Grandeur on the Green

By Anne Whelton
02 March 2015
Shelbourne Hotel

Anne Whelton spends a night in the elegant surroundings of Dublin’s most iconic hotel, The Shelbourne, where the warmth and professionalism of the historical hotel’s staff far surpass expectations.

There’s a story often told about The Shelbourne Hotel — the grandest of Dublin’s grande old dames — that one of the hotel’s bedrooms is haunted by the ghost of a young girl.
Poor Mary Masters — the spirit in question — was seven years old when she died of cholera in 1846, and has been ‘spotted’ numerous times by both staff and guests, wandering the halls and causing the curtains to billow at 27, St Stephen’s Green.

Legend has it, that despite numerous attempts by mediums down through the years to ‘put Mary to rest’ her spirit refuses to leave; and after spending just one night in the lavish surroundings of The Shelbourne, I begin to understand why Mary is so steadfast in her immovability.

As I see it, this apparition is less of a restless spirit and more of a well-rested squatter with a taste for the finer things in life — which, as luck would have it, are all readily available at Mary’s ghostly fingertips at The Shelbourne.

History in the making

Now, before you, dear reader, begin to think that I’m fond of macabre matters, Mary Masters is not the only overnighter of note to grace the halls of The Shelbourne Hotel. In fact, throughout its 191 years, the hotel has played host to statesmen and women, Hollywood royalty and actual royalty, the literati and a First Lady or two.

Equally, I am confident that Oliver St John Gogarty – famous author, athlete, politician and a regular visitor to The Shelbourne – was not the only person to ask: “What would Dublin do without The Shelbourne, the host of whatever interesting visitors arrive from overseas?”

From John Wayne, Liz Taylor, Richard Burton and Rita Hayworth to Princess Grace, JFK, William Thackeray and Michelle Obama, everyone who’s anyone has rested their head on a Shelbourne pillow.

The Shelbourne remains the prototype for all large hotels  — I cannot help comparing all others with it.”

An imposing architectural figure on the north-east corner of St Stephen’s Green, The Shelbourne has long been a place of history and legend. Bunreacht na hÉireann was drafted in Room 112 in May 1922 under the stewardship of Michael Collins; the playwright George Moore wrote much of The Bending of the Bough at the hotel in the late 19th century; renowned rogue Peter O’Toole is said to have bathed in champagne during his stay; and as legend has it, The Chieftains were formed during a session at The Horseshoe Bar.

The Shelbourne’s history is nothing if not rich, however it has been its ability to adapt with the times that has allowed this exemplary hotel to maintain its position as Dublin’s largest five-star hotel and a jewel in the crown of Irish hospitality.

The stunning lobby/reception area at The Shelbourne

The stunning lobby/reception area at The Shelbourne Hotel


Be our guest

Speaking of hospitality, few can surpass the quality on display at The Shelbourne. From the moment you step inside the doors of this AA 5 Red Star hotel, it becomes apparent why it was named the ‘Best Hotel in Europe’ at the Marriott International Europe Awards in 2013.

From the personalised welcome at reception, the after-treatment refreshment plate at The Spa and the 100% Egyptian cotton sheets on every bed; to the freshly cut rose in every bathroom, The Book of Mormon to accompany The Bible in every bedside drawer, and — my personal favourite — the bowl of individually wrapped jelly beans for guests to graze on in every room; the focus, on even the minutiae details, is second to none at The Shelbourne.

Comprising 265 bedrooms, including 19 suites, we were lucky enough to stay in the spacious Martin Burke Suite during our sojourn, which offered a splendid vista of the Green and a bird’s eye view of the hustle and bustle of Dublin life on the streets below.

Of course, as with most of the rooms in this iconic hotel, our suite also had a story to tell, and it was the tale of the very foundations of the building in which we stood. The first owner of the hotel, Tipperary man Martin Burke, founded The Shelbourne on November 1st 1824 when he acquired three adjoining townhouses overlooking St Stephen’s Green.

At the time, Burke paid a down payment of £1,000, with the promise of another £2,000 at a later specified date. Burke was granted a lease on the buildings for 150 years provided he also paid the yearly rent of £300. Luckily, it seems Burke was more than able to comply with the conditions of his tenancy, as we stood in a suite named in his honour 190 years later.

History lesson aside for now, it was time for me to step forward in time and sample some of The Shelbourne’s more modern pleasures, in the form of its exclusive spa.

Rest for the weary

Set over three floors, The Spa at The Shelbourne is the largest in Dublin city centre and boasts six treatment rooms, a 17.5m swimming pool, thermal facilities, a dance studio and a gym for locals or holidaymakers to keep up with their fitness routine, or relax and unwind in, during their stay in Dublin.

This urban retreat offers an extensive range of treatments for both men and woman on a ‘stay and spa’ or ‘day spa’ basis and uses only the best products from well-respected skincare and spa brands, such as Elemis, Pevonia, Pañpuri and Cloon Keen. After pursuing the treatment list, I settled on the Celebratory Package which I thought would offer a good taster for what The Spa had to offer.

My outstanding therapist Christine, began my pampering treatment with a relaxing hot stone massage, followed by one of the best facials I have ever received, which I was assured left me looking at least 10 years younger!

Finally, I was whisked into the opulent relaxation room overlooking St Stephen’s Green where I was treated to a glass of Champagne with strawberries and a refreshment plate of fruit and sorbet before I drifted off to sleep for what felt like days.

The swimming pool at The Shelbourne Spa

The swimming pool at The Shelbourne Spa

Dining delights

When I finally did awake from my slumber it was time to sample some of The Shelbourne’s other renowned treats, in the form of its  sumptuous food at The Saddle Room restaurant.

Crowned the winner of the ‘Best Hotel Restaurant’ category at the 2013 Irish Restaurant Awards, it’s easy to see why The Saddle Room was a favourite with the judges. Specialising in steak and seafood — including oysters at the restaurant’s Oyster Bar —The Saddle Room offers the perfect surrounds in which to enjoy an intimate meal, whether you’re talking business or pleasure, or both.

Head chef, Garry Hughes presents a contemporary menu which makes use of the very best of Irish produce from both land and sea. The quickest of glances at the menu uncovers a host of mouthwatering dishes created using local and national delights in the form of Liscannor crabs, Knockdrinna goat’s cheese, Charleville beef, Dublin Bay prawns, Clonakilty Black Pudding and Skeaghanore duck.

As we had now become accustomed to during our stay, the service at The Saddle Room was exceptional. Our charming waiter David was on hand to recommend wine, discuss the consistency of the Marie Rose sauce with the Lambay lobster cocktail and exchange pleasantries.

Similarly, The Saddle Room offers an exceptional dining experience on any budget. While we enjoyed the seared Bantry scallops and confit rabbit leg ‘rillettes’ to start and roast monkfish and a 32-day aged sirloin steak for our main courses from the à la carte menu, The Saddle Room also offers an extremely reasonable pre-theatre menu of €29.95 for three courses.

Of course dinner at The Saddle Room wouldn’t be complete without a nightcap in one of The Shelbourne’s two bars — The Horseshoe Bar and No. 27 Bar & Lounge. We chose No. 27 for some award-winning signature cocktails and people watching before turning in for the night.

The intimate surroundings of The Saddle Room

The intimate surroundings of The Saddle Room


The warmest of welcomes

Author Elizabeth Bowen once wrote that ‘The Shelbourne remains the prototype for all large hotels  — I cannot help comparing all others with it’, and after being immersed in ‘The Shelbourne experience’ for a day, I would hasten to agree with her.

There is something quintessentially Irish about this grand hotel — it has both watched and shaped our history over the past 190 years and continues to embody the ‘Ireland of a thousand welcomes’ mentality which has become synonymous with our people and our country.

Whether you’re from Hollywood or Harold’s Cross, Monaco or Macroom, every guest that crosses the threshold at The Shelbourne is treated to the same exceptionally warm welcome and impeccable service, and long may it continue.

No 27 Bat at The Shelbourne Hotel, the perfect spot for some people watching

No 27 Bat at The Shelbourne Hotel, the perfect spot for some people watching