Go Ireland: If you want luxury in spectacular, secluded settings without going abroad, than look no further than this selection of Irish holiday cottages, writes Sandra O'Connell
REMEMBER the fabled Irish landscape of your youth, the one made up of emerald fields, sparkling seas and rainbows? It’s still out there and ready for holidaying in, you’ve just got to search beyond the Section 23 developments to find it.
One of the legacies of the late, lamented boom is that Ireland has more top-notch holiday cottages than ever before. What’s more, courtesy of a downturn that has left even second-home owners feeling the pinch, you can bag a luxury one for less than you might think. Here are some suggestions.
1 Gorgeous GlengarriffIf you can find a prettier holiday cottage than this, please let us know. Some of us will have a hat to eat.
The former hunting lodge of the earls of Bantry, it stands on a two-acre island of lawns and gardens amid the ancient oaks of Glengarriff Woods.
Surrounded by a river, three bridges connect it to the 40-acre surrounding woodland estate, with formal walks and nature trails to enjoy.
Restored to a luxurious standard, with period furniture and log fires, it has everything you’d expect from a super posh country house but at rates that run from a surprisingly good value €1,100 to €2,500 a week – after all, it sleeps 10.
It seems almost a shame to fill it up with screaming kids or squawking mates, though, as the real appeal, if you can afford it, is the utterly tranquil setting. And you don’t even have to break the spell by going shopping – catering can be arranged on request.
Elegant.ie, ref C159
2 Wondrous WexfordIf Ireland had a "sunshine state", it would be Wexford. Relative to the rest of the country, if there's good weather going, chances are it's centred here. On top of that are miles of deserted sandy beaches and holiday cottages straight off the top of a chocolate box.
Two of these are in the popular holiday spot of Carne, sleeping eight and seven respectively. Both are situated on a quiet country road that is a seven-minute walk from the nearest beach. The inlet at Our Lady’s Island is just over two kilometres away. There’s horse riding, two 18-hole golf courses and a restaurant nearby, not to mention the nature reserves for sea birds.
Better still, one was the childhood holiday home of Oscar Wilde. Rental prices run from €533 to €995, depending on the time of year, and if that seems expensive to you, you might bear in mind Wilde’s observation about those living within their means suffering a lack of imagination.
I guess we’ve always been an imaginative nation.
Shamrockcottages.co.uk, ref 23 and 26
3 Water's edge at WatervilleApproached by a long driveway up a Kerry hill so green it looks lit from below, and overlooking Lough Currane, this modernised farmhouse would command respect even if it were a cowshed – the location alone is stunning. Cowshed it most certainly isn't, however.
The stone-built house is a beautiful mix of limestone flagstones and warm wooden floors, beamed ceilings and pristine white walls. The three-bedroom house sleeps six and has everything bar, importantly, a television. There’s nothing sadder than going on holidays and watching television.
Situated five kilometres from Waterville, there’s walking, fishing and lake swimming on tap, and more adventurous watersports and sandy beaches are an easy drive away. Prices range from €533 to €995 per week.
Shamrockcottages.co.uk, ref 159
4 Romantic RossesAny closer to the sea shore and this one would be marketed in Atlantis. The newly built villa at Rosses Point is totally secluded and offers views over Sligo Bay to Ben Bulben.
The house can accommodate 12, sleeping eight in the main house and four in a separate guest apartment. The main house has a large kitchen, living room, drawing room and large dining room. The guest apartment is totally self-contained with its own small kitchen-cum-living room.
A well-established surfer’s haven with a fretwork of deserted rural roads inland, Sligo offers a chance to see how the west used to be before the tour buses took over. Sights nearby include the megalithic cemetery at Carrowmore, Yeats’s grave and Maeve’s Cairn.
The price of a week’s rental runs from €2,000 to €3,500.
Elegant.ie, ref SO5
5 Room for twoWith a name like Love Nest, this one is strictly for couples. A one-bedroom hideaway tucked away in the Ballynatray Estate in Waterford, near historic Youghal, this little gem is small but perfectly formed for a romantic tryst, with an open fire in the bedroom and a separate kitchenette.
The bedroom has windows on three sides, with views of the 800-acre estate on the stately Blackwater.
And how apt is the nest bit, with the parkland being famous for its rare birds; it is one of the largest nesting grounds in Europe for egrets.
Meanwhile, the lovebirds inside the house get to enjoy a fully stocked mini bar, with breakfast delivered fresh until noon. Once up and about, the estate is your oyster, with guests free to walk, twitch, canoe and canoodle.
Prices run from €186 to €230 per night, with a two-night-stay minimum.
Elegant.ie, ref C192 or ballynatray.com
6 Fall for Sheen FallsThere's nothing like the freedom of self-catering. But there's nothing like hotel service to make you feel pampered. Here's an option that combines both.
Sheen Falls hotel in Kerry has some of the most attractive holiday cottages found this side of Disneyland. Two of them, Little Hay Cottage and Marianne’s Cottage, are enchanting.
Both are thatched, surrounded by private gardens and offering views of Kenmare Bay, making them the most luxurious spot from which to explore the southwest. At Little Hay, for example, each of the ground floor rooms has an open fire big enough to put small trees into, with your own Cinderella (sorry, housekeeper) to sweep them out each day.
The kitchen has a seated bay window, eye-level fire place and a three-metre oak dining table. There are fruit trees and loungers in the sunroom, a well-stocked library and a candelabra overhead to read by. All the bedrooms have walk-out balconies with their own telescopes, while the master bed is more than four sq m. Prices start at €750 per night.
7 School holidaysThe Irish Landmark Trust is restorer and keeper of some of the most magical holiday homes in the country, so when it recommends one of its properties over any other, you pay attention.
According to staff there, its most luxurious property is the Schoolhouse at Annaghmore, Co Sligo. Built in the 1860s, the beautifully restored building is in a picturesque rural setting beside the Owenmore river and surrounded by mature woodland.
The building has original decorative features, including ornamental wooden bargeboards and lattice windows with wooden mouldings, with a projecting oriel window on one gable.
The L-shaped 1.5-storey building originally comprised the schoolmaster’s residence and a double-height schoolroom with open fire. Some 19th-century schoolhouse furnishings still survive, including the schoolhouse fireplace, coat hooks and chalkboards.
A world away from the bustle of the modern world, it’s only a few kilometres from Sligo town and a week’s rental in high season costs €798, with a 15 per cent discount for Irish Times readers.
8 Wicklow's waysAdmittedly, I'm biased, but Wicklow is the country's most beautiful county. Well there aren't two Gardens of Ireland now, are there? It's also just beside Dublin, which means that for Dubs in need of a break, but too exhausted to face a long drive, it can't be beaten.
It’s a fact that has holiday makers beating a track to Aughavannagh Cottage, a restored farmhouse set in splendid isolation along the Wicklow Way, just below Lugnaquilla mountain.
The cottage sleeps seven and, while keeping the faith with the charms of a bygone era, it has all the mod cons you could want in a rural bolthole.
Particularly suited to walkers, it’s a hardy hike to the glories of Glendalough, Glenmalure and even, if you keep going, Glencree. Or just stay put and soak up the luxury of silence. A week’s stay ranges from €795 to €1,395.
9 Three hundred years of solitudeFor seaside luxury, you'll be hard pressed to beat Thatcher's Rest, a super-plush thatched cottage at Bettystown, Co Meath.
Part of a development of seven holiday homes purpose built an amazing 300 years ago, the beach-front cottages have been beautifully restored and offer peaceful surroundings, large organic flower gardens, and beautiful sea views.
Whitewashed Thatcher’s Rest sleeps six in three bedrooms and has direct access to almost 10km of sandy beach. The open-plan lounge has a vaulted oak-beamed ceiling and solid oak flooring, with a gas-fired stove and bay windows that make the most of the setting.
There is traditional-style pine furniture throughout, alongside handy extras such as under-floor heating and heated towel rails. Housekeeping and heating is included in the rates.
Prices start at €360 per night. Visit before March 8th for €50 per person, per night, based on two sharing. A three-night minimum stay applies.
10 Island livingFor total luxury, Inish Beg, a private island estate near Baltimore in west Cork, might just offer the ultimate escape.
Its award-winning Boathouse is built of stone and glass and is set right on the water’s edge, perfect for those seeking total seclusion and privacy. Bankers perhaps.
The four-bedroom house has one double and three twin rooms, a large glass-fronted living area and a mega huge home-cinema system for when you’re tired of the view. There’s masses of decking and a super smart kitchen, plus all sorts of outdoor activities on tap, including power boating, wind surfing and sailing courses organised for you by the owners.
The estate, which has a number of private properties available to rent, has its own heated indoor swimming pool and gym facilities too, as well as gardens and woodlands to explore. Prices run from €440 for two midweek to €990 a weekend for eight, depending on the time of year.
Who rents Irish hideaways?
Celebrities, for one, according to Geraldine Murtagh of Elegant Ireland.
Unfortunately, she is far too discreet – and too bound up in confidentiality contracts – to name names.
“It is a double-edged sword, having so many celebrity guests, in that it would be great for business to be able to say who had stayed in which property but these people only come back to us because they know we are discreet.” When it comes to holiday properties in Ireland, what the rich and/or famous prize more than anything is privacy, she says.
“They don’t want to be stepping out of their door and seeing 10 or 20 of the same properties just a few feet away from them.
“They want a one-off property. They value atmosphere, character and a stunning, and preferably secluded, location,” she says.
That said, it is the non-rich and famous that make up most of her clients.
“Many of our properties were built or renovated by their owners to be their own holiday homes so they are finished and furnished to a very high spec,” says Murtagh.
“Once you look into the price of some of them, and consider just what you are getting for your money, they do offer very good value.”