On a recent trip to Cavan, I found myself watching carefully to see if people had their hands in their pockets more than the norm. But contrary to the belief that Cavan people have developed a skill for peeling an orange in their pocket for fear of having to share it, I found the locals to be warm, friendly and generous.
And none more so than the staff at the Farnham Estate Spa and Golf Resort, where myself and my two 'flatmates' from back in the day, headed for a spa weekend and a catch up.
Set on 1,300 acres, it was the home of the Maxwell family who arrived in Ireland in the early 17th- Century. The original family member to live in the property was Bishop Robert Maxwell who purchased it in 1664. The family continued to occupy the house for more than 300 years. There's a history of the house on the walls of the foyer accompanied by photographs of family members. Sheelin Maxwell as a little girl on her pony Nellie in the front garden. Simon Kenlis Maxwell and Barry Owen Maxwell playing lawn tennis on the lined court in the 1940s. Lady Farnham and her daughter Verena at the garden fete circa 1930. All very atmospheric and giving a great sense of the history of the house.
Between 1995 and 2001, the then Lord Farnham gave up farming and leased the lands to local farmers and after his death in 2001 the property was sold and developed into what is now an ultra-contemporary four-star resort and spa. The entrance to the hotel is particularly impressive, it's a large lofty space with immense expanses of glass and one of its many nice features is the original entrance to the period house, placed inside, made up of classic columns.
We opted to stay in one of the resort houses where we had the luxury of a bedroom each. As you get older sharing is no longer an option. Situated in the walled garden and only a hop, skip and a jump from the main house we settled in with a glass of wine knowing that a weekend of pampering and relaxation was ahead.
Dinner on the first night was in the Cedar Rooms - so called because of the 300-year-old cedar of Lebanon tree that was planted in the grounds 300 years ago. And the food was sublime. A starter of confit of red prawn and lobster bisque with fermented radicchio, yuzu jelly, Jamaican pepper aioli and sea leaves, washed down with a gin and elderflower sorbet and followed by monkfish with smoked lard and a sauce charon was all divine. My Weight Watchers point scoring was now gone out the window so it only seemed right and fitting to choose the homemade selection of ice cream with meringue. And did I mention the home-made black treacle bread with the home-made butter? We got chatting to six ladies at the table near us. They were enjoying a weekend away to celebrate a significant birthday and deemed their experience thus far a triumph.
While it's very easy to become lazy and chill out in the wonderful spa for the duration it's always good to get out and about and explore the nearby surroundings. On the estate itself there are 11kms of walkways comprising five different walks. These vary from 45 minutes to more than two hours. 'Lord Farnham's Walk' takes you from the estate road to Farnham Lough through woodland and is a gentle ramble and well worth the 45-minute jaunt. Lakes abound in Cavan. There are 365 in total and Farnham makes its own gin called 365 as a tribute to the fact.
Ballyjamesduff is a 20-minute drive and we sang Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff for the duration of the journey. Percy French, although born in Roscommon, is an adopted son of Cavan and Cavan County Museum pays homage to him with a dedicated room. Six of his watercolours are here along with some of his photos and letters.
I'm not really one for spending hours in a museum. My attention span is becoming more limited as I hurtle towards my twilight years but on this occasion the options were so varied that there really is something for everyone. A large outdoor World War 1 trench experience is haunting.
It really brought the whole war to life with mannequins posing as soldiers positioned at various intervals. Regular points of information provided a very informative and informal way for kids to get a sense of the horror of the war.
While there I learnt that female brown rats start getting pregnant when they are 35 days and can have as many as 14 babies. Meaning 100 female rats can have 7,000 babies in just two months. They multiplied rapidly in World War 1 because they were really healthy from feeding on corpses in the trenches. Jesus.
A section devoted to the 1916 Rising is also very well done. Within the museum, originally a convent, uniforms are provided and kids are welcome to dress up in them.
The nearby Marble Arch Caves were unfortunately closed while we were there. I love caves and the idea of travelling by boat through one section of the caves was very appealing.
And then it was back for my Swedish massage and a chill in the vast spa.
My masseuse, Irlandia, provided the former. Originally from Lithuania and living in Ireland for the last six years she administered to my tired old body for a full hour and sent me into a zen-like state. When I asked her if she had come to Ireland because of her name she replied enigmatically, "Maybe".
Our meal on the second night was in Maxwells Grill room, the more informal dining option at Farnham, where I indulged in salt roasted peanut and chilli chicken skewers and a sirloin steak and again WW went out the window as I gorged on a divine rum and raisin bread and butter pudding. I tried to pull back by ordering an omelette with my fresh orange juice for breakfast but I'd say it was a little too late. I'd probably put on a half stone.
Cavan is a county I had never visited before but I most certainly will be back to find the other 350 lakes that I missed.
And of course the caves.
* Only 90 minutes from Dublin, set in the unspoilt countryside of Co Cavan, Farnham Estate Spa & Golf Resort (above) is one of Ireland's most popular spa retreats.
* The spa is a world of peace and serenity offering a range of ESPA treatments, starting from €60. For further details and to book treatments, consultations and packages, please contact the spa on 049 437 7700.
* Relax that little bit further with overnight and breakfast midweek from €139 per room.
* The hotel is closed due to the current crisis, but is selling vouchers - a great gift for a special person to look forward to. Visit farnhamestate.com for information on special offers and vouchers.
NB: This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.