Falling in love again
GO IRELAND:Sheen Falls excels as a romantic getaway but there is also lots to do outdoors in Kerry, writes SEÁN FLYNN
IT IS STILL raining by the time we reach Sheen Falls Lodge on Friday evening after a thrilling drive over the mountains from Killarney. Inside a roaring fire is burning and there is warmth and conviviality in the welcome. All around there are thick carpets, sumptuous sofas and ornate paintings. Occasionally, the quiet is broken by the splash of the cascading falls just beyond the window.
Sheen Falls is a five-star resort and one much favoured by those demanding types at Condé Nast Traveller – but this is luxury with an Irish twist. There is nothing corporate or austere about what’s going on here. This is first and foremost an Irish hotel, albeit one with world-class standards of service and luxury.
Set on a private 120-hectare wooded estate outside Kenmare, Sheen Falls Lodge is the former summer residence of the Marquis of Lansdowne. In its day, the lodge welcomed the gentry in their pursuit of salmon, trout, herring and pilchards; they would cast a line from the arched stone bridge over the falls, which dates back to 1777.
In the mid-1960s, a Manchester businessman explored the possibility of turning Sheen Falls into a commercial fishery but that never materialised. Today the property is owned by a Danish shipping magnate, Bent Hoyer. Sheen Falls has many virtues – great locally sourced food and luxurious accommodation – but it is above all a romantic getaway.
But this is not just a haven for couples seeking solitude. These days, the clientele is a strikingly diverse mix of Irish, British, European and American. There is a cycling group from Germany; hill-walkers from Portland, Oregon; a large extended family from Cork celebrating a silver wedding anniversary and a group of young businesswomen from Manchester.
Sheen Falls appears to be weathering these tough economic times. It closes for brief periods during the winter but stays open over Christmas and from St Patrick’s Day until the autumn. It employs a fair scattering of locals plus kitchen staff from France and management from Britain and South Africa.
The manager, Alan Campell, who used to work for Richard Branson on the millionaire’s private island, says business is good and back on an upward trajectory. One of his assistants says there will always be a market for top-notch luxury and service and “that is what we take pride in”. Campbell says Sheen Falls is keen to market itself as a five-star resort. It’s also reaching into new emerging markets in India, China and Brazil.