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The great escape for Christmas

Get away from it all and eat, drink, be merry and stay over at one of these gorgeous venues around the country

Enjoy a tapas lunch at Cava Bodega in Galway.

Enjoy a tapas lunch at Cava Bodega in Galway.


Team-building exercises are all well and good but an overnight stay really acts as glue to cohesively stick your colleagues/employees together. It also gives them the chance to go a bit wild, so where to go, why and what to do when you get there.

Dine and dance in Dromoland

Invite your gang to Dromoland Castle, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare, where you can walk the woods or play with raptors and afterwards repair to the long hall for drinks in front of open fires burning logs from wood from the estate.

Then head into the bar for a pre-dinner cocktail for whiskey lovers – O’Brien’s Secret is a dramatic confection that is presented under a glass cloche with dry ice emanating from it like a witch’s cauldron. It is a mélange of Gentleman Jack, Remy Martin VSOP, Drambuie, Laphroig, Pernod, Angostura and orange bitters.

There are Christmas party nights at the castle, €80 per person, on Friday and Saturday, December 14th and 15th, and Friday, December 21st, where guests can enjoy a five-course festive menu with entertainment from Santa and Miss Santa. MC James Sexton will loosen up the crowd with an interactive quiz and sing-along during dinner with band and disco after in its great hall.

Accommodation is an additional €85 per person sharing. If you’ve a small group, you might prefer the formal dining room with its Waterford Crystal chandeliers and silk damask walls commissioned by Carlton Varney, which really comes alive after dark.

For more, visit: Dromoland.ie

Go gourmet in Galway

If you fancy fattening up like turkeys for Christmas, then a three-part gourmet weekend in Galway might be just the thing. Take a leisurely train down on Saturday morning, enjoy a tapas lunch at Cava Bodega (pictured above) including a glass of Cava, just enough to tickle the taste buds for dinner that evening at Aniar, the Michelin-star restaurant on Dominick Street, where your party will relish its six-course tasting menu, which includes a glass of sparkling wine on arrival.

The three-restaurant event is topped off with brunch the next day, Sunday, in Tartare Cafe and Wine Bar and includes a cocktail or coffee, depending on how your head is.

This would suit a small company or department within a company as the maximum number Aniar will accommodate in a group is 10. Based on that number, the cost is €125 per person.

You can overnight at The House Hotel from €75pps. This price includes breakfast. Another option is a Saturday evening six-course tasting menu dinner at Aniar plus wine pairings, followed on the Sunday by a day-long cookery course at Aniar Boutique Cookery School led by its chef patron JP McMahon. This is for a group of seven or less. For that number, the cost per person is €295. For larger groups of up to 30, you can book Tartare on a private-group basis.

For more, visit: Arniarrestaurant.ie; Thehousehotel.ie

Country house take-over

If you want to totally take over a venue, then Ballinacura House, about two clicks outside Kinsale, Co Cork, is a fine choice. You can sing and dance all night without discombobulating other guests. A late 1700s’ Georgian mansion, the property has hosted many celebrities over the years, most notably Michael Jackson and Queen Elizabeth.

With salons to sit in, a large dining room that can accommodate everyone without a bad seat in the house, your guests can really relax and take ownership of the party. There’s also a Champagne bar and an authentic Cuban cocktail bar where guests can create their own signature drinks.

There are 22 rooms on the property, which can accommodate up to 56 people, with 14 bedrooms in the main house and the others in two other properties – the Coach House and the Cottage, a short 30-second walk from the main house. Midweek prices on a bed-and-breakfast basis will cost from €5,000 to €6,500 at this time of the year.

Dinner menus range from a one-pot casual choice, from €35 per head; a tasting menu from €55pp; to the recreation of the menu served to Britain’s monarch, which includes local wild salmon, pan-fried turbot and beef cheek and tongue. The property also has a private jetty on the River Bandon, should you fancy a boat trip or fishing excursion, as well as a full barbecue kitchen, if the weather is unseasonally dry.

For more, visit: Ballinacurra.ie

City break in the marble city

For a city break, head to Kilkenny, the small but perfectly formed destination that offers fine dining, culture and craic all rolled into the one weekend experience.

Situated bang in the city centre, the Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel is running a series of party nights in its King’s Ballroom starting on Friday November, 30th. These will seat 10 to 12 to a table and include ice-breakers such as a photo booth, magician and MC to have the crowd up and dancing before the starters arrive.

Running over the first three weekends in December, on Saturday, December 1st; Friday, December 7th; Saturday, December 8th; Friday, December 14th; and Saturday, December 15th, the party costs €45 per person for a four-course festive menu that includes the hotel’s signature spiced Baileys cheesecake.

After dinner, The Ambassadors take to the stage to keep the revelry going until the wee hours. Book your staff in overnight so they can crawl upstairs when they finally want to stop. B&B costs €65pps on Fridays and €75pps on Saturdays. There’s a plethora of cracking pubs to repair to for a cure the following day – The Left Bank, The Marble Bar and Ryan’s all come highly recommended.

For more, visit: Kilkennyormonde.com

Take a hike in Co Wicklow

Co Wicklow offers an easy-to-escape-to excursion from Dublin. Disappear south to the garden county to let your employees meander through the woods before a big-table experience at The Big Tree, a private room that can accommodate from four to 44 at Brook Lodge, Macreddin village, outside Aughrim, Co Wicklow. The private room, like the Strawberry Tree restaurant, serves a selection of wild and organic food – with the former offering a range of serving platters. This type of relaxed menu plus overnight, shared accommodation costs €160 per person mid-week and €190pps on weekends.

There is an easy 6km trail that circumnavigates the hotel if your guests would like a very simple appetite-whetting walk or you could hire bikes, helmets and maps and take to some of the county’s many meandering boreens and work up a pre-dinner sweat.

Breakfast is the full Irish and is served up until midday, which will be music to the ears of any of the very late owls in your party. The property has 86 bedrooms in total so you can accommodate a medium-size office.

For more, visit: Brooklodge.com

Cliffhanger of a setting

The setting of The Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, Co Waterford, is impressive 365 days of the year. The property, built into the side of a cliff, frames large vistas of Ardmore Bay in its oversized picture windows and will instantly transport your guests far, far away from the office.

The five-star residence has a Michelin star restaurant but the chef’s table in its private dining room offers a much more intimate setting for staff to really get into the swing of the things. This room can accommodate groups from 15 to 40 and is beautifully decorated for the festive season in a manner fitting this modernist establishment.

On offer is a seasonal four-course menu, €85 per person, or you could opt to go to the Cliff Bar and Restaurant for a more casual evening, with platters served for first and desert courses. With mulled wine to kick off the convivial experience, this costs €45pp. If you want to stay over and wake up to the sounds of the waves crashing outside, the cost is €144.50 per person sharing mid-week and €159.50pps on the weekend.

For more, visit: Cliffhousehotel.ie

Do Dublin

Christmas party nights in Dublin are great when you get into the swing of the evening but can so often be ruined by the nightmare that is trying to get transport home afterwards, so for Dublin-based companies, why not stay put, eat, drink, be merry and overnight so you can make more merriment in the morning.

In the city centre, you could dine at Sole Seafood & Grill, on South William Street, which serves the best locally sourced fruits de mer as well as the finest steaks. Its three-course set lunch costs €42pp while its evening table d’hôte menu costs €60. Both are available on set days. Or you could eschew food altogether and hit the hard stuff with a single malt whiskey tasting session at Teeling’s Distillery on Newmarket Square, where you can try its single malt, vintage single malt and limited single cask, €30 per person, followed by a tour of the distillery.

On Harcourt Street, the Dean Hotel offers a festive menu featuring chargrilled turkey served with pancetta mashed potatoes. Lunch is from €40pp, dinner from €55pp. Its Mod Pod rooms are from €110. Situated on one of the city’s most vibrant late-night quarters, you can party till dawn downstairs at Everleigh or you could give in to the siren call of Coppers. Breakfast is available in room from €20pp but with Sophie’s on the rooftop, you might prefer to get up and check out the city views.

Or you could head to one of the two venues at the Dawson Hotel. Venue35 can accommodate 250 people for reception-style parties serving canapé, finger and bowl food. It can fit 100 people for a sit-down menu and food-station options. For groups of less than this number, try Sam’s Bar, where catering for corporate groups from 10 to 700 and the space can be exclusively rented from Sunday through Thursday for private bookings with platter bar bites, bowl or finger food menus available. The Dawson Hotel has 36 bedrooms with rooms ranging in price from €150 to €250.

The 40-bedroom Devlin, in the heart of Ranelagh village, is due to open in November and would make a great venue to take over for a small company. It includes a 45-seater cinema that might make a good start to a Christmas party or indeed a nice idea for employees’ kids, and Layla’s, its rooftop cocktail bar boasting views of the Dublin Mountains. Room rates start from €140 without breakfast.

Across the river, Le Bon Crubeen on Talbot Street serves Irish food with a French twist. You could whet the group’s appetites with a backstage tour of the Abbey Theatre, which offers what is in effect an abridged version of 20th-century history – tickets cost from €12 per person.

Prices for Le Bon Crubeen’s fixed pre-theatre menu cost €21.95 for two courses and €24.95 for three courses. Then return to the theatre to see Come From Away, the Broadway musical based on a real-life story of 7,000 air passengers grounded in Canada after 9/11. The show opens in Dublin ahead of its transfer to the West End. You could also talk to the restaurant about topping and tailing your evening, starting with the first two courses before the show and returning after the curtain drops to enjoy dessert, coffee and maybe even a nightcap.

Or, if you want a laugh, why not immerse your team in a Dublin tradition, the panto. Robin Hood runs from November 23rd to January 20th at The Helix, tickets from €21.50, or following on from the success of the summer Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, you could sign up to Abba Forever, a feelgood sing-along session at the same venue on December 10th. Tickets cost €23 each.

For more, visit: Sole.ie; Abbeytheatre.ie; Leboncrubeen.ie; Teelingdistillery.com; Deandublin.ie; thehelix.ie