Summer Ireland and the celebs who holiday here
The joys of holidaying at home is something more and more Irish celebrities are picking up on. So who goes where
Ireland, of course, has carved a niche for itself as a seductive spot for celebrity weddings and sneaky honeymoons - Posh n' Becks, Sir Paul and Heather, Kimye, anyone? - but who are the hardy folk who stick it out longer than a few days? Who actually holiday in Ireland, with all the weather uncertainty and wardrobe demands that entails? And where do they go?
Well, to Kerry, many of them, including, of course Miriam O'Callaghan, who's devotion to the county, and Dingle and the Skellig Hotel in particular, is as well established as her immense charm and sense of humour. "We always had a family holiday in Kerry," Miriam tells me. "My dad Jerry O'Callaghan was a very proud Kerryman. I love all of Kerry but we tend to nearly always go to Dingle and stay in The Skellig Hotel, as my smaller children always loved the Fungi Kids Club there. Jamie, my youngest, is nine and still loves it. The nice thing is that all the other children love it too. Dingle is a Gaeltacht area so it's wonderful for the children to see that Irish is very much a beautiful, living language.
" There are so many majestic parts of Ireland - we were in stunning Connemara last weekend as our 13-year-old, Conor, was in Irish College there - but the family connection as well as the beauty is what keeps drawing us back home to Kerry. My cousin still farms the same farm my Dad grew up on, and I have lots of other cousins farming around Killarney, so down the years, my city kids have had a chance to see what true country living is. That's important to me, as we should all remember our roots."
Marian Keyes is also a regular Kerry-goer, staying at the Park Kenmare or the Europe in Killarney, and most recently tweeting cheerily from the bottom of Carrauntoohil. Speaking of which, Norah Casey, another Kerry fan, climbed the country's highest mountain a few weeks ago, and travels back regularly. "My father had a firm belief that you shouldn't holiday abroad until you'd seen the whole of Ireland," she tells me. "So we had some wonderful holidays in almost every county. Now I spend at least three months of the year travel-writing; I'm just back from Thailand, so having a holiday at home is even more precious. My mum is from Leitrim, so it's a special place for myself and my son Dara, but Kerry is perhaps my spiritual home. Climbing Carrauntoohil was the best feeling in the world, with Mother Nature providing the most stunning backdrop. When we married, Richard and I lived in London and we were both working in far-flung corners of the world - we choose Dingle for our honeymoon, which was magical."
Gabriel Byrne spent his honeymoon in Kenmare, after marrying Hannah Beth last year, while over at Parknasilla, Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig have all spent some relaxing time. Author Sinead Moriarty, who's latest novel The Secret's Sisters Keep is out now, is another Kerry perennial, and explains the appeal to me thus: "On a sunny day there is no more stunning landscape than the lakes of Killarney. My favourite walk is the Torc waterfall and Muckross Lake loop, the scenery is breathtaking and lifts your spirits."
Evelyn O'Rourke has been heading to Kell's Bay every year for two weeks, with a gang of 30-odd friends and family, since she was eight years old. "All these years later, all of us still make this pilgrimage to Kells Bay, and now this precious holiday tradition has passed on to a third generation. It is wonderful to see our children playing on the same beach we dug sandcastles on back in the day, and to see them playing with the sons and daughters of the people we used to play with. Between ourselves, I am quietly counting down the days now until myself and John pack up our two young boys and all our stuff to head south again. It is, and always has been, the high point of my year."
Actor Aoibhin Garrihy agrees. " Any chance I get I'm road tripping around Ireland," she says. "My favourite is definitely the west coast, primarily Co Clare and Co Kerry. The Wild Atlantic Way is incredible and my top two destinations have to be Doolin or Dingle. My top things to see or do: A Cliffs of Moher walk, a swim at Slea Head, a trip to the Aran Islands, a climb up Mount Brandon, a sunset kayak with Fungi, or fish and chips on the harbour."
Cork, of course, is the occasional home of Jeremy Irons, who bought Kilcoe Castle in West Cork in 1998, after a visit to Lord David Puttnam, producer of Chariots of Fire and The Mission, who also owns a house in the area, between Skibbereen and Baltimore, and describes the process of his arrival here as "a series of accidents, but it's the best thing that ever happened to me." Graham Norton is the brightly-shining star of Ahakista, where he is deeply integrated into the adoring local community, and last week even used his Twitter power to help his neighbours sell their home, Kitchen Cove, by tweeting to his 800,000 followers, some of whom might very well fancy living next door to their hero.
Morah Ryan goes to Kilcrohane in Cork, a place she describes as her "second home"; and Angela Lansbury, who built a home in Ballycotton in the 1970s, describes it as a "sanctuary", and says that some of her happiest times were spent there with her late husband Peter Shaw.
Jeremy Paxman has been a Cork regular since the 1970s, staying in both West and East Cork, although he did give vent to some frustrations over 'ill-thought out' developments and too many tourists recently, saying "I really don't understand the way in which beautiful bits of Ireland have been ruined by unsightly buildings thrown up." I hope he's ready for the long answer . . .
The Cork way is boats out to Hare Island off the southwest coast, for impromptu barbecues; dinners in Mary Ann's in Castletownshend, Annie May's in Skibbereen, almost anywhere in Kinsale, especially Fishy Fishy and the Black Pig, and the new Mews restaurant in Baltimore (try the warm strawberry doughnuts). This is the place for painting courses, for beginners and improvers, and Skibbereen has a new arts centre, Uillinn, visible right across the town, that is keeping alive the area's strong artistic connection. Campbell Bruce, who sadly died two years ago, spent time in West Cork, and his wife, painter Jacqueline Stanley still does, with Tim Goulding and Charles Tyrrell further north on the Beara Peninsula, and many more in between.
Up north in Donegal, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick are the local celebs everyone wants to catch a glimpse of. Broderick spent his summers in Donegal as a child, and now continues the tradition with his own family at their holiday cottage near the village of Kilcar, where his parents own a home. "We miss it so much and we try to replicate Ireland at home but it's a poor man's substitute for the real thing," is SJP's take on it.
Over by Malin Head, Amanda Brunker has a house, where she takes her two boys, with husband Philip McLaughlin. Brunker, who's radio play Curiosity, featuring Leigh Arnold and Norma Sheahan has been galloping up the iTunes charts for the last four weeks, says "it's literally at the edge of the world, and the most therapeutic spot ever. Crystal clear water, the freshest Atlantic air; beauty that inspires the soul," then adds with a laugh "after a week there, I need to rush back to the George and sink a few Jagerbombs, just to get me back into city mode."
Lunch or dinner in Harry's Bar and Restaurant, on the Inishowen Peninsula, is a must. Head chef Derek Creagh has done his time at Heston's Fat Duck, and it shows. Or, take it outside and head for Harry's Shack, same owners, right on the beach at Portstewart. Visit Ards Forest Park, Fanad lighthouse, mighty Mount Errigal and Doe Castle.
And for the adventurous and nomadic amongst us, do what Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh does, and try and make your way round the entire island. "I am taking every invite from every friend," she says. "I am heading to relatives in Connemara soon, to fish, swim, chat and chill. Then on to another invite in Sligo where I will try and educate my kids about Yeats. And I'll be giving in to spontaneous urges to go to festivals, Brittas Bay and Silver Strand beach."
Sunday Indo Living