Start off in Dublin at The Merrion, which occupies four 18th-century townhouses including Mornington House, where the first Duke of Wellington was born in 1769. My favourite suites in the 142-room hotel, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, include the 204 sq m Penthouse, with a 100 sq m private terrace and hot tub, and the elegant 73 sq m Lord Antrim Suite, where President Obama stayed in 2011.
The hotel also boasts amazing Irish art, collected by owner Lochlann Quinn and looked after by general manager, Peter MacCann. A highlight is the sculpture of novelist James Joyce by Rowan Gillespie in the hotel’s rose garden. The indoor pool has a delightful trompe l’oeil country-house scene at one end, while nearby, The Cellar Restaurant offers all-day dining. For very fine dining, book a table at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Ireland’s only two-Michelin-star restaurant.
When you’ve had your fill of the city, pack your golf clubs and head off to the Irish countryside. The first stop on your itinerary could be the village of Cong in County Mayo. There, you can pass a life-size statue of actors John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, unveiled in October 2013, as you start the mile-long wooded drive to Ashford Castle.
The estate’s tagline is “excellence since 1228,” and it really is. In 1228, the de Burgo family entertained here, and now a 16th-century monastery has been incorporated into this fairytale castle on the banks of Lough (loch) Corrib. The 83-room hotel reopens this month under general manager Niall Rochford, after the first stage of a renovation that has seen all rooms upgraded and the addition of a library and a screening room. It is amazing to enter the castle’s double-height lobby and see its huge log fires, one of which has a cosy nook adjoining it where up to four people can keep extra-warm.
There are especially fine views from suite 411-412 that look out over the lough. There’s guided fishing trips with “ghillies” and salmon fishing on the nearby River Cong. If you prefer to stay dry, you can take to the Eddie Hackett-designed golf course, study falconry or take Peugeot bikes for long countryside rides. The hotel’s wood-panelled restaurant offers fine traditional Irish fare and a respected wine list.
Dromoland Castle Hotel & Country Estate, 13 kilometres from Shannon Airport at Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, dates back to 1543, when it was built by the O’Brien family. This hotel, a member of Preferred Hotel Group and run by general manager Mark Nolan, has 100 rooms. If you like a lot of space, take the 130 sq m Cottage Suite or the duplex Thomond Suite, which occupies a small tower.
The championship golf course, originally built in 1961, was redesigned in 2003 by former pro, J.B. Carr and golf course designer, Ron Kirby. You can also fish in Dromoland Lough, practice archery and falconry, or learn how to drive a pony and trap. Aesthetics are everything here, from the trompe l’oeil wall decorations around the 17-metre indoor pool to the lobby’s Waterford chandeliers, which have to be cleaned professionally every six months. Enjoy Mrs. White’s Afternoon tea as an entr’acte between lunch and dinner in the Earl of Thomond Restaurant.