A weekend spent with old friends at Killarney's newly refurbished Great Southern Hotel

Esther McCarthy goes back to the future at the newly renovated and renamed Great Southern Hotel.

A weekend spent with old friends at Killarney's newly refurbished Great Southern Hotel

Esther McCarthy goes back to the future at the newly renovated and renamed Great Southern Hotel.

They say it takes a long time to grow an old friend. 23 years later, I still feel like a teenager whenever I meet up with this particular pal.

Through teenage trials, college antics, doomed romances, weddings, births, funerals, we’ve kept in touch. First through letters and landlines, then emails and texts and picture tags.

We’re on to the Whatsapp part of our relationship now, but still, weeks, months, years sometimes, whizz by without us seeing each other. Jobs and family and, you know, life, keeping us busy.

So a whole weekend away together is special, and the venue has to match the occasion. The Great Southern, a hotel of almost mythical status, the Grand Dame of Killarney, fits the bill.

I’ve heard so much about it but have never been. With the train dropping my friend more or less door to door, she’s a regular here. Indeed, the hotel’s first incarnation was as The Railway Hotel, back in 1854, when it was purpose-built by the Great Southern and Western Railway Company.

In 1896, it became The Great Southern Killarney and changed to The Malton in 2006, going on to become part of The Hayfield Family Collection in 2014 and in January this year, the Scally family felt it was time to reinstate the Great Southern brand.

We meet strapping, smiling Ettienne Van Vrede, CEO of the collection, in the spectacular lobby, as he waves off a couple who’ve checked out. While we’re chatting, he says he thinks it’s absolutely fitting that it’s officially the Great Southern again.

“I think the people of Killarney are happy about it, we’ve got such positive feedback. We feel like we’ve entered a positive new chapter in the hotel’s history.”

The room

The welcome at the Great Southern is the reason why Killarney is world-renowned for friendliness and service. From Mary Mac, the exuberant concierge. to the wonderful Aoibhinn at check-in, the staff are quite extraordinary over the entire weekend. Some of the staff have worked here their whole lives, some have even met their life partners here.

As soon as you step into the plush Grand Foyer, past the open fire and the giant wicker basket of logs, and take in the grand piano, the high ceilings, the convivial atmosphere, you know you’re somewhere special.

This is old school luxury, the foyer has been meticulously restored to the original Victorian design (Queen Victoria stayed right here in August 1861) and the whole hotel has been refurbished to coincide with the loop back to the essence of what the Great Southern is all about.

I’m staying in one of the gorgeous garden deluxe rooms, there’s a balcony with a view, a welcome plate of fruit, petit fours, nibbles, and drinks, the bed is simple in crisp white and muted grey and the star of the show is a glorious standalone claw foot bath, above which is a gilt-framed French pastoral scene. You know it’s fancy when there’s art in the bathroom, am I right?

The food and drink

After we settle in, my pal and I head down to catch up over a traditional afternoon tea fit for a queen - but enough to feed an army.

The table is set with silverware, Porland chinaware, fresh flowers, and along come finger sandwiches, hot scones, clotted cream, delectable pastries and extremely tasty banana bread.

Dinner later under the gilded dome of the Garden Room restaurant is equally impressive. We sit peeking out at the perfect gardens, while sommelier Massimo Mirable, brings us a cheeky Cuvée Prestige from the Cote D’or, France.

We have the most wonderful meal, the duo of lamb is a highlight, with confit shoulder and rack of lamb with smoked aubergine puree and a thyme jus. The selection of local cheeses is superb, we’re talking smoked Gubbeen, Cooleeny Camembert, Knockatee Beara Blue and Cordal goats cheese.

Any breakfast I don’t have to cook myself is wonderful but this is such a treat - with the extras like warm waffles and organic porridge and gluten-free options - and superb staff as always - tipping it unforgettable status. But the real jaw-dropping, wow-factor, OMG-I-never-want-to-leave is our perfect hour with Massimo. That man taught me things a girl can only dream of.

In the Killarney Wine Rooms, just the three of us, a wall of wine and a man with a card that let it flow. It’s an enomatic wine dispensing system, so you can try a sip, a half a glass or the whole shebang, baby!

It was so much fun and we really do learn a lot about wine. Mainly how much we love it. Massimo tells us, as he brings out a platter of antipasti, charcuterie and the local cheeses to go with all our samples, that the aim is to make wine tasting a bit more approachable, interactive, and relaxed. Mission accomplished, Massimo, my man, mission accomplished.

The bottom line

The weekend went way too quickly, but don’t worry, old friend, we’ll be back.

The Grand Sale is now on, visit the Great Southern Hotel website for details.

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