Hotel Review: Carton House is now a five-star resort, so what’s it like to stay?
Carton House has been revamped as a five-star, Fairmont Managed resort in Co Kildare
Less than 30km from Dublin sits a 1,100-acre parkland estate once owned by the Duke of Leinster.
Queen Victoria is said to have stayed twice. It has not one, but two golf courses. The formal dining rooms are among the finest in the land, and guests have ranged from Princess Grace of Monaco to numerous Irish rugby teams (on our visit, we saw a huddle of players enjoying a break in their preparation for this weekend’s Italy clash).
It’s Carton House, of course.
If you stayed here pre-pandemic, you may wonder why I’m talking up the place. It’s a pretty standard four-star resort, right? Well, it was. The Irish-American Mullen family bought it for €57m in 2017, and have pumped millions into a transformational revamp. Now, it’s a five-star Fairmont Managed Hotel. Guests can stay in the 18th-century Palladian pile, or the modern Garden Wing. They can bliss out in a revamped spa and 18m pool, play golf, try falconry, fish or cycle in an enclave set within five miles of boundary walls.
“We want to create an oasis,” GM Martin Mangan told me when I visited prior to its reopening last year. This week, I finally got back to check in as a guest.
The rating: 7.5/10
Arrival & Location
The Richard Castle-designed house sits like a peach in its parkland setting. The reboot moved the hotel entrance, however, and we can’t spot a sign for set-down, so circle around, park up, and wheel our bags across the road.
Before we reach the door, staff are out to take our luggage. Inside, a doorman in top hat and tails greets us and guides us along polished Kilkenny limestone floors and Ulster Carpets to new, seated reception desks. We’re offered hot towels and walked to our rooms in The House — now recast as a heritage-style “hotel within a hotel” — and told tales of Lady Emily Lennox and her 23 children on the way. It’s a lovely guest journey, save for just one thing. The temperature drops distinctly as we cross from new to old wings. Our room is chilly, too. 8/10
Service & Style
Dating from the 1730s, Carton House is a national treasure. This reboot puts visitors right into that heritage, with the Morrison and Gold rooms now set for afternoon tea and fine dining, and breakfast for all guests. They’re drop-dead gorgeous salons, easily the match of Adare Manor’s gallery or Ballyfin’s library (watch out for tilted mirrors, designed so that ladies could admire the Lafranchini Brothers’ stuccowork without straining their necks).
I loved sitting with a cuppa, and later a G&T, in the Courtyard Bar. It’s an elegant space centred on four large planter trees, full of natural light and working like a crossroads of old and new. Tables are set outside in good weather, and staff are quick with smiles and refills.
Golfers can tee off on a links-style course designed by Colin Montgomerie or parkland course by Mark O’Meara. We took a guided boat trip, walked the trails, and swam in the retiled pool — though the route from House to spa involved far too many corridors, doors and ascending and descending stairs. It made me notice the hotel’s transitions, rather than being threaded seamlessly through them. 7.5/10
The 151 Garden Wing rooms offer creature comforts and contemporary design; 18 in The House are over twice the price, but ooze character.
We stayed in ‘The Ashford’, an elegantly restrained space with contemporary four-poster set among dark floorboards, original fireplaces, sash windows and richly textured wallpaper.
The super-king bed was a winner. “Amazing,” my wife said, going so far as to take a photo of the supports underneath to work out its secrets.
A standalone bath, bespoke Le Labo toiletries and Butler’s Chocolates with hibiscus-infused water at turndown set a classy scene, but the atmosphere was let down by our temperature issues. Staff brought two portable Dyson heaters, which we ran for a few hours to warm things up. Changes are coming, I’m told, and the hotel is working to balance conservation and comfort. But guests paying from almost €700 a night will rightly expect more. 7/10
Food & Drink
Four restaurants include The Morrison for fine dining (Wed-Sun), the clubby, gastropub-style Carriage House (beloved of locals and golfers), and Kathleen’s — a reimagining of the old servants’ kitchens. It makes features of old cast-iron stoves, white tiles and copper pots, and a couple of tables sit right next to the open-plan kitchen.
We ate dinner here, with plates including an excellent koji-marinated Achill Island lamb neck, and a rich pasta blending pearl-shaped fregola with chunks of Dublin Bay prawns, crunchy “scrumps” of garlic, and a deep, tomatoey sauce that reminded me of bouillabaisse.
Our only quibbles were a ghostly looking mac ’n’ cheese from the kids’ menu, which was bland and almost milky in texture, and a service counter doubling as a kind of coffee dock and storage area set next to our “chef’s table”. It felt out of place.
Don’t miss breakfast in The Morrison (above). Sitting in this sun-splashed salon, with tiered trays of pastries and fruit, good gluten-free options and hot orders like Eggs Royale or pancakes laden with berries and Nutella, is divine. 8/10
The bottom line
Carton House has added a star and taken a stellar leap forward. I’d rank it alongside Mount Juliet, the K Club and Fota, but there’s a reason prices still sit shy of best-in-class resorts like Adare Manor or Ashford Castle. After its transformation comes the next challenge: creating a seamless guest experience, and an international reputation.
Want to see the stunning salons and original house without paying full whack for a stay? Book Afternoon Tea (€55pp) or dinner (from €80pp).
The 20-minute Lime Walk takes you to Maynooth village.
Garden Wing rates start from €280 B&B; rooms in The House from €695. Pól was a guest of the resort. cartonhouse.com