The Station House Hotel in Kilmessan, Co Meath, has reopened after a tasty refurb. With slick design and local food, it wants to look beyond weddings, too...
I love a hotel with a story.
In a world of cookie-cutter chains and downloadable designs, stumbling across a family-run escape with feeling is a treat, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at The Station House, a 19-bed bolthole in the Boyne Valley.
As its name suggests, this was once a station on the Dublin & Meath Railway line at Kilmessan. “The tracks ran just outside the door,” I’m told, and the Platform Bar’s navy, amber and ruby velvets are anchored by photos of old buildings like the Signal Cabin and engine workshop, which have taken on new lives on this cute little campus.
But it’s not just a story for trainspotters. Thelma and Chris Slattery bought the place in 1981 (“There was ice inside the windows,” she tells me, almost shivering at the memory) and have nurtured it from family home to guesthouse, hotel and wedding venue. The latest chapter sees it reopen after a €2 million refurbishment, with ambitious future plans.
The Rating: 7.5/10
It’s barely an hour from Dublin, but driving past Bective Abbey, over the River Boyne, and pulling into this 12-acre oasis feels utterly removed. Woodland pathways twinkle with lights, and a freshly poured pint of Guinness settles on a terrace table. It’s my first check-in after lockdown, and I’ve almost forgotten simple pleasures like this.
The train station closed in 1963, but heritage buildings, and details like a chunky Milner safe in the restaurant wall, leave you half-expecting a Railway Preservation Society of Ireland daytrip to pull up outside. A snug little lounge, with original fireplace, tempting armchairs and jute rug by Elizabeth Morrison’s From Jaipur With Love, was once a passenger waiting area. I’m only sorry I arrive by car, and not on a carriage pulled by an emerald engine. 9/10
I called the morning before arrival to check on any new protocols and was reassured by the warm response: “Just bring yourselves.”
Of course, there is enhanced cleaning, distancing, plexiglass, and face masks are worn indoors. But that doesn’t thwart the hospitality. I chat to Thelma and Chris, spread her homemade berry preserves on my toast at breakfast, and enjoy the guesthouse feel that still seems to run through this deceptively simple hotel.
Many will know The Station House as a wedding venue, of course. More than 100 weddings are booked for 2022, a hint of the massive backlog all over Ireland, and it’s easy to see how features like the Signal Suite, or a clever transformation of the old train turntable into a ceremony space, attract couples. But the refurbished hotel aims to woo more leisure guests, too — revamped rooms, menus and plans for a second outdoor terrace area all reflect that.
“We want people to come, kick off their shoes, curl up, and feel like this is a home away from home,” says general manager Valerie Bracken, formerly of Cliff Townhouse in Dublin — another sophisticated small stay. 8/10
Nineteen rooms range from compact stays over the Carriage House, the former locomotive workshop, to slightly larger “cabins” in the main house and the Grand and Signal Suites. The feeling is of understated country luxury — from Voya toiletries to Hanly throws, waffle robes, William Morris & Co wallpapers, and the family’s antiques collection.
We stayed in The Grand Suite, set directly over reception and the restaurant. It’s a heritage gem, with lovely sash windows and shutters, a mustard-coloured Victoria & Albert rolltop bath, extra sofa bed and tasteful green panelling, but far from “grand” in size. Some noise leaked through from below and outside, and access is via steep stairs that some guests may need to be mindful of.
The Signal Suite deserves an Instagram page of its own. Once housing 38 control levers, the former signal cabin is now home to a two-level suite with a downstairs lounge and delicious details like a cast-iron, 19th-century railway staircase and freestanding bath. It’s another tight fit, but I can easily see influencers sashaying about or live-streaming stays in this lovely little nook. 7/10
“This is your four-hour salad,” says the waitress bringing a cocktail glass of lightly dressed leaves to our table in the Signal Restaurant. Picked four hours before from Swainstown Farm, it speaks to the thought and effort invested in sourcing Boyne Valley and Irish produce.
Highlights of our dinner (starters from €9 to €18.50; mains €18 to €38) include a starter of lobster in handmade tortellini, with a light crunch of garlicky breadcrumbs and a creamy tarragon sauce; a plump Hereford rib-eye main, and thin, verdant spears of asparagus from Drummond House in Co Louth.
Il Borro wines are exclusively imported from Tuscany, and maître d’ Andrew Cooke can’t do enough to make dinner enjoyable — even offering to pick fresh garden mint to make a late-night cup of tea. It’s too soon to judge the restaurant, but these are all good signs. 7/10
Weekend stays may be limited for leisure guests this summer, but that will free up from September, I’m told. The cosy confidence here reminds me of Castle Leslie’s Lodge and The Bushmills Inn, and there are plenty more ideas in the works. Ireland’s Blue Book may well be watching.
Restaurant customers living within 10km can pre-book a courtesy drop-home service, on a first-come, first-served basis. Bikes are free for residents, and picnics, Pilates and cookery demos are also available.
The hotel is a 10-minute drive from the Hill of Tara. The 8km Boyne Ramparts Walk is nearby, too.
B&B from €180, with The Grand Suite from €240 per night. Pól was a guest of the hotel. stationhousehotel.ie