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The Dorchester Hotel + Rooftop Restaurant Park Lane London

High Living

We’re the first guests of the new season so the Veuve Clicquot is on ice. Just in time for sunshiny days, The Dorchester Rooftop has reopened for those who like to see the bigger picture, or at least take in a sweeping panorama of the better half of the Capital. We’re going up in the world: a lift to the ninth floor of the hotel opens into a former penthouse which is now a suite of lounges with pleated satin hung walls, deep pile carpet and velvet sofas. The Rooftop Restaurant sweeps around the lounges.

Lunch isn’t cheap, but what price decadence? Executive Chef Jean-Philippe Blondet and Head Chef Bastien Bertaina pass with flying colours: crushed olive amuse bouche; multicoloured seabass ceviche, citrus and cucumber; golden and silvered seabream, fennel and pastis; red berry vacherin. A jazz singer and keyboard player serenades us with “Georgia”, “Love is a Losing Game” and “Isn’t She Lovely”. Just as the waitress gleefully smashes the perfect meringue disc atop our pudding, the singer bursts into a timely rendition of “Oh Lovely Day”. Alfresco lunch reminds us of Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris except this time we’ve been elevated from courtyard to parapet.

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The Megaro Hotel + Magenta Restaurant + Hokus Pokus Alchemy Lab King’s Cross London

Working Magic

Unusually for London, King’s Cross and St Pancras are two major railway stations located next to each other. King’s Cross provides public transport from the English capital to the rest of the country right up to Scotland; the Eurostar links St Pancras to mainland Europe. A transport hub in its fullest sense. Little wonder such a dynamic location has attracted a miniature galaxy of five star hotels. But one stands out: it’s wild, whimsical and whacky. And that’s just the mural cloaking the building’s exterior like a psychedelic Joseph’s Coat of Many Colours.

The Megaro Hotel appeals to the luxury traveller with a sense of fun and an appreciation for the novel. An inscription across mezzanine windows overlooking the entrance foyer reads: “Our hotel was inspired by Victorian quack doctor James Morison who in 1828 opened the British College of Health just a few doors down from here…” The interior is based on, “An alchemy lab, esoteric literature, and an anchoring in King’s Cross heritage.”

“Retro-futuristic steampunk” is the official hotel style. A reimagining of olden days but with advanced technology. Public spaces are filled with cabinets of curiosities and illuminated by neon signs. Chain curtains in one of the Design Room bedrooms continues the engineering theme while stage lights, minibars disguised as speakers and stage platforms acting as headboards pay homage to the nightlife tradition of King’s Cross. Charcoal grey tiled wet-rooms are a pure indulgent touch. Charcoal grey is the new black.

Charcoal is having a fashion moment in culinary circles as well as with interior types and The Megaro Hotel’s recently opened restaurant Magenta is on trend. Charcoal steamed sourdough bread is the first item out of the kitchen for dinner. Magenta has a northern Italy inspired menu curated by Executive Head Chef Manuele Bazzoni. It is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday with an à la carte menu of two courses for £32, three for £42, or four for £52. But ‘when in Rome’, it would be rude not to opt for the four course evening menu with matching wines for £85. Walk-ins are welcomed at breakfast for an unlimited portioned breakfast costing £25.

There are four evening menu choices for Antipasti, Primi and Secondi, and five for Dolci (four desserts and a cheese board). Beetroot amuse bouches come on charcoal grey plates. Wild sea bass tartare and Sicilian orange gel provide splashes of colour and lightness against black sesame ice cream. Smoked buffalo ricotta and egg yolk ravioli with English asparagus and black truffle contrast texture and flavour, emphasizing the kitchen’s prowess. Good looks and great taste continue with Cornish monkfish cooked over charcoal, barbequed leaks, rock oyster tempura and Amalfi lemon gel. Maldon sea salt and caramel ganache with Vecchia Romagna jelly and Piedmont hazelnut form an edible sculpture. Dinner is all about fresh British produce revved up a notch or two by Italian additions and style: London meets Milan.

The phrase ‘poison of choice’ is played out in The Megaro Hotel’s basement bar. Hokus Pokus Alchemy Lab takes the James Morison theme to its extreme. Staff work their magic conjuring up torched and fizzing cocktails. It’s like being in a time machine reversing to the future. ‘Tempered Prescriptions’ are on standby for those guests who want to enjoy the alchemy without the alcohol. Bar Manager Greg Chudzio explains, “Today, at Hokus Pokus we like our botanicals to be distilled and served with a large lump of ice or at room temperature. While we make no claims of health benefits, we are confident that our potions and elixirs might do wonders to your mood!”

Service in The Megaro Hotel is international, very attentive and well informed. The evening waiter from Seville, Spain, confirms, “We only serve Italian wines. Our restaurant interior was designed by British artist and designer Henry Chebaane. Actually he was responsible for the entire hotel interiors! A magenta coloured butterfly is the restaurant motif.” The Londoner mixologist advises, “I can offer you five different types of ‘potions’. Our flamed potions are heated with fire to bring out the finest aromas! We’ve 41 cocktail recipes and 18 brands of gin.” The breakfast waitress from Marash, Turkey, relates, “This building used to be a Barclays Bank. The yellow brick former bank vault is now a wine cellar. We’ve two first floor private dining rooms: The Mauve Private Carriage takes its cue from a view of St Pancras Station; The Victory Room is named after the state rooms of HMS Victory with a table made from the timber of that historic ship.”

The inscription in the entrance foyer ends with, “What is time? Time is free but it’s precious. You can’t own it but you can spend it. You can’t keep it but you can use it. Time is priceless don’t waste it. It’s time for the weird and the wonderful. It’s time for a drink with friends.” The weird and wonderful Hokus Pokus is the place in King’s Cross for a drink, Magenta for a timely meal, and the timeless Megaro for a luxurious night’s sleep.

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Dorinda The Honourable Lady Dunleath Baroness Mulholland + Killyvolgan House Ballywalter Down

Life and Times

Dorinda loved discussing the many Irish country houses she knew well. “I could write a book about my experiences in country houses. Maybe you should for me!” One of her earliest memories was visiting her uncle and aunt, Major Charlie and Sylvia Alexander, at the now demolished Pomeroy House in County Tyrone. Dorinda also enjoyed visiting Springhill in County Londonderry (now owned by The National Trust) – she was married from there in 1959. There was a painting of Springhill in the sitting room of Killyvolgan House. It was her Great Aunt Mina’s home. Mina Lenox-Conyngham was the last owner of Springhill. “Staying at her house was always enormous fun.”

“I remember aged six being taken against my will to dancing lessons at Lissan House. It was absolutely freezing! I lay on the ground screaming and kicking my feet in the air. Such a dull house, don’t you think?” She was great pals with Diana Pollock of Mountainstown House in County Meath and recalled good times there with Diana and her sisters. “I could never love Mount Stewart. Dundarave has an interesting vast hall but the reception rooms are plain. I remember the auction of Mount Panther’s contents. Everyone was standing in the entrance hall and up the stairs when the staircase started coming away from the wall! Cousin Captain Bush lived in Drumhalla House near Rathmullan in Donegal. He’d a parrot and wore a wig. I remember my cousin threw his wig off when he went swimming in the cove end of the garden. I was absolutely terrified to jump in after him!”

One of Dorinda’s most memorable stories combines several of her loves: country houses, fashion and parties. “It was the Sixties and I had just bought a rather fashionable tin foil dress from a catalogue. I thought it would be perfect for Lady Mairi Bury’s party at Mount Stewart. It was so tight and I was scared of ripping it so I lay down on our bedroom floor, arms stretched out in front of me, and Henry slid me into it.” She gave a demonstration, laughing. “Unfortunately I stood too near one of the open fires and my dress got hotter and hotter. So that was the first and last time I wore it!” Dorinda always managed to look stylish, whether casual or formal. Her suits were the envy of fellow Trustees of the Board of Historic Buildings Trust. Her ‘off duty’ uniform of polo neck, sports jacket, jeans and boyish shoes was effortlessly chic.

When it came to finding her own country house after her tenure at Ballywalter Park ended, things proved challenging. “I searched for two years for a suitable property. There’s a country house for sale in Keady. Nobody lives there! I’d be driving up and down to Belfast non stop!” Eventually Dorinda would build her own house on a site just beyond the walled estate of Ballywalter Park. At first, she wanted to rebuild the double pile gable ended two storey three bay house occupying the site called McKee’s Farm but when the structure proved unstable, a new house was conceived. Despite being known as a modernist, Belfast architect Joe Fitzgerald was selected to design a replacement house of similar massing to McKee’s Farm, adding single storey wings in Palladian style. Like its owner, Killyvolgan House is understated, elegant and charming. She was pleased when the council planners described Killyvolgan as the ideal new house in the countryside. It displays a distinguished handling of proportion and lightness of touch.

“I bought the Georgian grandfather clock in the entrance hall from Dublin. I’m always slightly concerned at how fragile my papier mâché chairs are for ‘larger guests’ in the drawing room. I guess the chairs were really meant for a bedroom? I’ve painted all the walls in the house white as the shadows on them help me see around.” And then there was the urn in the courtyard. “The Coade stone urn I found in the 19th century barn was much too grand. So instead I bought this cast iron urn on the King’s Road in Belfast. Fine, I will leave the Marston and Langinger pot you have brought me in the urn so that I remember that colour. Oh, Farrow and Ball are very smart! They’re very clever at their marketing.” In the end, the much debated urn would remain unpainted. “Henry wouldn’t deal with snobs. That’s why I liked him. Henry took everything he got involved in very seriously. Henry was the only Alliance Party member in the House of Lords. He strongly promoted the Education (Northern Ireland) Act 1974 which provided greater parity across the sectarian divide.” Later, “Oh how exciting, is it full of good restaurants and bars? Great! I’ll be an authority now on Ballyhackamore.”

She recalled an early drama at The Park. It was a tranquil Sunday morning in 1973 and unusually Dorinda was at home rather than at Holy Trinity Church Ballywalter. “Henry was singing the 23rd Psalm at Eucharist when he heard six fire brigades go by. Poor people, he pitied. I’d warned our butler not to interfere with the gas cylinders of the boiler, but he did, and the whole thing exploded, lifting off the dome of the staircase hall like a pressure cooker. The billiard room disappeared under a billow of smoke and flames. I rang the fire brigade and said, ‘Come quickly! There’s a fire at Ballywalter Park!’ The operator replied, ‘Yes, madam, but what number in Ballywalter Park?’” The estate of course doesn’t have a number – although it does have its own postcode.

“A spare room full of china collections fell through the roof. Well, I guess I’d always wanted to do an archaeological dig! It was so sad, really. As well as the six fire brigades, 300 people gathered from the village and around to help lift furniture onto the lawn. Fortunately the dome didn’t crack. Isn’t life stranger than fiction? The Powerscourt fire happened just one year later. Henry was philosophical and said we can build a replacement house in the walled garden.” In the end the couple would be responsible for restoring the house to its lasting glory. Ballywalter Park is a mid 19th century architectural marvel designed by Sir Charles Lanyon.

“I arrived over from London as a young wife and suddenly had to manage 12 servants. I used to tiptoe around so as not to disturb them. There was a crazy crew in the kitchen. Mrs Clarke was the cook. Billy Clarke, the scatty elderly butler, mostly sat smoking. Mrs Clarke couldn’t cook unless he was there. I was too shy to say anything!” Dorinda once briefly dated Tony Armstrong-Jones who would become the society photographer Lord Snowdon. “We met at pony club. He got me to model sitting next to a pond at our house in Widford, Hertfordshire.” One book described Dorinda as being “very pretty”. When questioned, she replied, “Well, quite pretty!” She was more interested in her time bookbinding for The Red Cross. In those days The Bunch of Grapes in Knightsbridge was Dorinda’s local. “Browns Hotel and The Goring were ‘safe’ for debutantes. After we got married we went to the State Opening of Parliament. We stayed in Henry’s club and I haled a taxi wearing a tiara and evening dress. Harrods was once full of people one would know. We would know people there. ‘Do you live near Harrods?’ people would ask. I’ve heard everyone now lives southwest down the river, near the boat races. You need some luck and then you’ve just got to make your own way having fun in London.”

As ever with Dorinda there were always more great stories to relate. “I bought the two paintings from the School of Van Dyke in my dining room for £40. I knew they are rather good landscapes so I decided to talk to Anthony Blunt about them. We arranged to meet in The Courtauld for lunch. Halfway though our meal he disappeared for a phone call. He was probably waiting for a message, ‘Go to the second tree on the left!’ He never reappeared. Next thing I heard he was a spy and had gone missing! I think he turned up in Moscow. I’ll remember other interesting things when you’re gone.” Occasionally colloquialisms would slip into her polite conversation. “The funeral was bunged! That was completely mustard!” One of Dorinda’s catchphrases, always expressed with glee, was, “That’s rather wild!”

“I called up to The Park. It was so funny: for the first time in history there were three Lady Dunleaths including me all sitting chatting on a sofa! One lives in The Park; the other, King’s Road and I don’t mean Belfast!” Dorinda made steeple chasing sound so exciting. A dedicated rider and breeder, she was Chairman of the Half Bred Horse Breeders Society. The Baroness’s contribution to Northern Irish culture and society is unsurpassed. She was Patron of the Northern Ireland Chest Stroke and Heart Association and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, as well as being a Committee Member of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society. Dorinda was a Director of the Ulster Orchestra and a founding member of The National Trust in Northern Ireland and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society. Along with Sir Charles Brett she laboriously carried out and published early ‘Listings’ of buildings in places such as Downpatrick, Dungannon and Lisburn. The Baroness’s legacy lives on in the Dorinda Lady Dunleath Charitable Trust. This charity was started by her late husband but after he died it was changed into Dorinda’s name and she added to it every year thereafter. It supports education; healthcare and medical research; the arts, culture, heritage and science; the environment; alleviating poverty; and advancement of the Christian faith. The Dorinda Lady Dunleath Charitable Trust continues to donate to charities that she would have liked, with a focus on Northern Ireland.

One of the last heritage projects Dorinda supported was the restoration and rejuvenation of Portaferry Presbyterian Church, not far from Ballywalter. It’s one of the best Greek Revival buildings in the United Kingdom. “Prince Charles came to the reopening. I curtsied so low I could barely stand up again! Afterwards, a few of us had a very grand supper at Ikea to celebrate!” She voiced concern about the future of the organ at Down Cathedral. Music in May at Ballywalter Park was an annual festival of organ music started by the newlyweds. The Dunleath Organ Scholarship Trust was set up by her late husband and she continued to support it for the rest of her life, attending its concerts each year.

“It’s so exciting… I can’t say how exciting it is you’re here! Tell me, who is this David Bowie everyone’s talking about? I feel like I’m about 100! It’s like when my father asked me, ‘Who is this Bing Crosby?’ The House of Lords used to be full of country specialists like experts in bees or men who loved linen. They used to give the most marvellous speeches. Each generation must do something. It would be great to write this down.” Later, “Gardens should have vistas, don’t you think? They need focal points; you need to walk for an hour to a place of discovery. Capability Brown and Repton knew how to do it.”

In latter years, there were memorable times to be had at The Wildfowler Inn, Greyabbey. Those long, languid lunches. “Portavogie scampi? I’ll have the same as you. And a glass of white wine please. We can have sticky toffee pudding after.” Dorinda would don her yellow high viz jacket, pulling the look off with considerable aplomb. Her eyesight failing, she would claim, “It helps people see me in Tesco in Newtownards!” Much later, balmy summer afternoons in the sheltered courtyard of Killyvolgan House would stretch long into the evening. There was Darjeeling and more laughter. Those were the days. Halcyon days by the shore. Days that will linger forever. On that last evening at Killyvolgan, Dorinda pondered, “Who’s left who cares about architectural heritage?”

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Lavender’s Blue + The Castle Castletownshend West Cork

Grand Tourism

A few years ago Frank Keohane gave a lecture to the Irish Georgian Society London based on his ongoing research which would later be published as the 2020 Pevsner Architecture Guide, The Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County. A monumental achievement by any measure. “There are so many buildings at risk in Cork City and County,” he warned. “The southeast of England hasn’t enough country houses to go round. In contrast, Ireland has one of the lowest population densities in Europe. There’s plenty of talk but action is needed too.”

“There are 345 identified buildings at risk in County Cork of which 67 are country houses,” he added. “But there are good news stories too. Monkstown Castle has been restored and Jeremy Irons famously restored Kilcoe Castle near Ballydehob. Cork naturally has the biggest asylum in the country!” One country house that thankfully isn’t at risk (the owners restored it six years ago) is The Castle, Castletownshend.

Frank summarises it as, “A house of several parts, the seat of the Townshends. The earliest, described as ‘newly built’ in 1780 by the Complete Irish Traveller, is presumably the two storey five bay rubblestone centre block, with dormers over the upper windows and a two storey rectilinear porch. Taller three storey wings with battlements carried on corbelled cornices and twin and triple light timber mullioned windows. The east wing was perhaps built in the late 1820s; the west wing was added after a fire of 1852. Modest interior. Large low central hall with a beamed ceiling and walls lined with oak panelled and gilded embossed wallpaper. Taller dining room to the rear, with a compartmented ceiling, a neoclassical inlaid fireplace in the manner of Bossi, and a large Jacobean sideboard. 19th century staircase with barley twist type balusters.”

“Oh please don’t ask me what’s my favourite Irish country house. That’s such a weak question!” jested Min Hogg, Founding Editor of The World of Interiors, giving us her last interview. The Castle has to be in our own top 10 (and we get around). “We’re the 11th generation of the family to live here,” welcomes our hostess Sharon Townshend. Guest rooms are named after people or events connected to the house. On the ground floor is the Gun Room. On the first floor, Chavenage, Deans and Studio. On the top floor, Archbishops, Army, Navy and our party room, Abigail.

Dark panelling and glass fronted bookcases stretching up to the ceiling enhance the character of the interior. Books include The Poems and Plays of Robert Brown; The Early Romances of William Morris; The Poems of Alfred Tennyson; The Plays of Richard Brinsley Sheridan; Northanger Abbey and Persuasion by Jane Austen; Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, Nicholas Nickleby, Old Curiosity Shop and The Pickwick Papers. Keeping it local are Old Ireland Reminiscences of an Irish K C by Serjeant Sullivan and Last Memory of a Tenderfoot by R B Townshend.

The entrance front overlooks Castlehaven Bay, a spectacular setting by any standards. The northwest elevation backs onto the hillside. At its deepest part, the triple pile return wing almost touches the hillside. A 40 pane double height window adds natural light to the gallery-like staircase corridors and landings which line the north elevation.

Behind the ground floor Honesty Bar, a sepia tinted advertisement reads, “Castle Townshend, County Cork, has been the seat of the Townshend family for many generations, and is now run as a guesthouse by Mrs R M Salter-Townshend. It is situated on the borders of Castle Townshend Harbour. It certainly affords every variety of pleasure that guests could require. Mains electricity (A C current 220 volts).”

“Interior sprung mattresses and hot and cold running water in all bedrooms. Guests are welcomed to this castle as personal friends, and the old family portraits, historical associations etc, no less than the hospitality shown by all, are a delight to visitors. The climate in this part of Ireland compares very favourably with the south of England. The passage by sea from England is both cheap and luxurious. Director air service to Cork from Paris, London, Bristol, Cardiff, Dublin and Birmingham. Air car ferry Bristol to Cork and Liverpool, to Dublin.”

“There is never a dull moment at Castle Townshend, and one visit will convince you that this is just the place for a holiday that you have always been hoping to find. Also holiday cottages and maisonette flats to let. Fruit and vegetables from our own garden; and milk from our farm.”

“What we do at Castle Townshend. Boating and fishing. Own rowing boats, free to guests. Individual rowing boats can be hired weekly by arrangement. Good facilities for sailing. Own yacht, including competent yachtsmen for hire for morning or afternoon 12/6. Whole day £1. Safe bathing from nearby coves. Picnics, teas and lunches made up to order. Riding: riding ponies available for hacking. 7/6 a ride. Golf: pleasant links in vicinity (nine hole). Shooting: woodcock, snipe and duck shooting over 300 acres private woodlands and estuary, in season. Salmon and white trout fishing in River Ilen, Skibbereen (£1 licence). Trout fishing in own lakes and streams free.”

“Hackney cars available to meet train or bus by arrangement, and for motor drives to Bantry, Glengarriff, Killarney, Berehaven Mountains, Healy Pass (1,500 feet), Pass of Keimaneigh, Glandore, Baltimore, Crookhaven, Lake of Swans and Mizen Head. Wireless, good library, books, billiards.”

“Open all the year round. April, May and June: 10 guineas a week. July, August and September: 12 guineas a week. Christmas week: 14 guineas. The remainder of the year: nine guineas a week. Per day for not less than three days: July, August and September 37/6. The remainder of the year except Christmas 32/6. Bed and breakfast (all year) 23/ a day. Garage 1/. Early tea 7/ per week. Meals served in bedrooms 1/ extra. Electric convector heaters with own meters in bedrooms, or if required, log fires at 8/ a day or 4/ per evening. No reductions made for long visits. Please pass this on to an interested friend. Dogs welcome but not allowed in the dining room or drawing room. Telegrams and phones: Castletownshend Five.”

Sharon and Justin Townshend provide plenty of their own up to date notes: “We welcome you to enjoy our home which is steeped in history and the charm of days gone by. Colonel Richard Townshend built The Castle (Castle Townshend) around 1650 and it was gradually expanded over time with the towers being added in the 1800s. The portraits, panelling and wallpaper in the Front Hall are all original and where possible, 11 generations on, we’ve tried to retain the character of The Castle.”

“Relax and enjoy the views, the village and the grounds. Take a walk to the two ruins up behind The Castle, Bryans Fort and Swifts Tower, named after the second generation Bryan Townshend and Dean Jonathan Swift who wrote Gulliver’s Travels. Swift was supposed to have stayed at The Castle. Visit the church on the hill up 52 steps (one for each weekend of the year) for the views. Open for services on Sundays, weekly in summer and first Sunday of the month in winter, catch a look at the Harry Clarke stained glass windows.”

“You’ll find warm Irish hospitality up at Mary Ann’s and Lil’s further up the hill. So take in the village as it really is like stepping back in time. The Castle is a wonderful and unique place, and we are lucky to have the opportunity to live in it and be the guardians until the next generation.”  We take their advice to heart and really take in the village and, as it turns out, the village really takes in us, including for midnight wine.

Even the breakfast menu in the Dining Room is imbued with history: “The Castle itself started off as a much smaller building and was gradually added onto over time with the castellated towers being added in the 1800s. Of the portraits of the Townshend family that you can see on the walls around you, Richard Townshend MP is the earliest portrait, the 4th generation here. He married Elizabeth Fitzgerald whose brother was the Knight of Kerry: a very prosperous family alliance. Their portraits can be seen in the Front Hall.”

“Above the 400 year old sideboard you’ll see Colonel John (6th generation) on the left and his brother Reverend Maurice on the right. Colonel John fought with the Duke of Wellington in the Spanish Peninsular War around 1810, and on the opposite wall is a portrait of the Dublin Duke himself, Arthur Wellesley.”

Reverend Maurice became the heir to the Townshend estate and wrote to the Townshends of Norfolk, England, where he requested that the whole Castletownshend family also incorporated the ‘h’ into their name. Therefore, it is speculated that, because the Norfolk Townshends have titles and can trace their heritage back further, the first Richard Townsend of Castletownshend was perhaps an illegitimate child who was sent off with the army.” This brings a whole meaning to “dropping you ‘h’!”

Reverend Maurice married Alice Shute who had inherited a property in Gloucestershire called Chavenage (that’s where our bedroom name comes from). Unfortunately, Chavenage was later sold to pay off inheritance taxes. Interestingly, the property is used in many period dramas, the most recent being the Warleggan family house in the television series Poldark.”

“To the right of the front window is a portrait of Reverend Maurice’s son, Henry. One of his uniforms, along with the original helmet, is displayed under the sideboard. The Castle has been welcoming guests for over 60 years. Rose Marie Salter Townshend from 1947 and then by her daughter Anne Cochrane Townshend from 1997. We took over in 2015 and were delighted to win the Georgina Campbell Bed and Breakfast of the Year Award in 2019.”

A sign at the foot of the hill beyond the Dining Room windows, just visible from our breakfast table, states: “The private grounds cover a total of 90 acres, much reduced from the 8,000 acres originally recorded. The woodland is open to the public for walks at set times during the year. Discover the ruins of Bryans Fort, the original castle before it was destroyed, and Swifts Tower named after Dean Jonathan Swift who wrote Gulliver’s Travels and travelled and wrote here. Follow the marked paths to discover the St Patrick’s Cross hidden deep in the woods, admiring the view down harbour along the way.”

Decisions, decisions. Union Hall smoked salmon and scrambled eggs? Or vegan breakfast? Thank goodness for multiple night stays. We’ll alternate. The latter includes Clonakilty vegan black pudding. It’s from down the road in the town made famous for meaty black pudding. But to channel our inner U2, the vegan variety is “Even better than the real thing”. Clonakilty is also known as the final earthly resting place of the late Damian O’Brien, Marketing Director of Bord Fáilte and country house enthusiast. While we’re enjoying breakfast, turndown of the Abigail Room takes place: beds remade and towels replenished.

To paraphrase the words of Mrs Salter-Townshend, Sharon’s predecessor back a generation or two, The Castle certainly affords every variety of high voltage pleasure that we could desire. The West Cork weather really does compare favourably with southern England. This weekend anyway. And yes, there’s never a dull moment at Castletownshend.

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Architecture Art Country Houses Design Luxury People Restaurants Town Houses

Lavender’s Blue + Castletownshend West Cork

A Glorified Trance On The Irish Shore

We’re never stopped galivanting. Our latest destination is the village where table turning and ghost writing take on whole new meanings. The shadow of authors Edith Somerville and Martin Ross (her real name was Violet Martin) looms large over the village of Castletownshend on Ireland’s south coast. Frank Keohane comments in The Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County (2020): “As the long time home of the writer, artist and Master of Fox Hounds Edith (1858 to 1949), Castletownsend is a highly evocative place, redolent of Anglo Irish society during its swansong. The village consists of two streets, of which the main street plunges downhill to the harbour. At the junction with the second street (The Mall) stand the ‘two trees’, a pair of sycamores, in what Edith described as a ‘barbaric stone flowerpot’. Castletownsend is also notable for the number of gentry houses built within the village rather than in the hinterland on small demesnes, in the more customary fashion.”

Maurice Collis writes in Somerville and Ross A Biography (1968), “Castletownshend was an unusual sort of place, because half a dozen families of the Cork landed gentry were settled there, instead of living, as the Irish landed gentry generally did, on estates dotted about the counties, miles apart from each other, as at Ross. Here their houses clustered round the village of Castletownshend, occupying a square mile of ground or less. The site was high ground which shelved steeply to the sea, a deep inlet or haven from the Atlantic like many others in western Cork. The view from the houses down to the haven and out to its mouth on the ocean was very fine. Near the west entrance to the village, a high point on the site, stood Drishane, the seat of the Somerville family.”

Gifford Lewis explains more about the authors in Somerville and Ross: The World of the Irish RM, (1985), “In childhood neither Edith nor Martin had recognised social and class barriers and both spoke naturally to those who in England would have been termed their ‘inferiors’. So that although they were from the privileged Anglo Irish gentry, they were at home in the native Irish world to the extent that their record of native speech in English is uniquely impressive. They knew that in their novels they were recording the death throes of their class – they made an unequalled portrait of the collapse of Anglo Ireland and the rise through it of the new Irish middle class.” Uniquely, Martin’s early demise didn’t stop them continuing to write in unison.

The two streets of Castletownshend are perpendicular to one another, meeting at the ‘two trees’ (to circumnavigate this pretty obstacle by car means mounting the pavement). Main Street is beautifully bookended by Drishane House at the top and The Castle at the bottom. The Mall heads out towards the coastline, ending with The Rocket House. Both streets are lined with beautiful townhouses, mainly Georgian. We last visited Drishane House in 1992. Little has changed, except the heavy Atlantic mist of that day 30 years ago has been replaced with serene unclouded skies on this visit. Jane and Tom Somerville are the present incumbents of Edith’s former home. Martin’s family home was Ross House, County Galway, but she was a frequent visitor to Castletownshend.

Frank comments on Drishane House, “A handsome six bay weather slated house built about 1790, the seat of the Somervilles. In the Edwardian period a new entrance was created on the more sheltered side elevation. This has an unusual rock-faced limestone doorcase with a scrolled pediment of vaguely Chinese appearance. The original wide tripartite limestone doorcase, with Tuscan demi-columns, now serves as a garden entrance.”