July 28, 2016
By Judy Enright
Special to the Reporter
Some travelers claim that it doesn’t really matter what type of accommodation you choose when you’re on a trip because “it’s just a place to sleep.” We heartily disagree. Securing interesting places to stay in interesting locales can add so much to your ultimate experience.
There are as many different types of travelers today as there are options for accommodation, and a lot depends on your budget and on how you like to be treated when you are traveling. The thrifty, independent traveler might choose one of Ireland’s tourist board-approved B&Bs, farmhouse, or family homes, or the popular Airbnb. You can also book lodging with groups like homestay.com, which offers hosted home stays and matches travelers with hosts, locales, and dates by filtering search results for amenities, pets, and hobbies. Many hotels around the country also offer special deals in order to compete and there are some who prefer the anonymity of a hotel to the personal attention in someone’s private home.
One of my favorite accommodation groups over the years has been Hidden Ireland (hiddenireland.com), which offers a glimpse into another era with B&B in historic private homes. Hidden Ireland properties are elegant and fascinating and it’s fun to meet the family and other guests around the breakfast table or in the sitting room.
This spring, a friend and I visited Co. Roscommon and stayed at Castlecoote House, a Georgian mansion restored to its current glory after a devastating fire in 1989 left only outer walls standing. The property was derelict until 1997 when the current owners took over and spent the next 10 years restoring the house.
My bedroom was spacious with a comfortable four-poster bed. The adjoining modern bathroom had a shower surround set into the bathtub to accommodate both shower and bath aficionados.
Breakfast was cooked to order by the host and served before a peat fire in a bright, cozy dining room. A walk afterwards around the beautifully landscaped grounds, which run down to the River Suck in front of the house, was a treat.
The house opened to the public about a dozen years ago and hosts the annual Percy French Festival in July.
Kevin Finnerty, who owns the house with his wife, Teresa, pointed out that Castlecoote was designed to catch the light at every hour of the day. Asked why travelers might choose to stay in historic private homes like Castlecoote, he said, “Because it’s a great way to see Ireland and get an insight into the culture and history.” For more information, visit castlecootehouse.com. Guided tours and afternoon tea are offered there from April 1 to Sept. 30.
For other Hidden Ireland historic houses around Ireland and Northern Ireland, visit hiddenireland.com. There are many wonderful houses in this group.
Looking for a great way to spend a day while you’re in Ireland? Why not set aside some time to visit the amazing gardens at Tullynally Castle near Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath?
There are about 20 acres of gardens to wander and enjoy views, rare trees, herbaceous borders, follies, lakes, walled gardens (where a family of llamas hangs out) and more.
Thomas Pakenham inherited the Tullynally estate in 1961 after the death of his uncle, the sixth earl of Longford. After producing three large history books – “The Year of Liberty,” “The Boer War,” “The Scramble for Africa,” all of which are still in print – Pakenham began writing about trees – starting with “Meetings with Remarkable Trees” in 1993 - and has since become a passionate gardener.
In recent years, he has brought back seeds from plant hunting trips to China, Tibet, and Sikkim in Northern India. Most of his plantings have been in the Forest Walk, where soil is acidic. He recently planted a collection of rare magnolias at the castle.
Pakenham’s wife, Valerie, has written two historical anthologies, “The Traveller’s Companion to Dublin,” and “The Big House in Ireland, and their daughter, Eliza, has penned a family history about the second Earl of Longford, his brothers and sisters, one of whom - Kitty Pakenham - married the Duke of Wellington. No shortage of writers in that household!
Tullynally also has a tearoom with homemade food, cakes, tea, and coffee. And, you can book a tour that runs every Sunday afternoon and reveals secrets of Victorian “life below the stairs” in the castle’s kitchens and laundries.
The gardens and tearoom are open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Thursday to Sunday as well as bank holidays through August and also every day during Heritage Week, Aug. 22-29. For more information, visit tullynallycastle.ie
Want to see a goat crowned king? Then be sure to visit The Puck Fair in Killorglin, Co. Kerry, one of Ireland’s oldest festivals, from Aug. 10 to Aug.12.
The festival offers a unique coronation ceremony and parade, free day and night concerts, storytelling, traditional music sessions and dancers, music and dance workshops, midnight fireworks, and a horse fair. There will be street traders and artists, a craft fair, buskers, face painting, a pet show, and puppet theatre. For more, visit puckfair.ie.
Feeling energetic? If so, join in Europe’s biggest one-day adventure race on August 20 between Connemara and southwest Mayo.
The 67-km trail (about 41 miles) stretches across mountain scree, bogland, forest tracks, and along Killary fjord and takes in Connemara, the Delphi valley, Mweelrea, Croagh Patrick, and Westport. Some 3,000 people will walk or run the 21 km (about 13 miles) of trails and mountain, cycle for 45.5km (about 28 miles) and paddle a kayak for about 1km (less than a mile.) Entrance fee is 75 euro. See gaelforceevents.com for more.
TASTE OF DONEGAL
From Aug. 26 to Aug. 28, Donegal Town will host more than 120 food and drink exhibitors from all over Ireland and the UK at A Taste of Donegal Food Festival. There will be wine and beer master classes, music, a fireworks display over Donegal Bay, and much more. For more information visit: atasteofdonegal.com.
While you’re in Donegal, don’t miss the Donegal Craft Village and especially its award-winning Aroma coffee shop and restaurant. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch there this spring and took home some of Aroma’s delicious homemade bread to enjoy another day.
The craft village is outstanding. Several of my favorite artists have shops there, including the multi-talented Niall Bruton, who makes jewelry in precious metals as well as many other art pieces, including bronze sculptures, and the McGonigle Glass Studio, whose jewelry I’ve bought in shops around Ireland, especially at O’Reilly & Turpin in Westport, Co. Mayo.
There are many other artists and crafters in the Village whose shops are well worth a visit. Just be sure to check opening times as we went on a Monday (before summer season started) and not many stores were open. See donegalcraftvillage.com for more.
It’s a bit hard to believe it’s already August and summer is nearing an end. Enjoy your trip to Ireland if you’re going this month or whenever you go. There is so much to do all year and so many activities all over the country for every age and interest. See ireland.com for details on activities, festivals, and more.