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 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!
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.