Fancy a retreat back to nature? From horsey hideaways to traditional cookery lessons and bracing country walks, Pól Ó Conghaile has the low-down on Ireland's top farmhouses
Killiane Castle, Co Wexford
Jack and Kathleen Mernagh took in their first B&B guest in 1972. Their farmhouse dates from the 17th century, however, and the castle goes back even further -- to Norman times.
It's a historical layer cake, with accommodation spread between farmhouse bedrooms and self-catering apartments. Guests are welcome to walk around the beech and oak grove, play the new pitch and putt course or even milk the cows. The results? Georgina Campbell and the AA have both voted it Farmhouse of the Year.
Details: Killiane Castle (053 915 8885; killianecastle.com) has B&B from €45pp. B&B in a family room (sleeping four) is €150 per night. Self-catering apartments start at €300 per week.
Rockfield House, Co Galway
You can have your city and country in a single package at Kathleen and Tim Griffin's Rockfield House (above), just 15 minutes from Galway.
The Griffins have tended their small suckler farm here in Moycullen for four generations, and it's a pretty tempting escape -- backing on to a sweet ridge of hills, ambling byroads and surrounding farmland.
If you like fishing, consider a visit in May. That's when the mayfly is out, a surefire way to tempt the trout on nearby Lough Corrib.
Details: Rockfield House (091 555586; connemara-galway.net) has B&B from €35 per person sharing.
Gort-Na-Nain, Co Cork
Run by Lucy Stewart and Ultan Walsh, Gort-Na-Nain is a unique marriage of a 130-acre farm and vegetarian guesthouse on the South Cork coast.
Meals are made from homegrown vegetables (Gort-Na-Nain is the main supplier for Denis Cotter's Cafe Paradiso in Cork), and they keep their own bees for wildflower honey. The farm is near Kinsale, and the guesthouse boasts three en suite rooms with views over the Atlantic. Lucy and Ultan will happily cater for specific dietary require-ments, too.
Details: Gort-Na-Nain (021 477 0647; gortnanain.com) has B&B from €60 per night (single) or €85 for two people sharing. Dinner, B&B costs €90pp.
Annaharvey Farm, Co Offaly
If horse riding is your thing, Annaharvey Farm could be your place. Situated just outside Tullamore, the Deverell family home anchors a 350-acre farm run mainly as an equestrian centre. Horse riding is available in all disciplines (particularly show jumping, cross-country and dressage), but if you're not the horsey sort, don't fret -- Lynda Deverell offers cookery classes too.
Afterwards, kick back in the sun room. Home-cooked meals available on request in summer.
Details: Annaharvey (057 934 3544; annaharveyfarm.ie) has B&B from €45pps. Packages include two nights' B&B plus four hours' horse riding from €200pp, and a cooking weekend from €260pp.
Inveraray Farm, Co Kerry
Less than 10km from Killarney, this two-star guesthouse ticks several boxes. First, it's right next to the Gap of Dunloe, with smashing views over the Killarney Lakes. Next, it offers free private trout and salmon fishing on River Laune (if you don't have a car, the Spillanes will drive you over).
Then there are the tea rooms, playground, pony (named Grace) and corgi (called Joey) on the farm itself. Make time for Eileen Spillane's home cooking -- seafood dinners are a speciality.
Details: Inveraray Farm (064 664 4224; inver-aray.com) has B&B from €35pps, dinner from €23pp and a combination of both from €60pp per night.
Smithfield House, Co Limerick
Kathleen Lowe's 200-year-old home is the hub for a dairy farm and pony stables. It's a working farm, too, and one guests are very much encouraged to investigate -- check out calves from the Jersey herd, the on-site milking parlour or friendly ponies in their stables.
Breakfasts include fresh farm milk and eggs from free-range hens. Afterwards, you're free to explore the region. Smithfield is just four kilometres from Adare on the N21, with all the food, golf and attractions that entails.
Details: Smithfield House (069 64114; bandbireland.com) has B&B from €32pps.
Ardfield Farmhouse, Co Cork
Ardfield is another horsey hideaway, a quiet little farm with views over the Owenabue Valley near Ballinhassig (about 10km from Cork city). Owned and run by the Freyne family, who breed and train sports and event horses, guests are welcome to visit the stables and can even do a bit of grooming.
Ballinhassig is just off the N71 at the gateway to west Cork, and within easy reach of Kilbrittain and Garrettstown beaches. Or you could stay put with the spring foals.
Details: Ardfield Farmhouse (021 488 5723; corkairportbandb.com) has B&B from €33pps.
Ballyknocken, Co Wicklow
By now, Ballyknocken must be the best-known farmhouse in the country. This is the home base for Catherine Fulvio, TV's One Pot Wonder Woman, who runs her cookery school in an old milking parlour on the 350-acre farm.
Catherine's mother opened one of the first farm stays in Ireland in 1968, and her daughter carries on the tradition with a four-star guesthouse and gourmet evening meals. Guests are welcome to take the collies and golden retriever pup for a stroll, too.
Details: Ballyknocken (0404 44627; ballyknocken.com) has B&B from €59pp, with a four-course dinner priced at €45. A short break includes B&B, dinner and cookery class for €215pp.
Cloch na Scith, Co Galway
Nancy Naughton's Cloch na Scith is an 18th-century thatch-ed cottage overlooking Galway Bay. Goats and ducks scurry about, and every morning Nancy gives bread-baking demonstrations using a pot over an open turf fire ("there's no measuring," she says. "I do it the old way").
It's not all harking back to the past, however -- under the thatch you'll find central heating, TV and Wi-Fi.
Details: Cloch na Scith (091 553364; thatchcottage.com) has B&B from €36pps. A self-catering cottage costs €325 per week in May, rising to €405 in June and €560 in July and August.
Bayly Farm, Co Tipperary
If you fancy a stretch of the legs on your holiday, a visit to Bayly Farm may be in order. Desmond and Jacqueline Bayly have braided an hour-long loop around their 130-acre property, and styles, kissing gates and the Nenagh River all feature (don't worry, they'll provide the maps and wellies). The 19th-century farmhouse is a stone's throw from the new Nenagh bypass, and Jacqueline does a four-course dinner by request -- in autumn, be sure to sample the farm's fresh raspberries.
Details: Bayly Farm (067 31499; baylyfarm.ie) has B&B from €35pp per night. A four-course dinner is available from €35pp, and you should bring your own wine.
For more information on Irish farm stays, visit bandbireland.com