Cahernane House hotel review: Killarney’s ‘best-kept secret’ gets a €7.8m makeover

Cahernane House has joined the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. And its owners aren’t finished yet...

An elegant bedroom in Killarney's Cahernane House Hotel

Cahernane House Hotel

One of the coach house rooms.

A drink in the atrium

The intimate library at Cahernane

The Cellar Bar

thumbnail: An elegant bedroom in Killarney's Cahernane House Hotel
thumbnail: Cahernane House Hotel
thumbnail: One of the coach house rooms.
thumbnail: A drink in the atrium
thumbnail: The intimate library at Cahernane
thumbnail: The Cellar Bar
Pól Ó Conghaile

Does Killarney have the highest concentration of hotels in Ireland? With more than two dozen for a population of around 15,000, by my calculations, it certainly can’t be far off.

While names like The Great Southern, Gleneagle and Killarney Park are well-known, Cahernane House bills itself as “Killarney’s best-kept secret”. Built in 1877, this is the town’s only manor house-style hotel, and it has been upgrading in recent years — redoing rooms, restaurants and adding a lovely suite of Coach House stays thanks to a €7.8m spend by owners, the Prem Group.

Already a member of Ireland’s Blue-Book, it’s also joined the handful of Irish properties in the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection... so won’t stay secret for long.

The rating: 7/10

Cahernane House Hotel

Arrival & location

This is a sweet approach. Set 2km outside Killarney, Cahernane is part of the hotel strip lining the N71, but accessed via a tree-lined avenue that’s just long enough to muffle the traffic outside, yet short enough to allow walks into town (taking about 20 minutes). I see a red squirrel on one stroll into the 6.4-acre estate; a bopping blue tit on another.

The house sits on the edge of Killarney National Park (though you can’t see the lakes), and quickly transports you back in time. The reception space is lit by chandeliers, backed by a hand-carved oak staircase, and a stag’s head is set over the Queen Anne fireplace. Antiques include a Davenport desk inlaid with landmarks like Ross Castle and Muckross Abbey. It was made locally in 1880 — ask staff to show you its puzzle box of drawers and pigeonholes.

Check-in is warm and obliging. Bags are brought from the car and, when we can’t decide where to eat, we’re given bar and restaurant menus to read in the room. 8/10

A drink in the atrium

Service & style

Before its revamp, Cahernane “really had been run down”, general manager Emer Corridan tells me. Today, you’ll notice a muted, opulent feel to madeover bedrooms, two bright and airy atrium spaces, redecorated drawing rooms and a head-turning transformation of the former Coach House by Julie Goggin (who has also helped elevated Prem hotels like Tulfarris and The Hoban in Kilkenny).

That said, its website photography gives a slightly more premium feel than we find in the flesh. Some spaces, like the intimate library, are perfectly atmospheric; others I think would benefit from different arrangements of furniture and a better use of space. A piano feels squeezed into the corner in one drawing room, for example, while a lift to the bedroom corridor opens onto a little nook we find cramped by a couch and large armchairs.

Staff are a pleasure; I get a glowing sense of Killarney’s next generation coming through here. One young porter we meet has the hospitality gift, chatting as easily with our 12-year-old son as older American visitors. Our server in the Cellar Bar is another natural who knows her menus inside out (from portion sizes to coeliac options). That’s a compliment to management, too. 7/10

One of the coach house rooms.

The rooms

Twelve of 48 rooms are in the main house, offering period features like sash windows and stuccowork alongside the rainshowers and Nespresso machines. Others, in the 1960s garden wing, evoke the flora of Killarney without being too obvious — in botanical wallpapers or woollen throws, for example (those on the ground floor have little terraces). Ours was a suite, a deluxe stay with engineered wood floors, standalone bathtub and a curving, inlaid walnut piece used as TV stand. A fake rose felt odd, though. Even the smallest sprigs of freshness say much more.

Coach House rooms are super. Set around a tidy garden, their parquet floors, ample bathrooms and pops of colour — a richly red studded headboard caught my eye — are a hit, and the glass-enclosed staircase flanking one side of the cut-stone building is a beautiful feature. If you don’t mind being outside the hotel, I’d zero in on these. 7.5/10

The Cellar Bar

Food & drink

The Herbert Room is Cahernane’s fine-dining offering, an elegant space with heavy drapes, chandeliers, estate views and two AA Rosettes to its name. Head chef Cormac Vesey has recently replaced Eric Kavanagh, so it will be interesting to see how the five-course menu (€65pp) evolves. Expect local goodies like Kerry lamb and seafood to star.

After browsing those menus in our room, we chose the more casual Cellar Bar, a small, barrel-vaulted space in the old wine cellar. Highlights are a juicy Killarney Blonde battered cod (€19.50), Dingle crab and salmon cakes (€16), and a comforting lentil and chickpea dahl (€17.50). A dark-chocolate opera cake with orange curd and raspberry sorbet gets a dessert thumbs up, and it’s encouraging to see so much Irish ingredients and craft drinks on menus.

Breakfast is back in the Herbert Room, where staff bring continental items (there is no buffet), tea and coffee in silver pots, fresh juices, and a basket of toast and pastries. Hot items include the full Irish, buttermilk pancakes and ‘Eggs Cahernane’ — with wild mushroom, pancetta, sourdough, chorizo and chive butter at a €4 supplement.


The intimate library at Cahernane

The bottom line

Cahernane is on a cool journey of expansion and refinement. More rooms, extended kitchens and a possible orangery are on the cards, Corridan tells me, which should further highlight this four-star among Killarney’s hotels. Looking at how similar properties like Ballina’s Mount Falcon and Galway’s Glenlo Abbey are pushing forward creatively, there’s no reason it should stop there, either.

Insider tip

Stay on quieter nights like Sunday or Monday, or use a Blue Book voucher, and the hotel offers a late check-out. Book direct and you’ll get a €10 discount and glass of Prosecco, too.


B&B starts from €109pp. A two-night Halloween package including dinner and storytelling with Eddie Lenihan starts from €250pp (Oct 31 to Nov 1; it is suitable for adults and children). Pól was a guest of the hotel. 064 663-1895;