Member Travels: Five Days in Ireland

“Indagare recently helped us plan a trip to Ireland to celebrate our son’s 25th birthday,” writes member Colleen Quinn. Below, she reports on her family’s time at Indagare Adored Ballyfin Demesne hotel and a literary-focused itinerary in Dublin.

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer for assistance planning a trip to Ireland. Our team can match you with the hotels that are right for you, as well as advise on all our favorite activities and must-see sites.

First Stop: Ballyfin

“We decided to spend the first three nights at Ballyfin Demesne, in County Laois. Ballyfin is one of the finest Georgian-style Anglo-Irish estates in Ireland. The town of Ballyfin is about 90 minutes southwest of Dublin, and in Gaelic, means Baile Fionn, or the “town of Finn.” Our son is named after the Irish folk hero, Fionn MacCumhaill, who is said to have been born here, so we knew this would be a perfect place to celebrate.

Ballyfin Demesne has a fascinating history. The hotel offers hour-long guided tours for guests every afternoon at 4 p.m., but I highly recommend watching the PBS special, “Ballyfin: Portrait of an Irish Country House” before you visit. Its restoration truly was a labor of love and a gift to the country. The house and its 614 acres were saved from ruin by the Krehbiel family from Chicago, and they spent nine years remodeling it, finding artisans from all over Europe to restore the house and its incredible plasterwork, mosaics—including one from Pompei—and inlaid wood floors. The Krehbiels also managed to track down much of the art and furnishings that were original to the house.

When you pull up the front drive to Ballyfin, staff, including the butler, are outside waiting to greet you. It definitely has a Downton Abbey feeling in that moment, but it quickly becomes clear that you are in Ireland, and that there is nothing too stiff or formal about anything at this hotel. The staff are all wonderful, and with only 20 guest rooms, there are ample opportunities to find quiet moments to sit on comfortable down-filled sofas by the many fireplaces and take in the beauty of this house and the Irish countryside.

We loved our meals in the gorgeous dining room, but make sure you come down for the 6 p.m. cocktail every evening. The bartender is a magician. We also loved the active days with so many outdoor activities on site. We tried it all—horseback riding, a garden tour with the head gardener, skeet shooting, fishing for pike and perch from a boat on the lake, spa treatments, swimming in the pool, workouts in the gym, and just taking walks on the mossy paths. There are rain jackets in the closets and Dubarry boots by the front door so you don’t need to overpack. The staff provides fresh flowers from the gardens and does your laundry every day and even leaves a little gift on your bed at night. There are too many special touches to list here.

I almost want to say I wouldn’t change a thing, but I do wish Ballyfin would offer another alternative to the haute cuisine at dinner, perhaps featuring the farm-to-table experience here more with a heartier menu. The chef is amazing but after two nights of fine dining, we retired to our suite on the last night with some excellent room service food from the pub (which closes at 7 p.m.). The sommelier is one of the best and friendliest wine experts we have ever met, and we loved the tastings and his willingness to find just the right wine for us, whether we were having a hamburger or the seven-course menu.

Second Stop: Dublin, Ireland

We headed to Dublin for the last two days of our visit. I have stayed at The Merrion Hotel with my family on past visits, and I still like the Merrion and its wonderful central location in Dublin, but I wish I had asked to be in the older part of the hotel. It has expanded in size since I was here two decades ago (!), and I found the newer Garden Wing addition to be a little too generic and sterile. We had booked a suite, but its view was of the car park so the hotel switched us to a smaller room next to our son’s and facing the lovely courtyard garden. We loved the breakfasts and especially enjoyed having dessert at night by the fire.

During our days in Dublin, we walked for miles, visiting the National Gallery and the National Museum of Ireland-Archaeology on our first day. I highly recommend the Bog Bodies Research Project exhibit there. We ate at the trendy Fade Street Social on our first night. It was a rainy and quiet Monday night when we were there, and the service was a little off. All of our small plates and pizzas came out at the exact same time and didn’t really make for a balanced meal.

The following day, we headed out on a half-day walking tour of literary Dublin with an amazing guide, who also leads hiking tours of the Wicklow mountains. I was an English major and wrote my senior thesis on James Joyce’s short story “The Dead,” so this was a bucket-list kind of tour for me, but my husband and son loved it as much as I did.

We were thrilled to clock seven miles of Irish literary history in just more than three hours. We made a big circle of the city, visiting the Bank of Ireland to experience, “Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again,” a moving immersive tribute to one of Ireland’s greatest poets, and also visited the National Library of Ireland for a very fine exhibition there of William Butler Yeats’ “Life and Works.” We revisited the National Gallery, checked out the townhome where Joyce’s characters in his short story “The Dead” dined, and were even serenaded in Gaelic at Sweny’s Pharmacy, featured in “Ulysses” and now a shrine to all things Joyce.

We really enjoyed our final dinner in Dublin at the small, innovative shared-plates restaurant, Library Street Dublin, which was a fitting end to our literary day. Dublin is a small city so everything we did was a short walk or cab ride away.

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer for assistance planning a trip to Ireland. Our team can match you with the hotels that are right for you, as well as advise on all our favorite activities and must-see sites.

– Indagare on November 14, 2023

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