Hidden Ireland guesthouse accommodation for the Wexford Opera Festival

Hidden Ireland is a respected brand of guesthouses that offers a gentler introduction to Ireland than a hotel, or other off-grid networks of accommodation

Hidden Ireland is a network of mansions and smaller relics of pre-Independence architecture that are still run as family businesses. The houses are typically converted mansions, vicarages, farmhouses, or simply Georgian (1700s) or Victorian (1800s) buildings that may once have been exclusively family homes. Their charm lies in offering a step back in time to historical lifestyles by offering authentic atmospheres with period furniture and "slow-food" approaches to the menus. A "slow-food" approach to menus relies on organic or homemade produce that often overlaps with fair trade produce and aims to make best use of local skills and artisans. Hidden Ireland guesthouses also offer a restful step back from contemporary life in that as they're still primarily family homes they can offer tourists a glimpse of either the family's heritage and place in the county or that of the building.

More holiday makers may be aware of a brand or concept such as airbnb.com than its older, posher sister, Hidden Ireland. If Airbnb.com popularity rests on its spectacular homes, interesting hosts, user-friendly website and gloriously ergonomic marketing strategy, Hidden Ireland offers many of the same perks and then some. It's a brand that has successfully married sophisticated exclusivity with genuinely warm and vibrant hospitality.

They're highly individual – some have notable gardens, others have associations with landed aristocracy (dukes, earls, knights) while others can boast a connection to those of the aristocracy who also became famous for their work in the arts, (Mount Vernon, for instance, was once owned by Lady Gregory who is better known as one of the founding members of the Abbey Theatre with WB Yeats).

Some of them can do everything a five-star hotel can do: provide a backdrop for a romantic, Ivy League-style wedding; a dinner and sleepover for a couple looking for a sturdy, four-poster bed with 18 inches of granite sound-proofing between them and the room next door; the option of a wistful walk between the lush planting of the enclosed garden, or a hike across the rugged landscape as if you're the Lord and Lady of All You Survey. The network has set itself very high standards of hospitality so you can be anyone you want to be for the price of the room.

Genealogists, foodies, art history or architecture buffs are just a few of the holiday makers who would love the respite and relaxation these guesthouses provide. People who'd like to see Irish farms still grappling with the constraints of mixed farming on a miniature scale (few of the Hidden Ireland network are still primarily working farms, but most are nestling in between them). If you've an Irish or Scots name, for example, and have traced it to a particular county in Ireland and would like to see the landscape they left before heading for another continent, these guest houses would be the a poetic choice of accommodation. One mud-in-yer-eye possible sub-text could be: "Yes, my great-aunt may have been tossed unceremoniously onto a famine ship, or our sheep-rustling great-great-grandfather given a free one-way cruise to Van Diemen's Land in the 1800s, but we're back now and we've arrived."

(As another aside practically everyone in Ireland fancies themselves as a sleuthing genealogist, we all know somebody of that name somewhere. I met someone called Meade in Mexico and was convinced he had to be related to someone I'd heard of in north county Dublin, and came across lots of Norman names in America like Fitzgerald, Fitzmaurice, Delaney and Burke and automatically claimed them as Irish until I remembered those names only came here about a 1,000 years ago.)

But as must-see houses Hidden Ireland guesthouses would also delight contemporary artisans, either straightforward building contractors or perhaps less obviously, those who work in the film industry (these houses are sympathetically maintained and are broadly true to the time they were built and so are havens for movie location bookers for historical films). Broadly true, here, means that most of them have been upgraded to include en suite bathrooms, central heating and contemporary insulation, and kitchens adapted to modern health and safety values. Airbnb.com may be deservedly the most famous website for post-modernist decor and lifestyle, but within Ireland, arty players look to the Hidden Ireland brand of guesthouse to get away from post-modernism.

Personally, I believe they're best suited to adult-only holidays. I found them to be ideal for single travelers as firstly many of them have communal dining tables, so you'll be chatting to strangers for breakfast and dinner. Pricewise for single travelers some of them have single rooms from €55 and don't charge a single supplement, others just do a straight price for the room, regardless of how many people are in it.

If you're planning a crafts trail for mementoes, or have a themed healthy hikes itinerary in mind (long walks in nature are abundant here, so much so that you've to break it down to seasons like November to March hunting for game, or spring to autumn for photographic trails), but whatever the primary theme of your trip to Ireland there's a Hidden Ireland budget that can suit you. I'm assuming you are basing your accommodation choices around a budget of about €50 per person sharing a room. (You'll definitely find cheaper but these are romantic, private, substantial guesthouses that are only available at certain times of the year.)

The Dublin city centre Hidden Ireland venue is Number 31, Leeson Close, just off St Stephen's Green, so your gallery and museum, or theater and literary trail is doable on foot for even heart-attack candidates (or a cheap taxi ride if you're allergic to rain). Others in the network are €70-€100 for a double room, and if this still seems steep to you there are deals to be had in booking several nights, or well in advance. Their exclusivity can sometimes rely on the fact that they're deliberately not as eye-catching to the casual observer, they're courting travelers who like quality over quantity and have the time to be soothed, charmed, de-stressed and renewed by off-the-beaten-track experiences, people who can take delight where they find it.

Leinster (east coast)

Martinstown House, County Kildare
Martinstown House, County Kildare | Source
Kilmokea's seven-acre garden offers year-round interest from its organic vegetables to sub-tropical planting. Wexford's part of what we call the sunny south-east, offering coastal walks, river fishing, pretty good hurlers, and great food.
Kilmokea's seven-acre garden offers year-round interest from its organic vegetables to sub-tropical planting. Wexford's part of what we call the sunny south-east, offering coastal walks, river fishing, pretty good hurlers, and great food.

Choose a province to explore and enjoy sampling the pleasures of other Hidden Ireland guesthouses nearby

Building fans will enjoy a look at the vernacular expressions of gracious living. The houses cover a wealth of styles from country lodges to dock-side townhouses. Martinstown House, shown here, was designed by architect Decimus Burton in the 1830s and built in Kildare near the Curragh. This east-coast county was and is well-known for horse-breeding, there's a racecourse nearby, as is the national stud. The house nestles in its own miniature park of woodland and gardens that could engage the reader or watercolorist in your group while the others whoop it up betting on the horses. Other gems in Leinster (east coast) include the Lorum Old Rectory in Bagnalstown, Carlow, and Kilmokea, Wexford. Lorum's kitchen is a member of Eurotoques (great food) and Kilmokea's glamour includes an indoor swimming pool (as well as being close to the Wexford Opera Festival).

Hilton Park, 2014-2015 prices range from €98 per person sharing. Its amenities include boating, fishing, home-grown cuisine, hike and cycle trails, and is about a 90-minute drive from either Dublin or Belfast airports.
Hilton Park, 2014-2015 prices range from €98 per person sharing. Its amenities include boating, fishing, home-grown cuisine, hike and cycle trails, and is about a 90-minute drive from either Dublin or Belfast airports. | Source

Monster bargains in Munster, USPs in Ulster and Canny bookings in Connaught

Being a Dublin woman I tend to think the world revolves around Leinster, but happily I was forced into an education that included the three other provinces that make up our island. Whether you're opting for a self-drive coastal holiday, a cycling jaunt inland, or just fancy pootling your motorboat along the canals, you can alter the pace and style of your vacation with at least one night's stay in a glamorous guesthouse.

As you can see from the three pictures shown here, the style and substance of the houses networked through the Hidden Ireland brand range from sturdy farmhouses to buildings that are palatial, the grounds vary from pretty flower and vegetable gardens to parklands including 18-hole golf courses and the amenities stretch from the baseline you can expect (a top notch bed and breakfast facility) to additional bonuses of the individual hosts' special interests and skills. Hilton Park, Co Monaghan (pictured) has its own 18-hole golf course within the grounds so could be an ideal getaway for families or colleagues who golf together.

These guesthouses also offer different types of accommodation that include full-board, half-board and self-catering, which means you can choose them as either the sole provider of your accommodation or as a mini-holiday within a different one. Anyone ever spent three whole weeks with their family in a strange environment? (I don't care what anyone says, compressed living like caravans, tents, boats and barges is a strange environment.) Then you could be very happy you made separate arrangements for at least one night away from them.

The four provinces offer three Atlantic coastlines that are amazingly pretty in fine weather, awesome in stormy weather and a joy to see regardless of how you're traveling them. All three sides of the Atlantic coast offer jaggedy little fjords (technically we've only one fjord but who likes geographers anyway?) that are alternating beautiful rocky gashes into the landscape, inviting coves or grand sweeps of sandy beaches. The fourth coastline, being in Leinster, is God's Country and I've to limit my descriptions of our beaches, coastal walks, cultural superiority and good-looking natives so the other three provinces get at least some chance of attracting visitors.

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