On the Emerald Isle, An Awakening Tiger
A handful of years ago when I first went over to the great green island there was a vibe of the dot-com era, a great economic boom that the dot-comers themselves had a hard time trusting; in true Irish form, everyone was wary of the good times. Then 2008 hit and their wariness proved prescient as things got bad—fast. Jokes about the Celtic tiger were easy to find in The Economist, and the pubs were busy in Galway town as folks drowned their sorrows.
Since 2008, though, things have been on the go in Ireland at a slow, but undeniable pace and I have high hopes for the island. My optimism only increased after a recent trip spent visiting hotels, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with some friends, and scouting out some of those classic links golf courses one can only find on the coasts of either Ireland or Scotland.
Ironically, one of the properties I saw was built on the back of the tech boom. Ballyfin Demense, a classic house near the Slieve Bloom Mountains, was brought back from the ashes by American Fred Kreihbiel, and the success of his electronics business. Fred spent a good deal of time on the road in hotels, and decided that, if all went well in his life, he would build a hotel to fit all the things he loves about the travel industry.
This house is that project, a labour of love. And good on Fred – he nails it! This is one of the best country homes I have seen. Since my first trip to Ireland I have wanted someone to come through and design a place that feels both classy and classic, but doesn’t feel like it should smell like moth balls, and Ballyfin checks all the boxes. With regular fox hunts and an adherence to tea time, it’s tempting to think this place is less authentic than artistic, as if such traditions are merely staged affectations. But after spending time there, I beg to differ. This place has not been white-washed of its history; Fred embraced it, going os far as to hire a handful of staffers here who were school boys in the same building when it used to be a boarding school. To me, it is the right blend of new and old, embracing its history, while looking forward. A definite must-see on any journey in Ireland.
Lough Inagh Lodge
My true home away from home when in Connemara is the Lough Inagh Lodge. It’s s simple place that needs some work done to it, but this gives it its charm, making it feel like home in a true sense, not just a hotel trying to mimic that feeling. Lough Inagh is run by a brother and sister duo who have generously had B&R guides live with them in the past. Dominic and Maire are the heart of the matter; they embody the Irish spirit that I miss when away. I love to see Ballyfin and the island’s other spectacular properties, and I love to stay there as well, but I miss Lough Inagh in the same way I miss my old summer camp—my connection to it feels visceral and real, a sense that few properties in the world could truly evoke.
And that really sums up Ireland for me. It is a place constantly struggling to balance hope and despair in the best sort of way, resulting in countless Irish writers who excel at writing about life’s darker moments in a lighter a tone, a constant joke about the tragedy. Built into the culture is a mischief, an adorable and intoxicating mischief that needs to be felt and seen. It is the reason there is music in the pubs in Ireland, and poetry, and hope.