A stunning revamp and ‘sconegate’ debates have catapulted the Cashel Palace Hotel into the conversation. So what’s it like to check in?
It’s been a while since I stopped in Cashel.
These days, most of my trips through Tipp are on the M8, with towns bypassed. But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the day, the drive to Cork used to take us through all of the towns... and their traffic.
Plotting stops was an art unto itself, and lunch or tea in the Cashel Palace trumped them all. I still remember runs around the garden and its spidery mulberry trees. I remember scanning the names of celebrity visitors in the arches of its Guinness Bar — from Michael Collins to Lady Di and The Edge — and one particular lunch in the Bishop’s Buttery. Coming after a queasy ferry journey from France, it began with a bite of brown bread, and a beautiful return to Irish butter.
I’m not alone in my nostalgia. The hotel has reopened after a multi-million euro reboot by the Magnier family — a stunning restoration that has added 22 new bedrooms, a spa and ballroom. Other guests have been sharing their memories with staff too, I’m told, and several hundred locals popped in for pre-opening tea and tours.
Today’s Cashel Palace is a transformational revamp. It will be Co Tipperary’s only five-star, and a potential game-changer for the town. We pull up at the same Palladian palace, but can now swim in a pool overlooking those mulberry trees, order from an €85 dinner menu, eat the most famous scones on social media (more of which, later), and see the Rock of Cashel from a new garden wing.
“A place of notable hospitality,” say the coasters. But is it worth the sky-high prices?
The rating: 8/10
We have townhouse hotels and country houses. Well, this feels like a town and country oasis.
Turning off Main Street, you can be in a drawing room overlooking the gardens, or sipping tea on a terrace with views over fields and farmland, within a few steps. There are even plans to reinstate the exclusive Bishop’s Walk to the Rock of Cashel.
Easing up the arrival avenue, we stop outside the facade with its crisply repointed brickwork. Staff do not come out to the car, but I find them inside full of smiles, and the car is soon parked, bags brought to rooms, and check-in completed on a lovely old leather-topped desk.
Real log fires flicker in the lobby, which adds a sweet whiff between the fluted columns, though I’m surprised to learn that eye-catching paintings by John Lavery, William Orpen and others are actually reproductions (“one-off replicas, we call them,” as GM Adriaan Bartels tells me — the real ones are owned by the Magniers).
After a quick tour, we settle into our room, and the concierge calls up to introduce herself. My wife has forgotten her makeup, and asks where she might buy some at this late hour.
“Sure what would you need makeup for?” she replies, before offering a few tips. 7.5/10
The Cashel Palace dates from 1732, when it was designed by Edward Lovett Pearce as an archbishop’s home.
The Magniers, who own Coolmore Stud, bought it in 2016 and the redesign was overseen by Susan Magnier. It brings a sense of understated, contemporary luxury to restored features like the cornicing, or red pine staircase.
“It doesn’t feel new new, if you know what I mean,” says one barman in a white, Nehru-style jacket. I like that.
Even before it opened, the hotel was a member of both Relais & Châteaux and Ireland’s Blue Book. Oak and Kilkenny limestone floors connect the garden wing with spaces like the Queen Anne Room, where guests can take breakfast and afternoon tea. You’ll notice plenty of horsey paintings and photos (there’s even an “equine concierge”, with packages including private tours of Ballydoyle and Coolmore from €2,500 per couple), but the horsiness never feels like a forced theme, thankfully.
The gardens are gorgeous, but will need time to grow in, and the only quibbles for me are loos with direct openings a little too close to the lift, and artificial grass on the flat roofs.
A new spa with hair salon, gym and 17m pool is a showstopper — easily one of the swankiest hotel pools on the island (pictured).
Large, floor-to-ceiling windows here give lavish garden views and natural light, and you can swim through a little portal into five metres of pool outdoors. The spa also offers unique ‘SKIN By Olga’ packages that bundle B&B in a garden wing ‘superior’ room with a consult and two-hour skincare treatment with Olga Kochlewska’s products for €785.
The hotel is fresh out of the box, and Irish hospitality is battling a staffing crisis, so I think it’s a little too early to call the service.
Aside from a few minor blips like confusion over breakfast orders one morning, however, we sense a firm mix of friendliness and professionalism — as you’d expect under Mr Bartels, who previously steered Sheen Falls Lodge and The Cliff House. There are some nicely observed interventions, too. After check out, for example, a doorman offers us cartons of water “so you won’t go thirsty on the journey”. 8/10
Four types range from ‘classic’ in the Carriage House along the avenue (ie, outside the main building) to ‘deluxe’, ‘superior’ and suites spread mainly across the new wing and old house (the suites are where you’ll find period details like high ceilings, cornicing and fireplaces).
Ask about views of the Rock of Cashel when booking — they can be full or partial. Also worth noting, ground floor ‘superiors’ are pet-friendly and come with their own terrace.
We stay in a ‘superior’ with views of the gardens and Rock through sash windows. It’s largely a bling-free zone, with a refined, neoclassical sense of luxury bathed in cream and beige heritage tones. Smart light switches ping to life with the wave of a hand, though I always take ages to figure these out, and prefer old-school touch points like brass switches in places like this.
Other amenities I love, however. Instead of a loud Nespresso machine, there is ground filter coffee from Co Tipperary’s Ponaire. Instead of a minibar, there is a complimentary ‘pantry’ — a chilled drawer with little bottles of juice and lemonade from The Apple Farm, and treats like O’Donnell’s Crisps and Braw Chocolate from Limerick. You’ll pay handsomely for your stay, but not ripping people off with minibar rates creates a good impression, and tells a lovely local story, too.
The bathroom comes with double sinks, just enough marble, and a thumping great rainshower. There are Lanvin products in refillable dispensers and heavy, heavenly towels and towelling-lined robes you only ever really find in thoroughbred five-star hotels. The bath runs warm rather than hot, however, resulting in a promise to send maintenance up rather than a sumptuous soak. 7.5/10
We revisit the Bishop’s Buttery, where vaulted ceilings and hideaway vibe remain, but now with more natural light, clever mirrors and luxe burgundy banquettes. It’s the space in which service feels most polished, and despite lots of hard surfaces, noise isn’t an issue. The blend of bustle and background music is spot on.
Director of culinary Stephen Hayes and his team have put super effort into local sourcing, from an amuse bouche with Cashel Blue in a choux pastry to a rich agnolotti pasta with celeriac, hen of the woods mushrooms and Shepherd’s Store cheese.
I spotted Crossogue preserves and a little pot from Galtee Honey Farm at breakfast, and the list of producers here ranges from Tipperary Distillery to Gubbeen and butcher Martin O’Dwyer.
The highlights of an €85pp (plus 10pc service) table d’hote menu include a perfectly cooked halibut with delicate beurre blanc and seared Skeaghanore duck breast with beetroot, endive and kumquat. Staff and sommelier all know their stuff, and coeliac needs are handled confidently, too.
And those scones?
Last month, a Cashel Palace Hotel receipt showing tea, coffee and scones for three at €45 went viral, sparking a debate about Ireland’s prices. ‘ Sconegate’ is not the kind of publicity any hotel would court, but seems to have stirred interest as well as outrage.
“We received a lot of very nice messages and support from locals and further afield,” says Karen Fleming, director of sales at the Cashel Palace.
“We have also taken some learnings from it, of course, and improved the layout of our receipts to more accurately convey the offering,” she adds. “Our focus is on making sure the quality of the offering and the service is the best it can be.”
On our second night, casual dining at Mikey Ryan’s gastro-pub also feels assured, with a massive rib-eye (€33.95), wild mushroom risotto (€18.95) and Moroccan-spiced chicken supreme (€24.95) all delivering. The place is hopping, as it has been when possible though the pandemic, with a creative spread of al fresco spaces out back. 9/10
Ireland has been beyond lucky when it comes to lavish, private investments in hotels. For a country of this size to see deep-pocketed owners revamp the likes of Adare Manor, Ballyfin, Ashford Castle, The K Club, Carton House and Cashel Palace is massive for attracting the high-flying visitors Irish tourism craves as it recovers from Covid.
Of course, most of us will baulk at the prices. But there is a market for luxury, be it handbags, cars or hotel stays, and perhaps a better question is whether these rates represent value — for big spenders, or special occasions.
The Cashel Palace is investing heavily in local people, food and drink, and five-star service, and once it hits a groove, and gains a reputation overseas, its success could well transform the tourism fortunes of town and county. New names like Vicky Phelan and Tadhg Beirne are already popping up in those arches.
Cashel is back on the map.
Summer rates start from €349 per room on a B&B basis, rising to €479 for rock-view deluxe rooms and €899 for suites. cashelpalacehotel.ie
The restored School House, by the entrance gates, contains two superior rooms, which could be a good, self-contained option for sharing with family or friends.
Liking the local food? Take a food tour with Tipperary Food Producers like Cashel Farmhouse Cheesemakers or Galtee Honey Farm. tipperaryfoodproducers.ie
Pól was a guest of the hotel.