Ireland’s Blue Book New Member Fernhill House Hotel and Gardens
On a recent visit to Clonakilty I was wooed by the vibrancy and uniqueness of this town that has much to boast about. It has seen more than its fair share of cognoscenti over the years too and I found out about them when I stayed at Fernhill House Hotel. This stately home is perched only a few minute’s walk from the town centre.
Set against a backdrop of rolling hills, Fernhill House Hotel is oozing with stories from the area and the past that are framed by the beautiful grounds and garden. I met Micheal O’Neill the great grandson of Michael O’Neill and Bridget Walsh who bought the house in the 1940s. It was their son Con who turned it into a country house hotel in the 1960s. With generations of care and enthusiastic management it has developed into one of Ireland’s premium wedding venues and a luxurious stop off for a mid week or weekend break.
Fernhill House has recently joined Irelands blue book and won a gold medal in the peer reviewed catering awards for best wedding venue. It is easy to see why it is so popular with a purpose built marquee and pergola for outdoor ceremonies. The rooms are spacious with modern en-suites, ours boasted a beautiful Victorian bath to soak in, which I always enjoy for a bit of pampering.
In 1828 Fernhill was the most expensive house in the town and valued at the princely sum of £28. Its distinguished visitors included Lord Aitken who brought the first case of compensation to the House of Lords with the snail in the bottle story. Photographs of Michael Collins and JFKennedy sit side by side as the president’s great-grand mother hailed from over the hill and left Ireland just after the famine. Michael Collins granny was from the same townland and according to Michael we can only what the world would be like had JFK’s ancestor stayed and Michael Collins granny emigrated.
William Morris prints frame the walls and represent the unique creative process brought about by the arts and craft movement in the 19th century and echo the style and design of the property. Indeed the walls are covered with works of art that all relate to the house or the gardens and create an interesting homage to the artists who have had associations with the house.
The library is fascinating and was the original front room in the hotel before it received a facelift and extension. Names in the bibliography include a cousin of the family, Irish author Louise O’Neill. With other auspicious names connected to the family such as Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, author of Molly Bawn that was referenced in Ulysses and best known for her quote “beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the legacy behind the walls is steeped with a literary pedigree.
We enjoyed dinner from the menu which had something for everyone. I chose the hake and himself ordered the duck. The desserts are delicious and I enjoyed a sample of the houses own Fernhill Gin in the cosy hotel bar after dinner in front of a real fire.
Gold medal winner at the Chelsea flower show, Mary Reynolds is responsible for the garden design, awarding it prominence in the West Cork Garden Trail. Michael was mayor of Clonakilty, like his father before him, and he is as passionate about the success of every business in the town as his own. He recommended that we pop down to deBarras Bar for a spot of live music that night.
For a Wednesday the bar was full and I was assured by the locals that it’s a lively spot at weekends when the back stage is opened. Jimi Hendriks bass guitarist spent many nights playing here as he lived in Dunowen House which has been turned into a B&B and is also part of Irelands Blue Book. Clonakilty is a colourful town with bespoke and artisan shops filling the streets. The life and vibrancy includes two major tourist attractions in the shape of the distillery at the end of the town and the Michael Collins House at number 7 Emmet Square.
This charming Georgian building has been sympathetically preserved in memory of where the Irish Patriot lived with a mix of video and interactive displays. Interesting artefacts include his bicycle and clothing belonging to his girlfriend Kitty. Entrance for adults is €6 and includes video and authentic displays from the life and times of the man.
The Clonakilty distillery is housed in a 200 year old building that was originally a warehouse for storing goods from the nearby port. The building has been carefully restored and converted into a modern distillery, while still retaining its historic character.
Clonakilty distillery produces several different whiskeys, including a single pot still whiskey, a blend and a cask strength whiskey. The distillery also produces a small batch gin called MINKE gin which is named after the minke whales that can be seen off the coast of west Cork. The distillery offers tours and tastings, where visitors can learn about the distilling process and sample, the different spirits produced on site. Open seven days a week from April a tour and tasting from €18 is a nice way to put in the afternoon in this vibrant town.
Fernhill House Hotel have their own gin too and a range of beautiful products including candles and diffusers that will be gorgeous for gifts to bring home after your stay.
With many quirky shops and cafes there is much to explore. Clonakilty is a town that with years of careful attention is reaping just desserts and that is the best pudding of all.
To stay at Fernhill House Hotel the midweek B&B rate for one night for two people in May is from €199 for more see www.irelands-blue-book.ie/ or fernhillhousehotel.com