May 30, 2014
BY JUDY ENRIGHT
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
Shouldn’t your vacation in Ireland be a complete escape from everyday life? You’ve saved all year for this outing, so do something totally different and create some amazing memories.
A great place to start is with a unique and extraordinary place to stay, dine, and meet other international travelers. You could hardly do better than to select one of the 36 historic country estates included in an accommodation group called Hidden Ireland (hiddenireland.com). These are all private and historic family homes where the owners welcome and interact with guests and sometimes even head for the kitchen to don aprons and cook breakfast or dinner.
I have stayed at a number of Hidden Ireland properties over the years and can recommend all of them without reservation. I’ve enjoyed The Quay House in Co. Galway, Bruckless House in Co. Donegal, Clonalis in Co. Roscommon, and Ashley Park House in Co. Tipperary. Each one is unique, reflects the style, heritage, and flair of the family, and is absolutely delightful.
This year, a friend and I each booked rooms at Temple House (Ballymote, Co. Sligo), a magnificent mansion and working sheep farm on some 1,000 acres. Again, it was a wonderful Hidden Ireland experience, enhanced by the warm and sincere welcome extended by sociable and gracious owners Roderick and Helena Perceval. Roderick represents the 12th generation of Percevals at Temple House, which has been in his family since 1665.
Temple House is so much more than a B&B, as are all the Hidden Ireland properties. The house is large but comfortable and, as a guest, you can enjoy first-hand the family antiques, prints, and portraits you might otherwise only see in a museum.
Exceptionally large windows flood expansive rooms with light and high ceilings enhance that sense of spaciousness. The house overlooks manicured gardens, neatly-mowed lawns, the ivy-covered ruins of a former Knights Templar castle, and Templehouse Lake, where boating is available. Location is key to this wooded demesne and, as Roderick says, “From Temple House, you can look out without seeing any lights.”
Bedroom décor is classic and old world. Antique beds are fitted with comfortable mattresses and fine linens. Photographs and prints decorate the walls and mantels and flat surfaces display family knick-knacks and memorabilia. Modern touches have been carefully added so as not to adversely affect the historic ambience and include hairdryers, electric kettles for tea making, and thermostats. Bathrooms are updated and the showers have excellent water pressure.
Roderick added that the kitchen also has been thoroughly modernized and central heating has been installed as part of ongoing upgrades.
At 7 p.m. one evening, residents gathered around a blazing fire in the sitting room for drinks and socializing. A delicious dinner, made by Helena, followed, and we dined around one large table with a couple from London, two bicyclists from Philadelphia, a businesswoman from Canada, and a retired boxing champ from England – a mixed and most interesting group. Roderick was the chef for the full choice breakfast the next morning and, according to one diner, he made the most perfect poached egg – reportedly the benchmark by which one judges an accomplished chef!
Guests are encouraged to book for at least two nights to savor the house and its surroundings and enjoy the many varied activities in the area. “People like to wind down here,” Roderick said, adding that at Temple House “hospitality is the key word. This is so much more than a B&B but it’s not a hotel. Guests are not just renting a room - they are coming to stay at Temple House to experience history and heritage.”
We don’t always trust TripAdvisor reviews but when you scan through them and there is one glowing report after another, you do take notice. A visitor from Leesburg, VA, wrote, “For those … looking for fast paced city excitement, this isn’t it. This is a country manor house and working farm. Restful and charming, it was the perfect oasis midway through our trip.”
Sarah from Brooklyn said, “Who should book at Temple House? Anyone with an imagination, a sense of humor, a longing for the past, a bit of adventure, anyone of any age who craves beauty and whimsy.”
And in April this year, Jack from Amsterdam wrote: “Roderick is a fabulous host. His passion for the place shines through. It’s got to be a lot of work to keep up something like this, and I’m glad he’s done it.”
Visit templehouse.ie for more information. Six bedrooms can sleep fourteen in the main house and there is also a four-bedroom, self-catering cottage available. Multi-night packages are also offered. Temple House is open from April 1 to Nov. 30 and dinner each night is 47 euro and optional.
Hidden Ireland was founded in the mid-1980s and homes in the program are family-owned and run and are chosen for their architectural merit, location, and settings Evening meals are provided (unless there are quality restaurants handy) because they are, Roderick said, “an experience to be enjoyed.”
For more information about Hidden Ireland, visit hiddenireland.com. Owners of historic homes listed by Hidden Ireland are “passionate about what we do,” Roderick said.
BITS AND PIECES
Several years ago, there was a British low-cost airline called Flyglobespan that initiated direct flights from Ireland West Airport Knock (IWAK) to Logan and other East Coast airports. The service only lasted a short time before being scrapped. Recently, however, officials from Rhode Island visited IWAK and Neill O’Neill, managing editor at The Mayo News, reported that Kelly Fredericks, the chief executive of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation in the USA, “has told The Mayo News he firmly believes that a direct link between Ireland West Airport Knock and the Eastern United States is a real possibility. ‘I wouldn’t be here if it was not a realistic option,’ said Fredericks. He added that such service is probably a couple of years away but that he and the others who visited were pleased with what they saw at Knock ‘and we are aggressively and realistically pursuing these types of routes.’ ’’ That’s great news for all those who love the West of Ireland and would like to get there faster from Boston.
Another story in The Mayo News reported that Peacock’s, a well-known landmark and hotel in Maam Cross, Connemara, has been sold and the gift shop and hotel will reopen under new ownership, perhaps as early as next month. That’s great news for that area and for all those who travel the N59 road from Galway to Clifden. The hotel was completely upgraded in 1999 but has been in receivership for the past four years.
On June 28 and 29, Westport House in Co. Mayo will host the Westport Festival of Music and Food featuring many musical groups, including David Gray, Bryan Adams, Shane Filan, Sinead O’Connor, and Kool & the Gang. See westportfestival.com for more details.
Doolin in Co. Clare will be hopping June 13-15 when the Doolin Folk Festival comes to town, featuring the best of contemporary Irish folk including Solas and Damien Dempsey. See doolinfolkfestival.com for details.
The West Cork Chamber Music Festival will be held from June 27 to July 5 at Bantry and includes concerts, master classes, workshops and talks. See westcorkmusic.ie for more.
The Irish Open will be held at the Fota Island Resort in Co. Cork June 19-22. See irishopen.ie for details.
It’s summer and Ireland is buzzing with activity. There are all kinds of events happening across the country. For the most up-to-date listings, visit Tourism Ireland’s excellent website – Ireland.com – and enjoy your trip.