Róisín Ingle on . . . hometels
I love hotels. My children love hotels. Their father loves hotels. We are the family that gets stupidly excited on the approach to a smiling person behind a check-in desk. That’s before we’ve even seen the miniature toiletries.
I enjoy hotels even more since having children. “Look!” they’ll shout with delight as they barrel into the room. “A bed! A television!” as though they’d never seen either before. They get high on the novelty of it not being our bed or our television. It’s also the newness of there not being stuff everywhere, no cobwebs or general clutter. “I love this place,” they’ll say, kicking off their runners a wistful sigh escaping their lips. “It’s all so . . . clean.”
When we stayed in the Westport Plaza Hotel in Mayo last year the pre-check-in scenario was not ideal. One child had lost a shoe from a newly purchased princess doll. Belle maybe, or Snow White. A Level One tantrum was being had in the lobby because how was – Pocahauntus maybe? Mulan? – ever going to walk agaiiinnnn? Magically, it was a hotel that knows the way to most children’s hearts: give them giant-sized stuff unexpectedly.
The outsize colouring books brandished by the tantrum-ignoring man at reception were large enough to make them forget why they’d been screaming their heads off. And by the time they remembered, their father had been down to the carpark and found the missing shoe under the wheel of the car. We found a special shelf in the hotel room where we made a family decision the princess’s shoes should be kept for the duration of the stay so they wouldn’t get lost. We proceeded to have a lovely time.
When a very generous friend presented my mother and I with a night away recently to a place of our choosing, I knew where I wanted to go. More than I love hotels, I love places that are hotels but manage to carry off the illusion that they are not actually hotels. Places where you can convince yourself that nothing as grubby as money has changed hands. Places so welcoming you can pretend the reason you are there is because your friends who own the place just fancied your company and invited you to stay. I call them hometels. There are not that many around.
I’ve been a few times to a hometel called Roundwood House in Co Laois. Where Paddy and Hannah who live there with their two lovely children make you feel so at home that it’s an actual physical wrench to drive away and not just because Hannah cooks food that makes you want to cry with joy. The other place on my list was also in Co Laois. I’d heard about it from friends who’ve saved up just to stay there for one night. They made the place sound so dreamy I wanted my mother to have the experience and I wanted a bit of the action too.
We were only in Ballyfin for 24 hours but I’ll be thinking about it all next year. The smell of turf fires in the air, the portraits of past occupants of the Coote family on the cantilevered stairway, the parquet floor that only the Queen would recognise, the other one of its kind in the world being in Buckingham Palace. The jib doors like something out of Cluedo leading to a bedroom or a conservatory. The beauty everywhere you looked.
But mostly I’ll be thinking about the golf carts. You see I don’t drive but that weekend I drove my mother around a tiny pocket of the 600 acre estate in a little buggy and I felt like a grown up. “Why does everyone not just drive around in golf carts all the time?” I wondered, as I visualised the M50 crawling with carts and completed a three point turn. (Woo!) There was a button to go forward and another button to go back and a speed restriction which meant I couldn’t accidentally drive into the lake .
I may not ever be back there (until my mother wins the lottery like she fully believes she will one day. Me? Well I’d need to start at least buying tickets) but I’m so glad I was there.
Because when I think about it more than the luxury I’ll remember us laughing so hard at my newfound “driving” abilities I thought I was going to die. And I’ll think about how however posh or not hotel is, everything comes down to the staff. Backl at the Westport Plaza Hotel we forgot the princess shoes which meant there were tears all the way home in the car. But the day after we got home they arrived by post in a special gold bag. And we all lived happily ever after.