On the Road in IrelandLeave the driving to the experts and experience the Emerald Isle in luxury

By Jack Macaleavy

With part of my heritage coming from Ireland, I would be remiss in not making a pilgrimage back to “the old country” to see and experience the land and its people. There are so many different ways to experience this destination and, on this adventure, I chose to travel in first-class style and enjoy the homes and castles that the generational wealth of Ireland provides.

Travel across the landscape can be quite tricky and challenging. With driving on the left and steering on the right, car rental is only for the most strong-hearted, alert and experienced drivers. Another choice is bus touring, which I strongly recommend against – it feels like being in a herd of sheep.

The last and most desirable – and expensive – choice is to charter a driver and vehicle that will fit groups ranging in size from two to 12. These supreme luxury carriers are “leather and loaded” with captain’s chairs, refreshments, and a knowledgeable driver who can narrate and bring the history of the island alive. It is worth every penny, because the driver’s experience truly allows one to focus on the sights. Prices are around $500 per day for up to 10 people per vehicle.

A nonstop Delta flight from Atlanta lands in the early morning in Dublin. Plan to spend from 24 to 36 hours in the city’s center. Our hotel was in the heart of the shopping, cultural, historic and entertainment area. A bit dazed and confused, I took a long shower and got outside to begin adjusting to the time change (five or six hours, depending on the time of year). I took a stroll down to Trinity College to see the international youths live their college days, and to the National Library of Dublin, home of historic documents.

During the latter half of the second day, our driver picked us up to begin a 360-degree tour of the western part of the island. The first two nights on the agenda were at Tinakilly in County Wicklow. This Victorian mansion, built by the British government in 1883, overlooks the Irish Sea and Broadlough Coastal Lagoon. The 20-foot front door ushers visitors into the foyer of a beautiful home. There, they will arrive in a sizeable bedroom with sitting area and fireplace that overlooks the estate’s rose garden and gives an expansive view of the lake.

Place a dinner reservation and enjoy the grounds and many rooms of antiques and books. Take a walk across the estate on a narrow canopy-covered road, only to find at the end larger iron gates of another private home. If you are lucky, a perky black Labrador retriever will escort you back to the house.

Dinner at Tinakilly and all the destinations on the journey were five-star meals. Most all of the vegetable and main courses came from the working estates’ farmhouses. Most are price-fixed, with four or five courses of the finest prepared food one will ever have. Lavish breakfasts are included in the room rates, and high tea is served in the parlor each day.

The second night for each location, I recommend going into town and eating with the locals. There are Irish pubs above every other storefront, and each serves homemade, hearty food from noon to closing each day. It will not be long before one meets a local to exchange conversation and laugh with. The Irish people are some of the warmest and friendliest folks I have ever encountered. American visitors might have to ask them to repeat themselves – their accents can be quite a challenge at times.

Next came a four-hour tour drive to the Longueville House in County Cork. Overlooking the Blackwater Valley, this Georgian mansion home is in the center of a 500-acre wooded estate. The property has been in the same family line for more than 100 years and now is run by a daughter and her husband. Each fall, the estate is a destination for quail and pheasant hunters from around the world who indulge in daily hunts with their bird dog Minnie.

On our second day, our hosts prepared a picnic lunch and we proceeded (escorted by Minnie) on a two-mile walk down to the river. I sat by the riverbank on a cool October day and let time pass oh-so-smoothly. Twice a week, the owner takes guests on a three-hour mushroom hunt to pick and educate people about this wonderful food item … and that evening those guests get to enjoy their day’s harvest, accompanied by a fresh fillet or quail on a bed of wild rice as the main course.

A huge room overlooks the English flower garden to the west of the house. Sitting in an overstuffed lounge chair, one can view the sun setting over the mountains.
The “Ring of Kerry” is a 90-mile drive that loops one of the old two-lane roads along the Irish Sea. This day, you will be especially pleased you made the investment in luxury transportation, as it would be a true test of driving skills.

The final two nights were spent at Hotel Ard na Sidhe, an Old World, Elizabethan-style home that sits high above Caragh Lake. Owned by a woman from Switzerland, the home was transitioned into a hotel early in the 1960s, and the original 500-page guestbook still awaits each guest’s signature and note. Our host said that many guests have found their parents’ signatures from when they were brought as children.

We were lucky to be at Ard na Sidhe in its last week before closing for the winter. On our first night and day, we were the only guests. One could enjoy the feeling of ownership, as a staff of two always was available. We arrived a bit late the first night, and they set up sandwiches, fruit and cheese in the living room, lit the fire and left us alone with a bottle of fine wine from the private cellar. It was an evening not to be forgotten.

The last stop on the journey was Glin Castle, overlooking the Shannon River. Built in the late 17th century, the medieval castle has several wall hangings and pieces that one might find in a big-city museum. Just to provide perspective, our bedroom, with its four-poster canopy bed, had three sitting areas, a makeup area, seven handmade oriental Turkish rugs … and then there was the bathroom placed in one of the castle spires. This room also had a lounged sitting area, a full-length standing mirror, a double sink with sitting area, a lounging tub and a separate shower room. We opened the six windows in the evening to feel the cool breeze coming off the river and billowing the floor-to-ceiling drapes throughout.

Stroll off this estate to the town of Glin, which used to serve the needs of Glin Castle. Today, Glin is a vibrant town of shops and pubs, as it sits on one of the major highways of Ireland.

Journey back to Dublin and hurry to catch the morning flight back to the United States. Or, better yet, venture onto an economy flight to another of Europe’s romantic destinations.