A little piece of Downton Abbey-style heaven in Ulster

Eoin Edwards hit the road to Ulster, and the Lakeland County of Cavan, for a taste of Downton Abbey-style hospitality.

A little piece of Downton Abbey-style heaven in Ulster

Eoin Edwards hits the road to Ulster, and the Lakeland County of Cavan, for a taste of Downton Abbey-style hospitality.

I couldn’t help myself... Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff, come home, Paddy Reilly, to me.

Percy French’s world-renowned tune just blurted out...

For the bells will be ringin' in Ballyjamesduff

For me and me Rosie Kilrain!

I had after all just passed the signpost for the village made famous by French, who lived for five years in Cavan town, where he was inspired to write one of his most famous songs.

He went on to pen over 100 more, including 'Phil the Phlooter's Ball', 'The Mountains of Mourne' and 'Are ya right there Michael?'

I blame the tuneful outburst though on one of Irish country music’s legendary names, Shaun O’Dowd and Ding-a-ling.

A household name and known all over the country from his showband days, we had earlier passed his broken down touring van.

There he was, all these years later, still driving the highways and byways of Ireland, to his next gig, his name emblazoned all over the van, he standing alongside on the phone organising help.

It was one of the many interesting things we encountered on the road to Farnham Estate, just outside Cavan town.

The countryside was littered with bogs, beautifully tended farmland and magnificent mysterious big houses.

In the early 17th century, Cavan was settled by planters from England and Scotland who laid the foundations for many of the county’s towns and villages, including Belturbet, Killeshandra, and Virginia.

In the next century their descendants went on to build fine houses, we passed on our journey to fabulous Farnham.

To many living in that part of the world, a few minutes drive from Cavan town, in the beautiful, quiet, farming countryside, and hour and a half drive from bustling Dublin and three and a half hours from Cork, it was a total mystery for hundreds of years what was behind the walls of many of those big houses, including Farnham Estate, closed as that was to public view, after being granted to the Scottish Maxwell family by King James I of England in 1610.

It had been handed down through generations of that family, who became Lords Farnham in 1756.

Many of course knew that there was a Lord and Lady Farnham, the largest landowners in the area, who controlled the politics of Cavan for hundreds of years and once represented Cavan in the House of Lords, but many never met them.

It’s an altogether different story now. The gates of this special estate are well and truly open to all comers.

It’s a stunning, peaceful, hotel with a spa, golf club, with newly-opened clubhouse, and magnificent, yet separate wedding venue.

Farnham Estate Spa & Golf Resort, Co Cavan unveils smart new golf clubhouse
Farnham Estate Spa & Golf Resort, Co Cavan unveils smart new golf clubhouse

The resort has recently completed the latest phase of ongoing investment in the property, with a modern new golf clubhouse opening just in time for the summer months.

It was designed with a contemporary form using traditional materials to sit discreetly into the protected landscape of the estate, and is conveniently located adjacent to the 18th green.

With a light and airy bar and restaurant area and spacious terrace overlooking the lush Farnham Estate, the new clubhouse is an excellent addition for guests and golfers alike.

Enjoy a light lunch after a round of golf with a selection of light bites available, including seasonal soups and sandwiches and browse in the Pro Shop under the expertise of Farnham Estate’s Head PGA professional, Neil McNulty.

A par 72 parkland spread over 500 acres of rolling countryside and dense woodland, with two quite contrasting nines – a gently challenging front nine exploring undulating meadows and a testing back nine through denser, more rugged woodland.

The owners of Farnham Estate Spa & Golf Resort, SCIF Hotels Limited Partnership (SCIF), purchased the estate in October 2016.

Since the acquisition, SCIF has invested €6 million in the hotel and grounds, and the latest phase of planned investment totals €2.35 million.

In its heyday the estate employed hundreds of local people in the house, gardens, forests, farm, sawmill, forge, dairy and stable yards.

Employees of Lord Farnham lived in cottages on the 1,300 acres of the estate, and they were well looked after.

And history is repeating itself, the hotel/estate is still a vital source of employment and they are equally well looked after.

Guests of the hotel can feel the love from upstairs and downstairs... Lady Mary or Mr Carson.

As breakfast attendant Cathal explained: “We have a good team here, you don’t mind ever coming in to work.”

The hotel oozes that happiness.

Whether it’s Wayne dishing out cocktails, regaling you with his infectious knowledge of them, with a spirit you couldn’t buy; courtesy bus driver Seamus dropping you to and from your car; or Mayo man Neil McNulty, the estate’s golf club professional and his delightfully humorous assistant professional, Damien Scott, from Cavan, chipping in with their expertise while welcoming you to their pride and joy, a new €1.5 million clubhouse; the warmth is genuine.

It’s what hotels should be all about, a welcome like none other.

Farnham's woodlands contain more than 100 varieties of tree, including redwood, cedar, copper beech, Scots pine, lime, yew and some of the oldest oaks in the country.

They are rooted in the history of Farnham and could tell a tale or two. Nine of Ireland's ‘champion trees’ (from the Tree Council of Ireland inventory) are here.

The estate also includes three lakes, there are 365 in ‘The Lakeland County’, one for every day of the year, and a series of interconnecting canals.

The stairway in the main house
The stairway in the main house

Hotels have become one of the main ways by which we are allowed to peek into the mysterious interiors of our surviving grand houses.

When the present-day owners bought Farnham it was not large enough to accommodate visitors in significant numbers.

The solution to this was an extension: three storeys of hotel rooms extending from the rear of the main house and designed to enjoy stunning views of the landscape.

They managed to retain Farnham’s most impressive feature, the classical three-storey period house.

It’s Downton Abbey-esque. Having afternoon tea in the original estate house is impressive, what with its gilded mirrors, marble fireplaces, parquet floors, and eight-foot-tall windows, with views of those giant trees lining the woodland trails.

This is a hotel where you come back from not just rested but also deep tissue massaged, hot-stoned and more thanks to therapists like Rebecca and her Espa pure essential oils.

The hotel’s spa includes treatment rooms, a meditation garden, a relaxation room and an infinity pool that lets you swim from the inside of the building into the open air.

It’s a place you don’t have to leave for other distractions. However if you want to venture out a local link bus stops off at the estate on a regular run to Cavan town, minutes away.

The restaurant, run by chef Daniel Williamont, serves organic produce, including wild garlic and herbs from Farnham's gardens and grounds.

The Cedar Room
The Cedar Room

His restaurant was the quickest to get two rosettes in the history of AA.

Of course there are Cork connections and we just had to eke them out. Director of Sales and Marketing Clodagh Pryce, nee Seberry, from Turner’s Cross, married a Cavan man and is with the hotel since 2008. And Tracy Wallace originally from Solohead, Co Tipperary but who worked in Mitchelstown for a period, has been Director of Operations for nearly two years in this is busy hotel/estate, which specialises in weddings and conferences. It has a fabulous cave-like wine bar with music, but even on the busy wedding weekend when I stayed what’s striking about the place is the silence, quietness, the only sounds are birdsong.

County Cavan nestles along the flanks of Fermanagh, its charms perhaps not always fully appreciated. They certainly weren’t by me, until now.

There is, of course, more to this land-locked county than water.

History comes alive here in places like The Cavan Burren, part of the Marble Arch Caves Geopark which is, in turn, a UNESCO-endorsed global geopark.

Driving homeward through the county I feel as if I’ve known towns like Bailieborough, Ballinagh, Mulinalaghta, Belturbet, Blacklion, Cootehill, Killeshandra and Mountnugent for years.

They rattle off the tongue. Yet it was my first visit to the county.

However, it wasn’t difficult to see why Wallace and Pryce had a constant smile on their faces.

They are living and working in a piece of heaven.

Rates for midweek with overnight, breakfast and dinner from €109.50 per person sharing.

I’ll be back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff.

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