Wednesday 16 October 2019

First Look: Ireland's Blue Book reveals six new members for 2018

The 45th edition of Ireland's Blue Book includes slick country piles... and several surprises

The new 'hideaways' at Dromquina
The new 'hideaways' at Dromquina
The bay windows and gardens at Butler House, Kilkenny
Ballyfin, Co. Laois
Ballyfin, Gold Drawing Room. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
The swimming pool at Ballyfin.
Cahernane House, Co. Kerry
Bishop's Gate Hotel, Derry
Lady Eleanor Suite, Butler House, Co. Kilkenny
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

The former home of Jimi Hendrix's bass guitarist, and what must be Ireland's most expensive tent, are among the new additions to Ireland's Blue Book for 2019.

'The Hideaway', a luxury glamping tent overlooking Kenmare Bay at John Brennan's Dromquinna Manor, marks a new departure for the prestigious collection, which next year celebrates its 45th anniversary.

An overnight at the luxury tent (above), which cossets guests with a 5-star 'Wilderness Bed', goosedown duvet, private veranda and bathroom plump with Voya toiletries, among other creature comforts, costs a cool €350 per night.

Meanwhile, in West Cork, Dunowen House (below) is the former home of Noel Redding, onetime bassist with the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

The 18th century, self-catering stay combines luxury bedrooms and saucy, standalone tubs with rock memorabilia and vintage posters harking back to Hendrix's heyday.

Dunowen House

The two properties join Ballyfin Demesne in Co Laois, Bishop's Gate Hotel in Derry, Butler House in Kilkenny and Killarney's Cahernane House as new Blue Book members for 2019.

Ballyfin is among Ireland's most expensive stays, with doubles from €940 per night in peak season - but the prices won't all make you feel blue.

B&B can be had at Butler House from €79, for instance, and a B&B with dinner deal is available at Bishops' Gate Hotel from £119/€134 per room.

The new additions bring the total number of country house hotels, manor houses, castles and restaurants in the collection to 56, the highest number since the Blue Book Association was founded in 1974.

"Not only do they provide wonderful, locally sourced food and luxurious accommodation, but their charm, history and individuality make them a highlight of any Irish journey or occasion," said Simon O'Hara, Blue Book chairperson, at a launch event in Dublin's Merrion Hotel.

Leaving the Blue Book this year are Donegal's Coolmore Manor and Dublin's Restaurant 41 (both of which have closed), along with Hilton Park, Co. Monaghan.

Here’s what you can look forward to from the new members...

1. Ballyfin Demesne, Co Laois

Ballyfin House, Co. Laois (5).jpg
Ballyfin, Co. Laois

Less than eight years since this former boarding school and Regency mansion re-opened as a luxury hotel, it has become one of the most decorated resorts in Ireland. In 2018 alone, Ballyfin has been named AA Hotel of the Year and the world's No.2 hotel on Travel + Leisure's World's Best list (behind the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan, Indonesia). Strictly speaking, the 20-room pamper palace returns to the Blue Book rather than joining anew (it temporarily left the collection in 2015). This year, it has added a €2,000-a-night private cottage to the 614-acre demesne.

Did you know? Kim and Kanye honeymooned at Ballyfin in 2014.

Details:; B&B from €640 for a double.

2. Butler House, Kilkenny

Lady Eleanor Suite, Butler House, Co. Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle’s former Dower House is upgrading, with an ongoing refurbishment of rooms and an elegant tea room now open for lunch and afternoon tea. "There’s a sultry basement bar; sensitive painting and soft furnishings allow the original Adams plasterwork to pop," as our Fab 50 for 2018 put it. "There are splashes of art from Louis le Brocquy, a new hospitality manager in Deirdre Keating (ex-Dromoland Castle), and the Lady Eleanor Suite, with bay window overlooking 18th-century gardens and remnants of Nelson’s Pillar, was the first of 14 rooms to be revamped."

Did you know? Kilkenny Civic Trust owns the historic house

Details:; B&B from €79.

3. Cahernane House, Killarney

Cahernane House, Co. Kerry170606_COMMERCIAL_Cahernane_1.jpg
Cahernane House, Co. Kerry

Does Killarney need another hotel? When it's Cahernane House, it does. The 39-room bolthole re-opened this May following a €6.5 million renovation overseen by designer Julie Goggin. Highlights include a total revamp of the Cellar Bar, and impeccably-sourced wallpapers, antiques and furniture throughout. Though owned by the PREM Group, Cahernane feels more like a grand country house residence than a flashy 4-star hotel. "It will still have the odd squeaky floorboard, the reception is an antique banker’s desk and there are plenty of ghost stories still to be told!” as GM Emer Corridan told us this year.

Did you know? A 'Cahernane Blue' heritage paint was specially commissioned for the reboot.

Details:; dinner and B&B from €85pp.

4. The Hideaway, Kenmare

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The new 'hideaways' at Dromquina

Is this the most expensive tent stay in Ireland? "It is a beautiful tent," John Brennan told us this year. "I don't think there is another tent like it in Ireland or in England." But it's not just a tent. John brings his Brennan Brothers brio to the party, with five-star mattresses, goosedown duvets and pillows, Voya toiletries and rustic furniture beneath the canvas. Guests get a private bathroom, and a veranda to themselves overlooking Kenmare Bay. At Your Service, indeed...

Did you know? There’s regular glamping at Dromquinna too... it starts from €150.

Details:; hideaways from €350 per night.

5. Dunowen House, West Cork

Dunowen House

Set 10km from Clonakilty, Dunowen was once home to Jimi Hendrix Experience bass guitarist Noel Redding, and it's gotten the rock n' roll refurb it deserves from owners Kela and Stephen Hodgins. Tantalising mementos range from rock auction catalogues to framed covers of Hot Press, but smartly, the couple haven't turned it into a shrine or stag party den. This is first and foremost a luxury, self-catering stay, sleeping up to 18 guests across six rooms. Private catering is an option, and you can also combine Orchard House, a tidy cottage in the walled garden, to expand your group to 23 (rates from €100 per night extra).

Did you know? There's a swimming cove a five-minute walk from the door.

Details:; from €750-€1,000 per night (two-night min.). Weekly rates are available from €2,800 in low season.

More: Read Pól Ó Conghaile's Dunowen House review.

6. Bishop's Gate Hotel, Derry

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Bishop's Gate Hotel, Derry

Set within Derry's historic city walls, Bishop's Gate has exactly the kind of heritage chops you'd expect from a Blue Book property. The Edwardian building once housed the Northern Counties Club, and has today been rebooted as one of Northern Ireland's best boutique hotels. 30 rooms include two suites (try and nab a corner view), and much like Derry itself, the food seems to be improving by the year.

Did you know? W.B. Yeats and Winston Churchill both visited the original club.

Details:; dinner and B&B from £119/€134.

More: 24 hours in Derry: A flying foodie break in the Maiden City

For more info, see

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Pól Ó Conghaile: Six sneaky escapes within an hour of Dublin

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