Killenard: Living it large in child-friendly Laois
How to manage putting your child to bed and then having some sort of adult socialisation time has always been one of the major challenges when you are on holiday.
Kids need to be close enough to feel safe, and yet not close enough to make turning on a light or communicating in anything noisier than a WhatsApp message impossible (as friends I know resorted to on one holiday, when they were forced to remain in the room with their children after bedtime).
Largely, this delicate balance has seemed to preclude holidaying in hotels. Self-catering is the way forward. Mobile homes with outdoor decks from which the children's room can remain in line of sight. Houses or apartments where the communal areas are within comfortable distance of bedrooms.
A friend and I once took our combined offspring on a skiing holiday and the room the four of us shared included a steam room off the bathroom - where, after bedtime, we enjoyed a glass of wine and a chat. Locked in with our children, but far enough away to actually speak. The parenting holiday jackpot.
In the main, hotels seem to just offer up the option of parents sitting outside in the corridor once the child has fallen asleep, or taking turns to go downstairs - or giving in and retiring with the Kindle when they do.
So the first thing I loved about The Heritage Hotel & Spa in Killenard was the layout of our suite. Full disclosure - we had to make two trips. Herself went through a phase of getting sick whenever we attempted a holiday (and when I say phase I mean two-year stint), so on our first trip, inevitably, she woke in the middle of the night with a temperature above 40°C.
The staff could not have been more helpful. Ice-cream was offered, an out-of-office-hours doctor contacted. The next day the local GP sent us to Temple Street, so we had to curtail our trip. Until this though, we'd been having a lovely time.
Our suite, on this first visit, was a huge room with a floating wall separating the living and sleeping areas. Such was the length, and divided nature of the room it meant once Herself was (finally) asleep, actual watching of a movie was possible. On our return stay, our suite was even better; two separate rooms, accessed by an internal door. A veritable apartment.
The Heritage Hotel & Spa is built along classic Celtic Tiger lines - the five-star hotel and spa resort first opened in 2005. Cavernous, it is a small child's paradise, full of large, quiet corridors for running down, there's a small fairy maze in the garden, a playground in the grounds, a games room full of toys in the basement, and a swimming pool (there are specific children's hours so be sure to check the timetable). There is also a small cinema which can be booked for living one's best Kardashian life.
The chandeliers and marble interiors say five-star, but it's a remarkably small child-friendly environment for such a grand hotel. The more formal dining room - The Arlington - has a small outer area which means those with kids can enjoy a fine dining experience without the stress of worrying that you are ruining everyone else's night out when your child inevitably kicks off. For those who don't want to bother, the Slieve Bloom Bar menu is well stocked.
Set just outside the village of Killenard in Co Laois, the hotel is roughly an hour's drive from Dublin. The journey is an easy one so after checking in we were immediately ready to head out.
First on your list should be nearby Emo Court House, a large, neo-classical residence, designed by James Gandon. Originally constructed in 1790 for the Earl of Portarlington, it lay empty for some time before being bought by the Jesuits in the mid-20th Century. In the 1960s, the property was sold to Major Cholmeley Dering Cholmeley Harrison, a man determined to restore the house and gardens to their former glory. The results make it well worth a visit.
He presented the property to the people of Ireland in 1994, continuing to live there in a private apartment until his death in 2008. The gardens include manicured lawns and a lake, as well as woodland - perfect for children to blow off steam.
We visited the house on both occasions, and stopped at the adjoining cafe for lunch on one visit, tea and scones on the other. Both were delicious. As for the house, it is in beautiful condition. Most striking, the large reception room is painted in a shade of green specifically intended to match the grass outside. The effect is startling.
After all this outdoor activity, I felt I had more than earned the massage I had booked at the hotel spa. Until recently, I regarded head massages as a sort of annoying, slightly pointless intro to the main event - the back massage - and more likely to possibly give you a headache than solve any tension issues.
In fact, the Advanced Skin Radiance Facial (from their range of ESPA facials) was an eye-opener. After a long winter my skin had begun to feel rough and dry.
The inescapable relentless progress of age, I had thought.
No, my therapist informed me, you just need to look after it better.
She also included a head and shoulders massage. As I returned to the family it felt as if my shoulders had dropped three inches, such was the release of tension.
Nothing is as sentimentally satisfying as taking your children on outings your own parents favoured when you were a child. The Japanese Gardens (at the Irish National Stud and Gardens) were a regular Sunday destination for us as kids, and we made this our second outing on this weekend. There is a play area with picnic benches so bring a picnic.
I had never been 100pc convinced mini breaks with kids were worth the hassle - all that uprooting and packing, for only two nights. The Heritage proved that mini breaks are for all the family.
* One-night bed and breakfast at The Heritage Hotel & Spa (057 8645500, www.theheritage.com) costs from €149.
* One-hour treatments, including facials, detox wraps, aromatherapy massages and hot stones massages, from €95-€105.
* Summer special of one night bed & breakfast in a deluxe room including €50 hotel credit per room which can be used for dining or spa, two hours in the thermal suite, 10pc off spa treatments is from €154 per room per night with a €50 supplement for Saturday nights. Valid till end August, terms and conditions apply.
* Enjoy full use of The Club, 5km Walking Track and Tennis Court. On Thursday nights there is traditional Irish music from 9.30pm. Free parking and free WiFi available.