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Ballyfin: An Irish “World Apart”

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If you love a wonderful story, a dreamy, romantic setting and a knight in shining armor who saved the day, then look no further than Ireland’s Ballyfin demesne. Having had the pleasure of staying in three or four wonderful Irish country estates and castles over the years, I was taking this opportunity to visit Ballyfin a bit in stride. After all, this short trip to Ireland was first about gardens! But long a fan of Irish Georgian architecture, I decided to include a stop at Ballyfin that my traveling sidekick, Norma, had long been anticipating.

Well, to my great surprise I was smitten from the moment the car turned the curve and I saw this exquisite example of the Irish Regency period nesting on a pillow of lush green grass overlooking a twenty-eight acre lake. The simplicity of its careful siting, which had first caught my attention, was carried through in the interiors and twenty bedrooms that are best described as informal formality! Why did I immediately feel so “at home” when I stepped into the vestibule?

Very surely it was because of the American patron (the “knight” referenced earlier) who took the house through a nine year restoration and was so personally invested (both literally and figuratively) in its renaissance. One of his goals was to provide the sense of welcome to guests that was envisioned when this private home was first built in 1820. This included tastefully decorating with art, Irish antiques and other notable pieces of furniture from his own private collection.

The State Rooms make for a glorious backdrop to a stay in the house, starting with the grandeur of the Saloon at the heart of the house. Seven different woods were used in the extraordinary marquetry of the Saloon floor (only two other residences have a floor designed by this craftsman — Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle).

The elegance of the Gold Drawing Room, with its French inspired decoration and beautiful ceiling of rich stucco work, is set off by brocade-upholstered walls (is there anything more elegant)?

The eighty-foot Library runs the length of Ballyfin’s south façade.

Family portraits showing generations of the Cootes family (who built the home originally) were reinstalled, making  for a sensational display on the grand staircase.

The stairwell and hallways that lead to the bedrooms are given the same attention to detail as the rest of the house.

The staff providing a level of service that was so genuinely caring, also contributed greatly to the sense of being in a comfortable private home. There were many quiet corners throughout for reading or conversation; that is if you could bear to leave your cozy, warmly decorated room!

So much thought was given to the design of the bathrooms, that it almost equalled the bedrooms. Here, the toilet is tastefully secreted behind a curved wall so as not to interrupt enjoyment of the full fireplace setting across from the deep tub. And the low, large window adds it’s own charm to this “necessary” room.

Even our fellow guests clearly appreciated and respected what the owner had strived to create, which provided a pleasant sense of camaraderie that mirrored the spirit of  Ballyfin.

Of course, the meals compared equally to the level of excellence, most of the ingredients coming from the gardens or locally sourced. One tradition that I especially enjoyed was the sense of ceremony for the evening meal that took place in the State dining room. Guests assemble for pre-dinner drinks and order from an à la carte, or five or eight-course tasting menu, before proceeding to the elegant State Dining Room.

The informality of the sun-filled Conservatory, reached through a secret door amusingly hidden in a bookshelf of the Library, is where lunch is taken. Exacting dimensions for replacement of all the glass (especially the curved pieces) in the conservatory is a good example of the spare-no-expense ethos of Ballyfin’s restoration.

When you do choose to venture out, the six-hundred and fourteen acres offer garden lovers and outdoor enthusiasts another level of experiences — from horseback riding and carriage rides to walks through the parkland’s ancient woods, the follies, grottoes and water features…

And, the medieval folly and aviary.

Garden designer Jim Reynold’s masterful design for the hillside looking down to the Conservatory has me dreaming…

No surprise that I’m plotting and planning my return to this truly “world apart” in the Irish countryside — enveloped in privacy and cosseted in comfort.

Care to join me…
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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

6 thoughts on “Ballyfin: An Irish “World Apart”

    1. Hello dear Kim, so glad to hear you and your precious family had a chance to enjoy this treasure. My thinking cap is on plotting my return!
      xBettie

  1. Our family visited Ballyfin last November to celebrate my 70th Birthday. It is truly incomparable! I have had the privilege if staying in many fine hotels in the wirld but nothing, no hotel compares to Ballyfin!

    1. My, we seem to be starting a Ballyfin club. I’m counting the days until I can return. It is like being a guest in a fabulous private home!

    1. So it’s not just I who fell under the spell of Ballyfin….counting the days until I return!Hope you return soon, too

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