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Hotel Review: Inside The Lansdowne, John and Francis Brennan's new hotel in Kenmare

The Brennan brothers have breathed new life into an old hotel, creating a stylish stay in the Kingdom... and a new trend into the bargain

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John Brennan at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

John Brennan at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

The Lansdowne, Kenmare

The Lansdowne, Kenmare

Lansdowne Kenmare Cafe

Lansdowne Kenmare Cafe

One of 28 bedrooms at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

One of 28 bedrooms at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

The Dining Bar Terrace at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

The Dining Bar Terrace at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

Halibut on the menu at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

Halibut on the menu at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

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John Brennan at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

For years, town centre hotels have felt like an endangered species.

These vibrant local hubs hosted everything from travelling salesmen to Communions and nightclubs, but many closed or stagnated as towns were bypassed or hollowed out, their surrounding fields transformed by retail parks and newer, better-equipped four-stars.

Could their time come again? Instead of seeing town hotels as relics, what if we took a fresh look at them as heritage properties in superb locations, as ripe for design makeovers, as places to go for delicious Irish food and drink? Could they liven up town streets for locals, while also attracting a new wave of tourists and travellers?

That’s the tantalising prospect raised by John and Francis Brennan in Kenmare, Co Kerry. The brothers bought The Lansdowne here last December, refurbishing just in time to reopen as lockdown eased. The aim is to add “ a new zest” to an historic property, Francis says. It could help make town hotels themselves trendy again, too.

The Rating: 8/10

Arrival & Location

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The Lansdowne, Kenmare

The Lansdowne, Kenmare

The Lansdowne, Kenmare

Think of it as a little sister to The Park, the Brennans’ flagship hotel across the road. The Lansdowne dates from 1790, when it was built as a townhouse for the second Earl of Shelbourne, and its white facade, black (now Alu-Clad) sash windows and double-doored entrance turn the corner beautifully from Main to Shelbourne streets.

It’s a spot-on location for short stays in Kenmare or touring in Kerry, but also a local institution attracting lots of curiosity and excitement. As we arrive in the summer sun, happy punters are taking tea, pastries and crêpes outside its continental-style LK Cafe. Inside, a small alcove reception feels almost like a guesthouse check-in.

Kasia Michalak, general manager, greets us with smiling eyes above her face mask, and helps take our luggage upstairs in a smart-but-casual outfit of jeans and a blazer. It all fixes a sweet first impression.

9/10

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Service & Style

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Lansdowne Kenmare Cafe

Lansdowne Kenmare Cafe

Lansdowne Kenmare Cafe

The simplicity is deceptive, of course. Originally intended as an overflow for wedding guests at John’s Dromquinna Manor, The Lansdowne is clearly a space with its own identity and potential, and the Brennans worked with local design studio Edit on an easygoing mix of heritage, charm and contemporary class.

Like Kasia, staff wear jeans and trainers with fitted white shirts and branded aprons. The lobby is elegant yet inviting, with airy colours, herringbone oak floor and a sultry centrepiece — a curvy, deep green chaise lounge. The panelling is clutter-free, almost to a fault. Some spaces (the first floor hallway, for example) I felt could use sparing splashes of art or flowers.

8/10

The Rooms

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One of 28 bedrooms at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

One of 28 bedrooms at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

One of 28 bedrooms at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

Twenty eight rooms are clean hits of heritage and 21st century comforts. An open wardrobe sits against cool creams, blues and greys; plain bathrooms come kitted with decent rainshowers and Handmade Soap Company toiletries.

Neat Bluetooth speakers pop next to beds dressed in Francis Brennan Collection duvets — spankingly white with gold trim. His “super soft” towels are in the bathroom too... placements you may see as a smart step, or a little soft-selly. ‘Super King’, ‘King’ and ‘Twins’ are the options, with no difference in price — ask for the larger spaces when booking; the layouts breathe a little better.

We stayed during warm weather, and found it tricky to cool our rooms — there’s no air con and windows open narrowly. Opening them also lets in the sound of streets and traffic — a trade-off for the location, I guess

7/10

Food & Drink

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The Dining Bar Terrace at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

The Dining Bar Terrace at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

The Dining Bar Terrace at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

The ‘Dining Bar Terrace’ is the hotel’s standout space — a slim, classy room running from a crisp marble bar counter to an old fireplace at the end. A vaulted stone arch bakes the centuries in, brassy pearl lights dip over booths, and an outdoor terrace is a pandemic essential — though its views over the car park need softening.

Dinner was a tasty showcase of modern Irish food, with standout dishes including a pear and walnut salad with creamy Knockatee blue cheese (€10.50), monkfish risotto (€28), a perfectly-cooked rib-eye steak (€33), and a small-but-tasty prawn starter with Romesco and aioli (€12.50).

For dessert, don’t dare miss the chocolate chip cookie (€6.50) — it’s a throwback to an old Lansdowne Arms staple, served warm and gooey in a skillet. A curdled crème brûlée was our only let-down, but these are early days, and staff immediately offered to replace it or take it off the bill.

Breakfast is not included in the rates, but was served to a brilliantly civilized 12pm on our visit. 3fe coffee was a highlight for me (I had three cups), and a breakfast bap (€8) with Dempsey’s free-range bacon, a fried egg and “Dromquinna garden greens” is a solid start to the day.

8.5/10

The bottom line

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Halibut on the menu at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

Halibut on the menu at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

Halibut on the menu at The Lansdowne, Kenmare

Can town hotels trend again? Few have a killer setting like Kenmare, but The Landsdowne isn’t alone in its trailblazing. Storied properties like the Avalon House in Castlecomer, the Blue Haven in Kinsale, the Headfort Arms in Kells and Old Ground in Ennis have innovated in very different communities, and globally, a new taste for intimacy, charm and nostalgia can be seen from reboots of US motels to The Pig’s reimagined country houses in the UK. Here’s a template for towns, and travellers, to follow.

Insider tip

Stay two nights between October and February, and you get a third night free (book direct). Oh, you can order crepes from LK café into the restaurant for breakfast... yum.

Local 101

Kenmare Butter Market is another reboot — a new exhibition and gallery space in a historic town centre building. A distillery is in the plans, too.

Rates

Doubles from €205 per night off-season, and €225 per night in summer; room-only. (064) 664 0200; lansdownekenmare.com. Pól was a guest of the hotel.


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Hoteliers, businessmen and brothers - John and Francis Brennan run the 5 star Park Hotel in Kenmare, Co Kerry. Photo: Don MacMonagle Gallery



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