Luxury Christmas escapes in Ireland
House too small for an extended family gathering? Why not rent big for the holiday
How do you plan the perfect extended family Christmas get-together that's fun and stress-free? "Don't do it at home," says Des McGahan. Of course he would say that. Northern-Ireland born Des and his Australian wife Lisa run Ballinacurra House, a sprawling 25,000 sq ft Georgian manor on a 40-acre estate in Kinsale, west Cork, which they let exclusively to guests at Christmas, along with the services of a Michelin-starred chef, for €5k plus per day/night and over €6k for the big day itself.
And they're not the only ones opening up their period piles and city residences for premium paying guests at Christmas. Luxury short-term festive letting is big business in Ireland as more and more of us choose to escape with extended family and friends to celebrate the holiday season in five-star accommodation.
After all who wouldn't want the run of a stately home (or lofty penthouse) that's not your own, with room to cook and eat and play silly games and space to escape t o should it all get too much. Especially if the alternative involves sitting squashed in like sardines at home around a table that normally seats six, next to sour-faced siblings and drunk uncles while listening to granny's latest list of ailments.
The truth is that Christmas at home is stressful, especially for women. A survey by Travelodge showed that 42pc of women find hosting Christmas the most stressful challenge, while data from Bupa UK revealed that a quarter of women felt under strain to deliver festive perfection. According to online meal-booking agency Open Table, given the option, 20pc of Irish people would want to dine out on Christmas Day with 33pc believing that restaurants should open.
The dynamics of getting family and friends together in one place, particularly for an event such as Christmas, is complex and not without its challenges, but when it works there is nothing more magical. The good news is it's not as expensive as you might think so long as everyone chips in.
"The trick is how you manage people's expectations; building in highlights and factoring in downtime," says McGahan, a veteran in the events business. "There also needs to be some sort of general structure but you don't want to force people to participate either. An icebreaker on the first night is always a good idea." McGahan offers guests exclusive and private use of his luxurious 22 en-suite bed country pile to explore and get lost in complete with the services of an events co-ordinator for a truly tailored stay, although there's more than enough to do on the estate to keep everyone occupied, both young and old, including canoeing, yoga, pottery, cookery classes or a just stroll around the grounds.
"Anything you want to do, see or plan, we can make happen," says McGahan.
Ballinacurra is available to rent on December 22, 23 and 24 for €5,500 per night, which works out at about €250 per room per night (there's two to each room). The fee increases to €6,600 a day for Christmas Day and St Stephen's Day. This place famously turned down a honeymoon request from Kanye West and Kim Kardashian as it was already booked.
Being in a large group of different ages and personalities can be wearing, especially at Christmas, so renting a place with more than one reception room to enable people to spread out is always a good idea.
"Those renting a luxury family property expect lots of space as standard," says Joe Gavin of Five Star, suppliers of castles, lodges and mansions to well-heeled guests. "What really makes for a cracking stress-free family Christmas away from home is the added extras."
Think weekly linens, welcome hampers, airport transport, on-site catering and a full concierge service. They'll even stock the fridge with all your favourite produce, tastefully decorate the property and organise events should you wish.
Five Star has several large residences for rent north and south of the border, including many that can sleep eight or more.
A lavish Georgian residence on Dublin's Merrion Road that combines period charm with contemporary living in a convenient, upmarket location comes with full concierge services.
The large open-plan kitchen/dining room in the extension at the rear of the property is where you'll be eating Christmas dinner, provided you haven't all fallen out. And whether you choose to cook it or have it prepared for you is up to you. The house is suitably large with four double bedrooms and a separate, more formal, drawing room.
It's available for Christmas and the New Year from December 22 until January 3 for €1,200 a night.
Also in the Dublin 4 area is the newly listed Honeysuckle Mews. Located on Sandymount's Park Avenue, the tastefully renovated and extended three-bed property is as beautiful and charming as its sweet-sounding name.
The kitchen has a professional stainless-steel double oven and plenty of space for lots of guests to help with the cooking, or 'spoil the broth'. It's open-plan too with double doors out to an enclosed rear garden so you'll be able to keep an eye on the kids while they play.
It's available from December 22 to January 3 for €800 a night; a real bargain if everyone splits the cost.
At the upper, upper end of the luxury rental market is Tinakilly Lodge in Wicklow, a seven-bed, six-bathroom 6,000 sq ft residence that sleeps 26.
It's surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens and patios for outdoor dining and comes with an outdoor hot tub, state-of-the-art cinema room and private bar.
It's fully booked for Christmas but available for the New Year from December 28 until January 3 for €2,200 a night.
For Mary O'Brien, CEO of the Irish Landmark Trust, being able to reconnect properly with friends and family makes for an ideal and peaceful Christmas. For her that means a technological detox. "None of the Trust's historic properties have televisions, just board games, and plenty of them," says Mary.
She also suggests not cramming the house to capacity; your nearest aren't always your dearest at Christmas.
Most of the Trust's larger properties are already booked for this year, although unusually Tullymurry House in Banbridge, Co Down is available.
Set on wonderful gardens and surround by parklands overlooking the Mourne Mountains this fabulous holiday let is an old Irish farmhouse with a history dating all the way back to the 17th century.
Tullymurry has five bedrooms and can sleep eight comfortably. There's a range in the kitchen, a utility and pantry, open fires in many of the rooms and a separate formal dining room for the festive feast. There's also a sauna, hot tub and relaxation room.
The property is available for four nights from December 23 from £894; a refundable security deposit of £150 is required. Towels and bedlinen are laid on, so it's just a question of packing the cars with enough food and drink and hoping that someone remembers the stuffing.