By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
How do you spell luxury in Co. Cork? C-a-s-t-l-e-m-a-r-t-y-r, that’s how!
We spent a recent Saturday night at Castlemartyr Resort and very highly recommend this wonderful place. While the resort is utterly luxurious, it is anything but pretentious. Even the traveler like me, who hasn’t packed fancy duds, feels completely at home and most welcome.
Castlemartyr is part of the Dromoland Collection and, if you have ever stayed or dined at Dromoland near Shannon Airport, then you know management does not spare the horses and everything is top drawer. These are two of Ireland’s most magnificent properties.
We arrived at Castlemartyr in the sparkling afternoon sunshine and, much to our delight, the property was teeming with families celebrating First Communion. Little girls were dressed like princesses in their white gowns. Their laughter was infectious as they chased – or were chased by – little boys in their communion suits. Families queued outside the front door for rides in the pony and trap driven by Roy Daily, the estate’s carriage man. The scene was like a page from a storybook and was so much fun to watch.
We walked around the property, admiring all the visual delights, including an 18-hole golf course, a 24,400-square foot wellness spa and fitness center with a 20-meter swimming pool, and the most intricately landscaped and well-maintained grounds and gardens punctuated by gurgling fountains.
We had a delicious dinner in the clubhouse and an equally delicious breakfast – I always have fish for breakfast when I can, and I could – in the Bell Tower Restaurant. My companion had Eggs Benedict and said they were excellent and the coffee was good.
There’s so much history at Castlemartyr. There are castle ruins from the 13th Century and the lovely manor house from the 17th Century – a boarding school for boys from 1930 to 1996 – that has been elegantly renovated and is now the heart of the hotel.
We were especially impressed by the inland links golf course, designed as a reduced impact course with pest-tolerant, low maintenance grass. We also enjoyed watching the regal swans and their cygnets paddling about in the lake.
There’s so much to do here, even if just walking and admiring nature, spending time in the spa, or golfing isn’t for you. There are many lovely spots where you can enjoy peace and quiet with a good book or you can fish or fly cast, go off road quad biking, laser clay shooting, archery, or play lawn games. The staff can arrange all of these as well as many more nearby activities, such as yachting or horseback riding.
Castlemartyr is perfect for a destination wedding, a business conference, or for a most enjoyable stay. We asked to see several of the guest rooms and suites and they were totally kitted out in modern style. There are also 42 two or three-bedroom residences on the property that can be rented.
Castlemartyr is truly a treasure and a most beautiful spot from which to tour Co. Cork’s many attractions – and it’s only 17 miles from Cork City. For more information, visit castlemartyrresort.ie.
The last students graduated this spring from Kylemore Abbey girls’ boarding and day school in Connemara. Irish Benedictine nuns ran the internationally-known school from 1923 to 2010. The nuns had fled Ypres, Belgium, during WWI, moved to England, then to Wexford, and finally purchased Kylemore plus 10,000 acres of land in 1920.
The students may be gone but the Benedictine nuns are still the heart of Kylemore Abbey and will be very much in evidence around the grounds.
The Galway developer John Lally has a five-year lease on the property under the umbrella of “Kylemore Tourism.” The company will handle tourism and business duties and “will operate closely with the community and respect the ethos of how they (the nuns) have run and developed the property. It’s important to us that that doesn’t change,” General Manager Frank Ford said. “Kylemore will always be home to the Benedictine community.”
Kylemore Tourism took over management of the property in July, 2009, and has already made a number of improvements such as enlarging the main restaurant, adding more hours and a more extensive menu. Ford said the gift shop in the main building was also enlarged and will continue, “to give a home to Irish craft.” It’s a wonderful craft shop, by the way, and I especially recommend jams and jellies made at the Abbey. Delicious! Also look for the vast array of Irish product from Connemara woolen socks, scarves and apparel to unique pieces of jewelry, glass, pottery and much more.
The company also reopened the tearooms up by the walled garden where an assortment of homemade foods will be offered during the summer. Wild, overgrown rhododendrons were cut away so visitors are now able to enjoy the magnificent vista of Diamond Hill from the tearooms. Several short walks have also been opened through woods around the walled garden.
The Victorian Walled Garden alone is worth the price of admission to Kylemore. To reach this spectacular garden, you can walk the woodland trail – which takes about 20 minutes - or hop on the shuttle bus that runs every 15 minutes from the visitor’s center.
This is Ireland’s only garden built in the middle of a bog and was the work of the home’s original owner, Mitchell Henry, between 1867 and 1871. Back in Henry’s day, there were 21 greenhouses in the garden. Kylemore’s website says, “ Huge engineering feats were successfully employed to heat the 21 glasshouses that were originally built to house exotic fruits and plants. These glasshouses were heated by three boilers, one of which doubled as a limekiln, and a complex system of underground hot-water pipes measuring 5,000 feet in length.”
Under subsequent owners, the gardens were sadly neglected and the glasshouses collapsed. The Benedictine community began restoration, won a grant, took bank loans, and sought donations. To date, two of the glasshouses have been rebuilt as have the charming Head Gardener’s House and Workman’s Bothy.
The Walled Garden re-opened in 1999 and features only plants and vegetables grown in Victorian times. You can actually see banana trees there as well as an assortment of other fascinating plantings.
And, it’s interesting to note the part Americans – such as Barry and Barbara Carroll of Lake Forest, IL, and Arlan and Alice Fuller of Winchester, MA – have played in the garden restoration. The Gardener’s Bothy is dedicated to the Fullers, described as “dear friends of Kylemore Abbey, whose generosity and guidance have been valued contributions since the inception of the walled garden.”
There are many special events planned at Kylemore during the summer, including a display of paintings by Moycullen artist Sara Kyne that opens early this month. Special events are listed on the website (kylemoreabbey.com) and include a creative writing workshop that sounds interesting.
If you are in Connemara, Kylemore Abbey is a terrific outing. It’s very easy to spend a day there to absorb and enjoy all the activities and history that Kylemore offers. Walk the grounds, visit the lovely Gothic Church built by Mitchell Henry in memory of his wife, Margaret, who died at 45 of dysentery on a trip to Egypt only four years after their castle at Kylemore was finished.
Check out the Kylemore’s website kylemoreabbeytourism.ie/church-events for a listing of the numerous American choirs that will be performing in the gothic church over the summer.
Kylemore Abbey is a place I never tire of visiting. It’s one of Ireland’s most beautiful places and is well worth a visit to see the house Mitchell Henry built, learn the history of his family, contemplate nature in all its beauty, buy some wonderful gifts, have a tasty lunch or tea, and see where the Benedictine nuns make their home.
Where to begin??? There are so many activities going on now to suit the taste of every traveler that it would be impossible to list them all here. The best bet is to check when you get there with the local Failte Ireland office (designated by a big green shamrock) where you’ll find listings of all area events and staffers that are eager to help you find things to do, places to stay and dine and more.
Be sure to check out the airline websites, too, for good deals on air and ground travel and, whenever you visit Ireland, have a wonderful time – and we know you will!