Hotel Review: Ballyfin Demesne, Ireland

This magnificent Regency building, an Irish country house, offers supreme calm in grand, stately surroundings in the remote grounds of Ballyfin.

By Sharron Livingston on 13 June 2014 in Travel Articles

Ballyfin is a grand neo-classical stately home located in County Laois around 90 miles from Dublin. This Relais & Chateaux property stands proud in the middle of 600 acres of of lush, green land.


When you arrive in front of its sandstone facade, you are greeted by a team of uniformed staff who open the car doors, greet you by name and take your luggage. It's very posh.

Sandstone facade

There's a lot to see on the grounds including a parish church, several follies such as a viewing tower (built to give employment during the potato famine), a temple, a couple of lakes and a grotto.

Tower folly built to create jobs during the potato famine

There are bikes and golf buggies parked by the lake, but the best way to see it all is by pony and trap driven by Lionel who points out the rockery garden, a cave once used as a fridge, the huge vegetable and herb gardens and the bird house (which has little doors for the likes of peacocks to enter).

Tours of Ballyfin by pony and trap

It's sensational but the house itself is more so. It was once the home of Sir Charles Coote, ninth baronet of Mountrath, who lived in it in the 19th Century. During World War II, the family fell on hard times and sold it to the Patrician Brothers who turned it into a Roman Catholic school. But during this time the house fell into disrepair and was eventually bought by an American millionaire, Fred Krehbiel, who restored it over a period of nine years. 

To get a real sense of its provenance you can take an hour long tour of the house by Declan who was a former pupill. This includes an explanation that the floor you stand on in the entrance is a 2,000 year old Roman mosaic and a visit to the extensive wine cellar.

There are six rooms in which to repose such as the Whispering Room, The Salon and the Gold Drawing Room (real gold leaf) and each is crammed with antiques and works of art including Thomas Chippendale mirrors and art by Louis Le Broquy and most have roaring fireplaces. The 80 foot library is particularly interesting, filled as it is with 5,000 ancient books a fireplace at either end and a bow window that overlooks a grand Italian marble fountain. The original fountain was not dead centre to the view and so they moved it two feet for a more pleasing visual effect.

Who for:
The stately demeanour of the house appeals to affluent couples or small groups perhaps celebrating an important anniversary. It's the kind of place you dress for dinner and maintain decorum and the overriding feeling is of peace, calm and tranquility.

Incidentally, Kim Kardashian celebrated her honeymoon here.

There are just 15 rooms, all different yet all quite exquisite and all with antiques and works of art and some with silk walk coverings and amazing drapes. The Tapestry room has real Flemish tapestries hanging on its walls and the round Sir Charles Coote Room which is entered via a hidden door, has a splendid marble sarcophagus bath. All rooms have a view either of the lake or of a magnificent tiered waterfall, both of which are surrounded by beautiful green lawns.

A typically sumptuous bedroom

There is a spa with an elegant pool and treatment rooms for massages and pampering. A row of bikes parked outside are available free to cycle around the grounds as are golf buggies.

Sporty guests can use the tennis courts or go boating or fishing on the 28 acre lake or even try their hand at clay pigeon shooting, falconry and archery. Equestrians can go horse riding and beginners can learn to do so in the paddock.

Uniquely, there is also a costume room filled with 40 period costumes for guests to wear. It brings a whole new dimension to the phrase "dress for dinner" and makes for some fantastic photographs and a fabulously fun evening.

Dressing for dinner

Food and Drink:
Many of the ingredients for breakfast, lunch and dinner are sourced from the grounds - eggs from the estate's own chickens, honey from their own beehives and fruit, herbs and vegetables from their own gardens. All meals, including high tea are included in the room rate. So are all the drinks and snacks in the mini bars in the rooms.

Lunch is taken on the conservatory (Organgerie) and dinner in the dining room.

Wi-Fi available:
Yes it is free throughout the hotel.

Room Rates:
From 900 euros per night

Value for money:
This sort of consideration does not really apply to a place like this. All food and soft drinks are included in the room rates, but those who come here are not looking for a bargain, but for a peaceful, quiet retreat surrounded by elegance and tranquility in a place that seems far away from everywhere.

How to get there:
Fly to Dublin and then drive westwards about 90 minutes.


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