Vast would be the best way to describe the Clandeboye Estate. Huge swathes of green fields, a lake flecked with swans and a country home straight from a Jane Austen novel – this is County Down’s crown. And deep in the estate, there is Helen’s Tower.
The slender stone tower rises into a peak of turrets and flagpoles. Visions of Rapunzel rush to mind in the velvet cladding of the dining room. On the roof, the estate spreads itself out in green grandeur. Almost 100 years ago, the 36th Ulster Division trained here before fighting and dying at the Somme.
Lord Tennyson stood here, too, and did what he did best. He wrote this:
Helen's Tower, here I stand,
Dominant over sea and land.
Son’s love built me, and I hold
Mother’s love in letter’d gold.
Where history lives, curiosity follows. Dorothy-Ellen White of the Irish Landmark Trust knows that better than most. Gate lodges, lighthouses, castles and cottages – if it’s historic, the Trust have restored it.
Dorothy-Ellen understands the attraction: “Historic properties are steeped in local legend and folklore. Staying in a castle, a tower or a cottage as if it were your own is utterly magical.”
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King of the castle
Castles, of course, are the dream. King or queen for the day is the fantasy. Jeremy Irons liked the idea so much he bought his own. US presidents have swapped the White House for Dromoland Castle in County Clare, and David Beckham married Victoria at Luttrellstown, County Dublin. But the pleasure is not restricted to celebrities and royalty.
Lisheen Castle in County Tipperary is isolated luxury and a nod to classic interiors. Limerick’s Fanningstown Castle wears ivy stubble over its medieval features and Fermanagh’s Crom Castle perches on Lough Erne, demanding a double take. And best of all, you can stay in them all.
Still, it would be a lie to say that all unique accommodation in Ireland is old or ancient. The Gyreum Ecolodge looks like something from another world: a UFO fallen from the sky into the Sligo countryside.
The truth is, this “temple rising out of the ground” couldn’t be more in tune with the earth if it tried. Welcome to the ultimate in eco living, to hostel accommodation where wind turbines turn a Sligo breeze into electricity, and solar panels mean roasting hot showers. Thanks to an organic garden, organic duck eggs and homemade jams, the food won’t leave a carbon footprint, either. Even your morning coffee is fair trade.
Ireland is in the throws of an accommodation revolution – some old and traditional, some new and memorable. Glamping on manor estates, tipis by the sea, horse-drawn caravans, and yurts on Teapot Lane – things can get very interesting.
The Irish pub on your actual doorstep
The idea of renting a self-catering pub might sound like an exercise in avoiding temptation, but don’t worry – the bottles, kegs and taps are empty. Alcohol aside, every other feature of the Irish pub is yours to rent.
To find this peculiar pub, you’ll need to journey to the sleepy village of Aglish in County Tipperary. Pick up your keys for Conroy’s Old Bar and, hey presto, you’re the landlord of your very own public house.
Cosy rooms sit alongside bar counters, turf fires, stools, bottles and even a cash register. If you’re lucky, you might even get a visit from your very own regulars.
How’s that for unique?