More than a few stately Irish homes and sprawling manors, some of which are still inhabited by the families whose forebears built them centuries ago, have been turned into elegant spa hotels open for individuals and groups.
In gorgeous County Fermanagh for example, about 100 miles northwest of Dublin, we dropped in on Viscount & Viscountess Brookeborough at Colebrooke Park, a 1,000-acre estate maintained by the Brookeborough family since the 17th century. The Viscount broke from his shooting party to tell tales about the neoclassical mansion, full of family portraits and priceless heirlooms. For fabulous group events, you'll love the dining room with a stunning table for 30, the historic billiard room, a new conference suite and a large reception area. Twelve double rooms decorated by the Viscountess can host overnight guests.
"Colebrooke needs lots of people in it," explained the Viscount, delighted by the chaos from the shooting party of 20 visiting English friends and clients returning for lunch. "That's why it was built, and I want to keep it full. Of course," he paused, "we absolutely make people join our world. If the sheep get out at 3 a.m., we wake everyone to help run them in."
Noting the whistle dangling from his neck, and the way he asked everyone to be "timely" with their lunch so as to return to the shooting party, we believed him.
The Irish BBC has filmed here often due to the postcard appeal. The setting is simply lovely for gardening classes, grow-your-own fruits and vegetables lessons, and afternoons spent fly-fishing in the slanting sunlight on the banks of streams undulating through the estate grounds. Meanwhile, hiking trails feature purpose-built "hides" to watch the mink, otters and kingfisher at play.
"Nobody in Ireland is doing anything like this," says the Viscount after lunch, sweeping one hand toward the grand lawn while the other hefted two fat files of handwritten letters thanking him for his hospitality. We had no doubt. And then with a flourish, he blew a whistle and twirled out the door with his British guests anxious to return to their hunting dogs waiting in the leafy woodlands.
These family-run estates are wonderful for small events and lunches and dinners. "Guests get a taste of country life, especially when owner-hosts share their rich history," said Marie McKown, Business Tourism Manager for Tourism Ireland