Kildare: Why the best treasures are often those closest to home
A weekend away doesn't have to involve a flight, says David Conacy. It can be right on your doorstep...
I love surprises.
We are sometimes too conditioned in how we think about a 'weekend break' - a nice fancy hotel, or better still, hop on a plane and head for the sun. So when we decided to try something different for a family break, it was a leap into the unknown.
As I say, I love surprises.
So, my wife Eilish, daughter Isobel and I decided to take a mini-adventure in Ireland. We were up for camping, glamping or even a lighthouse stay.
The Irish Landmark Trust offers a wonderful alternative to your more typical hotel break and what we finally settled on was spending two nights in one of the beautifully restored gate houses at Castletown House in Kildare.
The Trust is very proud of the fact that there are no televisions in any of their rental properties. I must admit my seven-year-old daughter was a tad shocked by this news. However there were so many things to do on the Castletown Estate that it was not a problem - and as a fall back there's always the free Wi-Fi.
Castletown House was built in the 18th Century by William Conolly, the speaker of the then Irish Parliament, who wanted a house to reflect his standing as one of the wealthiest landowners in Ireland. The Palladian-style architecture is truly stunning.
The Irish Landmark Trust is celebrating 25 years in rescuing, restoring and managing beautiful Irish buildings and a tour of the house is a must. Our guide was clearly very passionate and well informed on the history of the house and its many occupants and her enthusiasm for her subject matter certainly rubbed off on us.
There are many original pieces of exquisite furniture, wall coverings, fireplaces and stucco ceilings on view. The Murano glass chandeliers in the long gallery on the first floor are amazing. Several rooms are undergoing different stages of restoration with information on display about the process, and the extent of the work involved.
The children's playroom at the top of the house offered a fascinating insight into another world, and Isobel was captivated by the original toys on view, such as old prams, wooden toys and dolls. I have to admit I found them fascinating too.
Sadly, William and his wife, Lady Louisa Connolly, never had children of their own, although their home was always a welcome one for children.
The three of us found the house's print room particularly interesting. Lady Louisa spent many years cutting tiny detailed images from books, wallpaper patterns and so on, and these were put in place using just flour and water paste as adhesive, and they are still perfect after about 250 years.
We were very fortunate to have sunshine during our stay, which with any holiday in Ireland is always an added bonus, although I suspect we'd have had as much fun if we hadn't been blessed with the weather.
Our home for the weekend was The Gate House. This consisted of a gorgeous little garden, a furnished terrace with a barbecue.
If you were to close your eyes and picture a quaint gate house for a getaway then this is what you'd imagine. It has a modern, yet old-wordly feel, if that's not too much of a contradiction.
The kitchen had all modern utilities, and a dining room table, and we cooked breakfast here each morning. The living room was stocked with books, and a fire which we didn't need as it turned out.
Upstairs, there's a double bedroom and a single bedroom. We found the house very comfortable and had no problem just kicking back and relaxing in it. There's a second house adjacent which can cater for larger families.
The grounds of the estate are stunning and are popular with runners, walkers, hikers and cyclists. We hired bikes at the main house and cycled through the woods and along the very tranquil River Liffey. There's a great selection of bikes there for all ages, shapes and sizes - including the baby carriers you can pull behind you.
Despite all the trails, it was easy to find our way around the estate - which consists of hundreds of acres - so even if you're not experienced you have no worries about losing your way.
You can enjoy free parking here and make the most of the many walkways.
We also stopped at Sallins and took the opportunity for a short barge trip along the Grand Canal to the Leinster Aqueduct, where it passes over the Liffey. The views here are fantastic. Again, this was a super treat for Isobel, creating the kind of memories that will last a lifetime.
Celbridge is a thriving town, with plenty of reasonably priced restaurants and bars and we had a very enjoyable dinner in one of them. We also had lunch on our second day in Maynooth.
Among the other activities we managed to fit in was a bit of plane spotting at the nearby Weston Airport and - although it's a little further away - we also popped into the Kildare Village shopping outlet for a bit of retail therapy.
I was surprised and thrilled with how our trip to the Castletown House Estate turned out.
It's a home away from home and with many of us leading such hectic lives, getting an opportunity to stop and step off the merry-go-round is invaluable.
Very often the best treasures are the ones closest to home.
Castletown Gate House sleeps three people. A dog is allowed. Wi-Fi is available.
The Gate House is one of three adjoining gatelodge buildings — known as The Round House, The Pottery and The Gate House — and is situated at the bottom of a tree-lined avenue leading to Castletown House, the most significant Palladian country house in Ireland.
For more information, availability and bookings, visit irishlandmark.com/property, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more:Ireland's Ancient East: Top 10 heritage gems for your travels
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