Note to Irish travelers: Ask guide groups about accommodations

By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR

Ireland and its many visitors are blessed with an extensive and varied choice of accommodation across the country. Today’s traveler can choose any type of overnight experience from castles and manor houses to B&Bs and hostels. There truly is something for everyone, and every budget.
And there are a number of excellent groups in Ireland to help guide your decision about where to stay, because accommodations are about more than just places to spend the night; they are about different experiences and can add so much to your trip. Some of the groups I’ve found to be the best and most reliable are Ireland’s Blue Book, Hidden Ireland, and Original Irish Hotels.
Ireland’s Blue Book offers country house hotels, manor houses, castles, and restaurants. This spring, a friend and I stayed overnight in a Blue Book property, the beautiful, multi-award winning Coopershill House in Riverstown, Co. Sligo.
We drove down a mile-long avenue that crosses the Unshin River and winds through 500 acres of ancient woods and deer pastures to reach the house.
There’s an interesting story about the bridge that was built over the river in the early 1750s. Large boulders were laid but kept sinking into the soft mud. So layers of fresh, moist sheepskins were placed under the foundation stones to prevent them from sinking. Those sheepskins are still there today and it’s said that if the river ever dries up and the sheepskins dry and rot, the bridge will fall into the water. Thankfully, Ireland’s rainy weather nearly guarantees that the bridge will most probably remain solidly in place for many years to come.
Faced with the imposing edifice of the large Georgian manor home, you might question whether the atmosphere within might be a bit stuffy, but nothing could be further from the truth. We were warmly and genuinely welcomed to Coopershill by Simon O’Hara and his wife Christina. The manor house was built for Simon’s great-great-great-great grandfather and he is the seventh generation to live there. His parents, Brian and Lindy, ran Coopershill for 20 years before retiring and added three more guest bedrooms to the existing five. They now live next door and run a fallow deer farm on the property.
My friend’s and my en suite bedrooms were spacious, comfortable, furnished with antiques, and decorated with fresh flowers. Bedrooms have numerous electrical outlets for charging phones, iPads, notebooks and other travel necessities.
A nice extra touch was having the staff turn down the bed, draw the curtains, and close the wooden shutters while I was downstairs for dinner. And I appreciated the spotlessly clean bedroom and modern bathroom as well as great water pressure in the shower.
Christina, who prepared dinner, was trained at Ireland’s famed Ballmaloe Cookery School and her expertise shone in our delicious meal. My friend and I opted for black sole that was beautifully prepared and complemented with a light, tasty sauce. Vegetables were fresh and primarily from Coopershill’s gardens or grown locally. Honey is produced on the estate from Coopershill’s own beehives.
Prior to returning to Ireland in 2006 to become a hotelier, Simon owned a travel company in Mexico City and was an African overland driver. Christina worked for a financial media company in London before making a lifestyle change to become a trained chef. She met Simon at Coopershill when she was working there for his mother.
Coopershill welcomes some 1,500 guests from April to the end of October. Those wishing to stay, Simon said, should be sure to book ahead. The average stay for most visitors is two nights so there’s time to enjoy the many attractions in the area.
We asked Simon why tourists should make a point to visit Coopershill. He answered: “Because Sligo is an enchanting, ancient landscape whose lakes, mountains and empty beaches inspired Ireland’s greatest poet, W.B Yeats. Coopershill is that rare property, an historic building full of charm and character that is also extremely comfortable and with very good food.”
As Alistair Sawday said in The Irish Independent newspaper “Coopershill is out of this world!” We agree.
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Fans of black and white pudding – an integral part of most full Irish breakfasts – will be interested to hear that Kelly’s Artisan Butchers of Newport, Co. Mayo, recently won eight medals at the international IFFA 2019 Food Fair in Frankfurt, Germany.
Kelly’s Wild Atlantic Black and White Puddings, which contain seaweed, and Kelly’s Black Pudding were three of the gold medal winners. The fourth award was for their homemade haslet or acelet, a pork meatloaf with herbs.
Kelly’s also won silver medals for its ham loin, smoked ham loin, and smoked rasher. A bronze medal was awarded to the Italian-inspired Kelly’s Chorizo. Sean Kelly proudly checked in an extra bag for his flight home to hold all the awards!
With more than 1,000 exhibitors from 49 countries, the IFFA is the world’s leading trade fair and international meeting place for the industry.
Recent reports in the Irish press say The Red Carnation Group, which owns luxurious Ashford Castle among numerous other posh hotels, plans to turn Dublin’s Hatch Hall into a five-star hotel.
The Hatch Building opened in 1913 and served for 90 years as a residence hall for University College Dublin (UCD) students. It has since been used by the Department of Justice as a direct provision center.
The Red Carnation Group reportedly spent more than 75 million euro on an extensive renovation of Ashford Castle after they bought the Mayo property out of receivership in 2013.
The hotel group was founded in the 1950s by South African Bea Tollman and named after her husband Stanley’s favorite flower, which he wore in his lapel. Her hotel empire started with a B&B. The Tollmans own 17 hotels in the UK, South Africa, Switzerland, the US, and Ireland.
Summer has arrived and with it a splendid array of gardens, garden trails and tours throughout the country. Perhaps the most noted county for gardens is Co. Wicklow, often referred to as the Garden of Ireland. Famed gardens, among many there, are Powerscourt, Russborough, and Avondale Houses, Mt. Usher Gardens and the National Botanic Gardens-Kilmacurragh, in Kilbride. See for details.
There is also a Clew Bay Garden Trail where various gardens are open to support charities, including Mayo/Roscommon Hospice and Western Care. Gort na Greine in Knappagh, Westport, is open July 6, 7, 20 and 21, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Speckled Meadow, Bofara, Brackloon, Westport, opens July 6,7, 27 and 28, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Hammerbeam, Knappagh, Westport, is open July 13 and 14, from 1p.m. to 5 p.m. See Clew Bay Garden Trail on Facebook or email to
If you’re in the south, be sure to visit gardens at Bantry House In Co. Cork, open daily until October, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ( and the 10 acres of formal gardens at Ballmaloe Cookery School in Co. Cork, open every day 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. See the website for Ballymaloe at
Want to leave dry land and see some sights? How about watching and learning about dolphins with Dolphin Watch in Carrigaholt (; taking a one-hour tour to see Fungie, the wild bottlenose dolphin, in Dingle Bay (; touring with Dingle Sea Safari (, or going reef and shark fishing with John Brittain out of Clifden, Co. Galway, (
In Co. Donegal, take a narrated waterbus tour of Donegal Bay, the islands, and the seal colony. See for more details on the tours that leave daily from the Donegal Town pier.
Enjoy Ireland this summer wherever you go and whatever you do. There are so many activities and attractions for every age and interest. Check in with the Tourist Board offices in the areas you’re visiting for updated events and attractions.