Wednesday 25 April 2018

Holiday homes with history

Pack your bags and step into the past with unique holiday rentals

Galley Head, Clonakilty, Co Cork, where you can rent lightkeeper's houses
Galley Head, Clonakilty, Co Cork, where you can rent lightkeeper's houses
The Barbican, Glenarm, Co Antrim
Diana Molohan
A bedroom in the Georgian townhouse at Eustace Street, Dublin
Inchiquin House
Wicklow Head Lighthouse

Alison Gill

Fancy a holiday in one of many Irish lighthouses? High in the air and perched on an eagle's nest vantage point over the sea? You could never fault those views.

Or what about a period country mansion house with grand halls and vast grounds? Or a city break in an authentically restored 18th century villa in Dublin's city centre? Or what about spending two weeks in a "mini castle" - an elaborate Victorian Gothic gatehouse? Or a full sized medieval Castle Keep?

What if your rent contributes to saving and maintaining some of Ireland's most diverse and historic buildings? Most novel of all, what about a holiday home with no Wi-Fi?

Family holidays just aren't what they used to be since the dawn of the mobile phone and widely available Wi-Fi. Gone are the days when kids spent the long daylight hours running across sand dunes on rainy beaches, and evenings playing board games and reading good books.

The Barbican, Glenarm, Co Antrim
The Barbican, Glenarm, Co Antrim

Nowadays we're all plugged in before the car even leaves the driveway: Google Maps, work phone calls and emails for the whole holiday if needs be. We all start off with great intentions, but it doesn't take long before you find yourself posting photos on Facebook ... and that's just the adults. Let's not talk about the kids, red-eyed from hours in front of an iPad, who think a walk in the woods sounds boring compared to watching YouTubers.

For those who've had enough and want to call time on screen-time, maybe an Irish Landmark Trust break is just what is needed.

Since 1992, Irish Landmark has been turning historic buildings into high-quality self-catering holiday accommodation, with the added bonus of no Wi-Fi in most.

Diana Molohan of Irish Landmark says that, lately, this has become one of the big attractions of its properties. "A lot of our clients are Irish families who want to connect by getting away and disconnecting. Most of our accommodation is so remote that it doesn't lend itself to phone signals and Wi-Fi. We attempted to hook them up in the early days and now we're glad it didn't happen because the feedback has been great from visitors who are thrilled to get away and truly switch off," says Molohan.

"People find they are reading and walking like they haven't done in years. It takes you back to the holidays of the past where you can really just stop," she adds.

All of this is an obvious bonus, but it's the uniqueness of each building that is the real beauty of a Landmark holiday. The company is a non-profit organisation that finds unusual properties and breathes life back into them. It has conserved 32 buildings so far, from lighthouses to castles, and gate lodges to schoolhouses.

Diana Molohan
Diana Molohan

A stay in one of the buildings is good for the soul, not only because you are getting the chance to experience somewhere that is one-of-a-kind and steeped in history, but you're also helping to safeguard the future of that building, as well as the future of other landmark properties. The company has a two-night-minimum stay policy because the first night really only covers the cost of a house manager, and the second goes towards conservation costs.

Irish Landmark has a panel of conservation architects and everyone tenders for each project. Where possible, local builders and tradesmen are used in the restorations, and all of the house managers are from the surrounding area so they have plenty of local knowledge and really care about the properties.

The most sought-after location for rent on the books is Wicklow Head Lighthouse. "It was the first building that we restored," says Molohan. "It was a dream project because the lighthouse was so well-behaved. It has always been our most popular property. The reviews we get for it are great. One lady said she had travelled all over the world, visiting places like Disneyland and other hotspots, but it was Wicklow Lighthouse that her kids talked about more than any other destination."

It's easy to see its attraction. It has stood proudly on the Wicklow coastline since 1781 and looks as good now, if not better, than it did way back when. It has six octagonal rooms, including a living area, two double bedrooms and the kitchen at the top. There are 109 steps from the front door up to the kitchen, so not only will you log off while you're away, you'll also be keeping fit. It's the kind of place where you wish for a storm so you could witness the wild seas right outside your window.

Landmark Trust buildings are also popular with romantics. Helen's Tower, in Co Down, is set in a wood and is like something out of a fairytale. It's not surprising to hear it has been the destination of choice for many who were planning on popping the question.

The Trust has a property for any occasion. Inchiquin House, Co Clare, is a good all-rounder for a family get-together as it sleeps 10 and will keep all age groups happy.

Inchiquin House
Inchiquin House

At Clonakilty, Co Clare, there's a choice of two lightkeeper's houses to rent at Galley Head.

Termon House in Co Donegal is a favourite with young families as it's right on the beachfront and is dog-friendly (like most Landmark properties), and the Georgian Townhouse on Eustace Street in Dublin is perfect for a group who want to dance all night in Temple Bar's many popular nightclubs, knowing there is a top-notch bed ready to fall into, or a piano to play if you want to keep the party going.

Visitors must be curious about who lived in these fine old buildings in years past, and if any decided to stick around? Molohan, however, won't be drawn on the subject of paranormal activity. "If there were any ghosts of any shape or form in any of the properties, they're a hell of a lot warmer and more comfortable than they were when we took over!" she laughs.

Surely the odd creaky stair or flickering light is a small price to pay for the chance to step back in time and stay in these iconic buildings, even if it is just for a weekend.

• Two nights in Wicklow Head Lighthouse for four people costs from €564; Termon House, sleeping six, starts at €419 for two nights; a romantic two-night break for two in Helen's Tower costs from £273 (around €310); Inchiquin House sleeps up to 10 people and costs from €1,125 for two nights; Eustace Street house, which sleeps up to seven, costs from €824; two nights at Galley Head starts from €464.

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