galway.
This year, a friend and I stayed at Hilton Park in Monaghan (on the Fermanagh border) and thoroughly enjoyed the accommodation, the owners, and Co. Monaghan. The effervescent Joanna Madden, a busy and stunning young mother who seemingly never slows down, extended a gracious welcome to her home. She led us to our elegant, comfortable rooms through halls filled with antiques and family portraits. The afternoon sun joined in and shone through multiple stained glass windows en route, spilling color onto walls and carpeting.
Before dinner, a storm passed by, leaving in its wake the most glorious rainbow that arced across the sky over green pastures dotted with sheep. I was dazzled; the sheep took it in their stride, and never looked up!
Drinks were served in a comfortable drawing room prior to the delicious dinner, created by Joanna’s husband, Fred, a London-trained master chef. Johnny Madden, Fred’s father, joined the gathering and entertained with stories of the house and its history. We learned that Hilton Park was built in 1734 by the Madden family’s ancestors and was specifically designed for entertaining.
Johnny and his wife, Lucy, were co-founders of Hidden Ireland and ran Hilton Park for many years before passing the reins to Fred and Joanna some years ago. We unfortunately did not meet Lucy, who is reputed to be one of Ireland’s best cooks and food writers, but Joanna did show us Lucy’s book that glorifies the humble spud: “The Potato Year, 365 Ways of Cooking Potatoes.”
There is great emphasis at Hilton Park on sourcing local and seasonal produce, much of which is grown in Hilton Park’s four-acre walled garden. Many dishes are inspired by the variety of available fruit, vegetables, and herbs grown there.
Hilton Park is cozy and small with only six en-suite bedrooms thaty are filled with antique furniture and decorations. The home is set in hundreds of acres of woodland, with gardens and lakes and, as you might imagine, there is much to do on the estate and in the area. The property includes an 18-hole golf course, two fishing lakes, boating, swimming, cycling, and walking on the lanes and pathways. There are colorful pubs nearby as well as museums and galleries, festivals, historic homes like Florence Court and Gardens in nearby Co. Fermanagah, and so much more. See monaghantourism.com for additional information.
Breakfast was cooked to order and served in the charming former servants’ hall in a lower level.
Perhaps one of the greatest compliments for any accommodation is having owners of another outstanding property choose to stay there and such was the case at Hilton Park when we visited. Simon Haden and his wife, Frederieke McMurray, who own Gregan’s Castle in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, were enjoying a get-away with several nights booked at Hilton House. They said they make several visits there every year – clearly a great accolade!
There is also a gate lodge available for self-catering at Hilton Park with ample room for four guests.
For more information on this lovely country home, visit hiltonpark.ie or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congratulations to Mulranny, Co. Mayo, recently named as Ireland’s first Accredited GreenPlan Village. The accreditation ceremony took place in The Mulranny Park Hotel where the certificate was presented by The GreenPlan author, Neil McCabe.
McCabe, a firefighter, started the GreenPlan in Kilbarrack Fire Station, Dublin. Kilbarrack is the world’s first carbon-neutral fire station! . Energy 2
McCabe and his team’s focus is to continually improve the quality of life and well being on earth for present and future generations by preventing waste, reducing use of resources like water, and reducing dependence on man-made chemicals.
Well done, Mulranny and Kilbarrack.
Father Tony King, a retired Roman Catholic parish priest, was greeted with cheers on a recent Sunday in St. Mary’s Church, Westport, Co. Mayo, when he celebrated Mass and called in his homily for the badly eroded sacred mountain Croagh Patrick to be declared off-limits from above the statue of St. Patrick to the summit until a proper conservation plan is implemented.
According to The Irish Times and The Mayo News newspapers, Fr. King wants the mountain off-limits to extreme sports and wants the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage, which annually attracts some 30,000 climbers over the last weekend of July, to be suspended for three years.
In his sermon about taking responsibility for the environment, Fr. King referred to the recent “desecration” by tourists of the Malaysian holy site, Mount Kinabalu. In recent years, he said, Croagh Patrick, which is commonage shared by local farmers for grazing, has become a popular venue for high-profile extreme sports races and has also been the location for colorful, and sometimes bizarre, charity events, including a bra-chain challenge and a dating festival.
“Furthermore, consideration should be given that the national pilgrimage should be suspended for the same period until a proper environmental protection policy with regulations is put in place to protect and conserve this sacred place,” Fr. King said. “As Pope Francis says, ‘People occasionally forgive us but nature never does.’” Added Fr. King, “The evidence of what is happening on the traditional pilgrim path of this mountain is disturbing. The impact can only be described as devastation, due to erosion and neglect. A lot of the damage, I am told, is due to it being used as a sky track for fitness by super-athletes.”
Brian Quinn of Failte Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way team, responded by saying it would be disastrous for tourism if Croagh Patrick were to be closed. (Failte Ireland is the Irish wing of Tourism Ireland here.) “More than 100,000 people climb the mountain each year and about 40,000 euro is collected in parking fees from the lot at the base of the mountain,” according to Martin Keating of Mayo County Council.
There could not be any mention of Ireland this month or last without sincere condolences extended to the families of those killed and injured in the balcony collapse in Berkeley, CA. The stories were heartbreaking.
I read comments written online by a man from Dalkey, Ireland, about Aer Lingus’s concern for the families and thought it was worth sharing some of his thoughts about this great airline.
He writes, “I heard about your compassion, care, sympathy, and utmost professionalism yet again in helping fly the families of those poor kids in Berkeley to the States. I have heard two wonderful stories already today about what you’ve done for grieving families. I cannot speak highly enough about Aer Lingus. I can’t imagine what those people must be feeling, but your gestures are beyond anything I’ve seen or heard in customer care, and I emphasize CARE.
“Ireland is a small place, and I love how we all come together as one massive community when such tragedies occur. You are part of that. All I can say as a customer of yours, and as an Irishman thinking of those poor kids and their families, is thank you, Aer Lingus, thank you.”