Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cheers to Ireland

Kinsale harbor in Ireland.
By Melissa C. Morris

Going green is all the rage these days,
but the phrase had entirely different connotations this fall when I took a week-long holiday to the birthplace of green -- Ireland.

There’s no better way to see the Irish countryside than by car. The only problem being that in Ireland cars drive on the opposite side of the road and the steering wheels are located on the opposite side of the car.
Ireland’s version of a “full sized” car, quite the tight squeeze when packed to the gills with T. Anthony luggage; This set up can make for some adventurous travel.
Thankfully I’m a fast leaner, and after a few tense moments where I nearly smacked the side view mirror into a row of parked cars I got the hang of the “wrong side” and was cruising along.

We started our drive in hectic Dublin and headed west. Just 45 short minutes out of the city center the traffic thinned out, sheep and goats began to dot the fields, and the industrial sprawl slowly gave way to the bright green countryside.
The view out over the Plain of Tipperary.
We made a pit stop in the seaside town of Kinsale. It’s a quaint, tidy village that’s perfect for a spot of lunch and a tank of petrol.

Just a short hop from Kinsale is the town of Kenmare, home to our extraordinary hotel for part of the trip, the Sheen Falls Lodge.
Downtown Kinsale.
The Sheen Falls Lodge sits on the banks of the Kenmare River overlooking the Sheen waterfall.
The elegant, understated hotel feels old-fashioned and welcoming, like you’re a houseguest at a grand country estate.
The service is so personal that upon arrival at the check-in desk the hotel’s receptionist asked, “Ah, you must be Mrs. Morris from New York then?”

Is it that obvious?

The hotel grounds had plenty to keep guests busy and I had a hard time choosing between tennis, horseback riding, or hiking -- or “hill walking” as they call it over there. I decided on hiking since it didn’t require any sort of wardrobe change.
A view of the lobby.
The author’s spacious, tranquil room at the Sheen Falls Lodge.
Clockwise from top left: The hotel’s hiking trail leads you through the thick pine forest by the Sheen waterfall then winds its way down to the banks of the Kenmare River; The amuse bouche at dinnertime in the hotel’s restaurant; The author having a much-needed rest after an afternoon of activity: Perhaps Tod’s driving loafers weren’t the best choice for all that rigorous outdoor activity.
Well-rested from our stay at Sheen Falls, we headed northwest to County Limerick and the small town of Glin.

We arrived safely, if not slightly frazzled from the treacherous road conditions, to Glin Castle in the town of Glin. This castle is the real deal -- complete with turrets and its own knight in residence.
The two lane “highway” from Kenmare to Glin made for many a white knuckle moment when anything larger than a bicycle needed to pass.
A view of the decidedly majestic castle and guest quarters.
The castle’s interiors matched its grand architecture.

Inside there were stags heads hanging on the walls (…my sweater only got caught on a pair of antlers once), scores of leather bound books lining the library shelves, and door-knockers the size of a head of cabbage adorning each exterior door.

Even though the castle is enormous, there are just a few guest rooms. You get a true glimpse into what it’s like to live as royalty, and with my luxury-loving tendencies I could definitely get used to it.
Clockwise from top left: The lobby with its collection of eclectic antiques; The oh-so-civilized afternoon tea service; A hearty breakfast the next morning; A hand-painted Adamesque ceiling in the drawing room.
All too soon it was off to Shannon airport for the flight home to the hustle and bustle of New York. But back in Manhattan I keep the warm, welcoming Irish spirit with me by regularly reciting a toast that a local from County Kerry taught me:

May your pockets be heavy,
Your heart be light,
And may good luck pursue you
Each morning and night.

Cheers to Ireland.

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