When it comes to taking a break, I'm normally the sort to exit the Emerald Isle for foreign lands without a backwards glance. As a late 20-something, staycations aren't normally my thing, but if there's one thing that can sway me to remain on Irish soil for a weekend away, it's five- star luxury. Such was the mentality that had me driving the three-and-a- half hours from Dublin's fair city to the beautiful Kenmare in Co Kerry.
After passing through Healy-Rae country, also known as Kilgarvan, the spectacular rivers and lakes of south Kerry's Kenmare came into view.
Often described as a gem on the Ring of Kerry, Kenmare is a massive hit with tourists, particularly Americans. Charming and quaint without being kitsch or overly Oirish, I instantly preferred it to nearby Killarney simply because it doesn't seem to be trying so hard.
There's the usual diddley-idle tourist tat on offer, but also beautiful local lace (Kenmare has a lace festival every October), local sheepskin slippers and delicious ice cream made in-house right there on Henry Street.
Driving across the bridge over picturesque Kenmare Bay brought us to the stunning Sheen Falls Lodge just 1km from the town. This is where the five-star luxury comes in. Opened in 1991 and sold earlier this year for €5m, Sheen Falls takes its name from the water structure near the bay, and is overlooked by the McGillicuddy Reeks.
Not one for clichés, I will admit that I found the place instantly calming. I'm not sure if it was the peace and quiet with the gentle rushing of the falls, or the easy atmosphere and crackling open fire at reception, but it struck me that I had chosen the right time of year to visit. Shown to one of the signature suites, I nearly collapsed – it was bigger than my entire cottage at home.
On the first floor overlooking reception and the lake, it consisted of an enormous living area, king-sized bed I had to consistently climb off rather than glide, and a huge bathroom with Jacuzzi jets and a bidet.
Up early the next morning, a delicious breakfast was devoured in the same area that would become La Cascade fine dining that evening. A full Irish with some pastry chasers set us up for our morning activity – falconry. As an animal lover, I was dithering thinking I should've gone for horse-riding instead.
As soon as we met Geoffrey from Killarney Falconry and his awesome bird of prey Arizona though, I was convinced. A leisurely stroll through the grounds of the property – takes up some 300 acres – accompanied by a killer bird was as thrilling as it sounds.
Geoffrey explained how he takes tourists and his collection of hawks and owls hunting pheasants and rabbits in the winter months, and that he kept almost 30 birds of prey nearby.
The hawks are nothing short of spectacular looking, but my heart was stolen at the end of the trek by a barn owl named Scruff who even let me nuzzle her shockingly soft feathers.
A trip to Kenmare town for pints and pub grub followed – chowder, creamy Guinness and chicken wings in O'Donovans – and a meander around the town's shops.
Strolling around, I noticed an unusual street sign – New York Street – and decided to do some googling. It appears to be a nod to Kenmare Street in downtown Manhattan, named by Big Tim Sullivan after his mother's hometown in 1911. In fact, this past summer the town hosted a 'Gangs of New York' festival paying tribute to it's transatlantic diaspora.
Returning to Sheen Falls, it was time for dinner at La Cascade. I opted for scallops and fillet of beef, both melt-in-the-mouth delicious.
A lack of swimwear and time meant I didn't get to check out the hotel's spa or swimming pool apart from sticking my head in, which was an oversight on my part as both looked gorgeous.
If like me, you think a staycation's not your thing and would rather head for the bright lights of London or New York for a long weekend, think again. Restful, welcoming and authentic without being twee, Kenmare proved the ideal place for a short getaway, with more to explore around the south coast if you have time.