Contributor PAUL WILSON experiences life ‘upstairs’ in Cahernane House…
Country House ambience, family-friendly service and the Ring of Kerry on your doorstep, for families looking to get away in Ireland Cahernane House is a proper treat. When it comes to family getaways with young children to Country Houses in Ireland, some of them won’t even let you in. A clear policy at a rather large and fancy establishment of some renown: children under nine are not accepted. Not so, Cahernane House.
It’s beautifully situated on a private estate, a boutique, four-star just a ‘flat-mile’ walk from Killarney centre. Find it at the end of a tree-lined laneway just off the main road, a quiet retreat surrounded by lowing cows, grazing sheep and deer, a crunch of gravel under foot and tyre. On arrival Mary, handed our daughter Nancy a fluffy toy duck, which we decided to call Herbert. It set the tone for two days of relaxation, fab food and friendly service. Killarney has welcomed tourists for hundreds of years and in the busy summer months, shamrocks and engraved crystal trinkets are in many shop windows. Which is fine. For the more discerning traveller, there’s Cahernane House. Small is beautiful. Lawns run out down a landscaped step, where a swing seat suspended from a tree the perfect vantage point to take in Killarney National Park. Whilst many other hotels have lake and mountain views, Cahernane is unique: morn, sparkling dew-soaked grass, running off to rising peaks.
Cahernane was once owned by the Herberts who came to settle in Killarney in the 17th Century. Peter Flanagan (independent.ie) summed the history up nicely: “The property has an interesting history to say the least. Formerly the residence of the Herbert Family the Earls of Pembroke, Cahernane House Hotel dates back to the 17th Century. Two Brothers, members of the Pembroke family, whose ancestors had fought on the York side during the War of the Roses, came to Killarney in 1656. One Brother was given the Muckross Estate and the other the Currens and Cahernane. Henry Herbert, like most other Irish landlords, was determined to maintain appearances and to do so kept carriages, horses, boats, boatmen, gardeners, gamekeepers and a great many servants. In 1877 he replaced the old family mansion, one of the few remaining Queen-Anne buildings in Ireland, and in its place he built Cahernane House Hotel.” The reception is delightfully eccentric with an eclectic mix of artwork, sculpture and ceramics.
Wooden floors and high doors lead the way to softly-carpeted corridors and the well-appointed rooms are comfy, cosy and classy. The main staircase has all the hallmarks of Herbert’s eastern travels. Henry Arthur Herbert was married to the British Artist Mary Balfour, and one can only assume the light glancing of Killarney’s lakes and cloud-scudded shadows on mountainsides evoked the water colourists’ deepest sentiments. In 1767, Samuel Derrick described Killarney’s surrounding countryside as a ‘wild uncultivated country.’ Today, Cahernane mixes Anglo-Irish charm with the splendour of the natural landscape.
There are plenty of family activities at Cahernane. The staff are happy to organise in the immediate surrounds and beyond: Hide and Seek in Muckross Abbey; Murphy’s for ice-cream. A boat trip from Muckross to Dinis Cottage. Cycling in the Killarney National Park, walks up mountain or hill or by the fast-flowing waters of Torc Waterfall. There’s a painting in Powis Castle, ‘The Six Children of Charles John Herbert and Louisa Middleton’ circa 1828.
A smiling happy bunch in silk and suits, it seems fitting Cahernane is family-friendly. Killarney National Park is Ireland’s oldest National Park, the oak woods, part of the great forest that once covered the country in a serene mountain-ringed valley and a place with a wonderful aura. It’s a proper leitmotif: blue lakes and sandstone mountains; Kenmare to Killarney, through Moll’s Gap bathed in purple, the highest mountains themselves, ‘The Reeks District’. At Cahernane, there is both formal and casual dining.
We stayed two nights and on the first night had the full sit-down, four-course meal. Served between 6.30-9pm, it’s ‘an extensive artisan dinner menu with a distinctive Irish Feel.’ Eric Kavanagh is the head chef, and has worked internationally as well as locally. Lough Neagh Eel, Castletownbere Crab, Duck Breast and Halibut, were just some of the starter options, while mains ranged from Dry Aged Sirloin and Slow cooked Pork to Cod, Lobster Tail, Kerry Hill Lamb. Sausage, chips and tomato sauce too – of course! There’s a middle course, and dessert – Jasmine Rice Parfait, Dark Chocolate and Cherry Entremet and Iced Sesame Seed and Oak Milk Mousse, to name but a few.
Friendly, chatty staff takes the edge off what is often the stuffiness of white linen service. Downstairs, the Cellar Bar is warm and atmospheric and has a comprehensive range of spirits. Upstairs there’s a little conservatory, with green palms and soft sofas. The highlight, an after-dinner drink in the drawing room with live piano and dusk settling over fields and mountains. Fluffy ducks and little kids go to sleep, deer migrate to the closer fields, a sense of peace descends. Check out cahernane.com for more details.