Anne Whelton samples some of the finer things in life during a weekend at Dunboyne Castle Hotel & Spa and learns something about balancing the past and the present.
Balance, is a tricky thing; particularly in the hospitality industry. Gone are the days when a place to lay your head was all that was expected.
Now, it’s even more important for hotels to have it all — the best facilities, the most picturesque views, the finest food, the most comfortable beds — all housed in a visually pleasing building and all easily accessible from a city, or at the very least, a large town.
With welcomed and vastly improved hotel standards in Ireland over the past 15 years — thank you Celtic Tiger — many can now claim to have found this balance, and most now possess at least four of the five items on a guest’s ‘hit list’. Still, the elusive ‘lucky number five’, remains, for many, at arm’s length.
So, it was with great anticipation that on a Friday afternoon in May, we packed up the car and hit the road for Dunboyne, Co. Meath, to a hotel that claims to boast the full repertoire.
Where past meets present
Nestled on the outskirts of Dublin — a mere 12km from Dublin Airport — the four star Dunboyne Castle Hotel & Spa stands proudly on 21 acres of mature, manicured lawns and gardens and offers extensive accommodation options, with 145 large guestrooms and suites available.
Close to all of the capital’s amenities, at just 18km from Dublin city centre, yet quintessentially ‘Meath’ — the statue of local man and former Meath football manager, Seán Boylan, that adorns the hotel’s main entrance will attest to that. At first glance, Dunboyne certainly seems to have it all; class and sophistication, akin to a Jane Austen novel, in the beautifully restored Georgian manor and stylist modernity in the hotel’s contemporary wings.
Yet what lies behind these walls? We were soon to find out.
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ Austen’s Mr Darcy aside, the same could certainly be said about any one of the 22 Barons of Dunboyne, and this building’s history is as chequered as that of Darcy’s fictional Pemberley, if not more.
The barony at Dunboyne is shown to have dated from at least 1207, but the original castle on the Dunboyne estate — owned by the famous historical Butler family — was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell himself, when he dispatched the Butler family to Connaught — along with all the other Catholics who would not cooperate with him — in the mid-1650s.
The first part of the present-day castle at Dunboyne was built at the start of the 1700s and the main building, as it is today, was completed in 1764. The last of the Butlers to reside in the castle was the 22nd Baron of Dunboyne, John Butler, Catholic Bishop of Cork.
Upon inheriting the title, Butler controversially left Catholicism and became a Protestant in the hopes of marrying and producing an heir. While he did the former, the latter unfortunately was not to be and his only child died in childhood. Since Butler’s death, the castle has passed through many families — the Butler-O’Briens, Sadlier, Morrough-Ryans and Watchmans.
In 1955, Dunboyne became home to the Good Shepherd Sisters who remained there until the early 1990s, when the estate was bought by the Keating family.
By 1999, when it was acquired by its present owners, Dunboyne Castle was in much need of repair. By 2006, however, it was fully restored to its original state and opened as Dunboyne Castle Hotel & Spa.
Wined and dined
Continuing our ‘live like landed gentry’ theme of the weekend, after a short perambulation around Dunboyne’s lush grounds, it was time to retreat indoors and dine on an extravagant supper at the castle’s award-winning restaurant, The Ivy.
Recently awarded two AA Rosettes for culinary excellence and overlooking the castle’s formal gardens, The Ivy serves up the very best in local produce and sooths your senses with its refreshingly, relaxed ambiance and cordial staff.
To start with, we feasted on the carpaccio of Angus beef, served with pickled carrot, aged parmesan, wholegrain mustard dressing and baby rocket; and a seared fillet of seabass with cream cheese and baby spinach ravioli and roasted red pepper velouté.
After a palate cleansing sorbet, I enjoyed the, cooked-to-perfection, roast fillet of monkfish, served with smoked paprika, chorizo and petit pois risotto. While my companion went for the wonderfully presented assiette of McCarren Pork – A pork fillet wrapped in smoked bacon and a slow confit of pork belly, accompanied with black pudding bon bons, carrot purée, Savoy cabbage and redcurrant jus.
For desert, I indulged in a passion fruit delice and much needed coffee, while my friend enjoyed a flavoursome Munster cheeseboard.
From the unpretentious, yet impeccable cuisine – mastered to perfection by executive head chef, John Nagle and his team – to the outstanding service we received, our dining experience at The Ivy was exceptional, and certainly of high commendation.
Full of good food and wine, we just had time for a quick nightcap in the Sadlier Bar before retiring to our room for a good night’s sleep.
Serenity at Seoid
The next morning it was time for even more pampering with a treatment at Dunboyne’s famous, Seoid Spa. Covering 14,000 sq. ft, the Seoid Spa is spread over three floors, and features everything you would expect from a quality spa, and more.
Offering a host of Voya 100% organic treatments for men and women as well as luxurious Mama Mio treatments designed for pregnant guests, the Seoid’s treatment list is both extensive and varied.
The same applies to the spa’s facilities. From the exquisite hydrotherapy pool and thermal suites, to a crystal steam room, herb sauna and laconium; Seoid also offers an outdoor hot tub, mud treatment in the Rasul and a Sabbia Med chamber – where spa guests can enjoy the sensation of lying on a warm sandy beach; one of the more popular attractions for guests in the depths of an Irish winter I’m sure!
From the unpretentious, yet impeccable cuisine … to the outstanding service we received, our dining experience at The Ivy was exceptional …”
After a dip in the hydrotherapy pool it was time for a Voya Organic Seaweed Leaf Wrap. My therapist, Rachel, began the treatment with a detoxifying body brushing, followed by applying 100% organic marine algae wrap to my skin, before wrapping me in muslin and a thermal blanket.
While the seaweed got to work on my skin, I was treated to a soothing head and shoulders massage to banish any tension and finally, after the seaweed was removed, moisturised within an inch of my life. Upon leaving the spa I felt rested, refreshed and in the possession of enviable soft skin.
However, how quickly it all ended! After two wonderful days of relaxation, it was with heavy hearts that we packed up the car again and headed back to Dublin. But we now know that another relaxing weekend in Dunboyne is just a short drive away.
The hit list
Whether visiting Dunboyne alone, as a couple, or with the whole family, Co. Meath has plenty to offer. Here are our top 10 suggestions for fun-filled days in the Royal County.
1. Newgrange and Brú na Bóinne UNESCO World Heritage Site
2. The Hill of Tara
3. Trim Castle and heritage town
4. Bective Abbey
5. Slane Castle
6. Tayto Park
7. Golf at Killeen Castle
8. Fishing on Rathbeggan Lakes
9. Horse racing at Fairyhouse
10. Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre at Oldbridge House.
Stay and dine at Dunboyne
Enjoy an overnight stay in a deluxe double or twin room with full Irish breakfast and a three course meal in the award winning restaurant, The Ivy, for just €169 per couple. More here.
Available on selected dates, limited weekend availability