<![CDATA[Teaching Irish History in Australia - Travel Tour Reviews]]>Sun, 06 Mar 2016 20:08:01 +0000Weebly<![CDATA[Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa, Co. Cork]]>Thu, 14 Jan 2016 17:50:07 GMThttp://www.irishhistoryaustralia.com/travel-tour-reviews/inchydoney-island-lodge-and-spa-co-corkPictureThe view! The Sunset! The beach!
 I had never been to West Cork before- my area of History always having lay in Northern Ireland, and my visits to the Republic, although wandering to Cork City, didn't venture further in the Atlantic direction. This in mind, I wasn't sure what to expect. Driving through the beautiful little villages, I began to suspect that what I had in store would be nice indeed, and how right I was. I wove my way through Clonakilty, very much now in 'Collins Country' and admired the pretty town, then around a waterway into the greenest, most beautiful landscape one could imagine. A short push up a hill, then down one, displayed the ocean, serene and pale green, lapping against the sands so much darker than home. Either side of this area was framed by low, flat cliff faces, the grass upon them so smooth it looked like something from an artwork. In the centre of this idyllic setting was Inchydoney Island Lodge- with each room gazing out into the stunning ocean and beach, and a warm, welcoming foyer glowing with the light of a roaring wood fire.
The welcome couldn't have been any more impressive if I had been asked 'How do you like to arrive at a hotel?'
The reception was warm, friendly and informative, a porter rushed to the bags with a smile, and the offer of Irish Whiskey from a crystal decanter was a pleasure indeed. 
Through the beautiful hall to the elevator and I arrived at room 411. From the window onto a beautiful balcony I could see the shore and ocean just beneath me, the sun setting over the cliffs of the distance as West Cork melted into the Atlantic. Gentle lighting, modern, classic furniture and the most comfortable bed so far- Finally somewhere in Europe understands Australians like a sheet under the quilt!
The room was spacious and clean, the decorating beachy and appealing. I had booked for one night and rather thought I might move in for good!
A few photos on the balcony and I noticed my welcome- a personal note, handwritten from the hotel operations manager plus a stunning (and tasty) chocolate platter welcoming me (and even using my twitter name! Fantastic!)- the chocolates are handmade and can also be purchased at the hotel- I hope my Brother in law and sister will enjoy the ones I have bought them- I sure enjoyed the ones in the room! I admit my purchases weren't only for selfless reasons- I did get myself some of the delicious, melt-in-the-mouth local shortbread. A personal weakness.
Dinner in the Gulfstream Resturaunt, overlooking the ocean. Sensational, perhaps the best meal I've had in Ireland. Gourmet starters, little tasters (the prawn was amazing- something to be said, as someone I know claims, for eating good seafood when you can literally see its home) then onto the freshest scallops I remember having. The main was chicken, beautifully cooked and swimming in a light, pesto cream sauce. I wish I could have fitted dessert in- Maybe tonight- I'll let you know!
Which of course, brings me to how nice it was, when weary from travel I returned to the room to find an offer, slipped under the door, to stay another night for a very discounted and generous price. I took the hotel up on this and enquired about a third night (more than happy to forsake the hotel I had reserved in Cork- thank goodness not to late to cancel!) and the price was matched by the charming and friendly reception team. There had also been a voucher for spa use- Sadly those in the area for historical research don't have time- but next time I would, the treatments sounded amazing.

Future hotels will have a hard time beating this. What a welcome!
Room with a view!
From start to finish, nothing was too much trouble. An extra pillow? Easy. Dinner reservations? Done. The staff were, without exception, friendly, warm and genuine in their approach. The hotel was beautifully decorated with artwork and, at each landing, comfortable armchairs. There was, I discovered in my wanderings, even a creche area for children- with more games (and a pirate figure that gave me a fright when I first saw it- kids would love that thing!) that one could dream of. A residents lounge was comfortable, with books and the exquisite tinkling of piano (where on a wet and windy afternoon I worked on my article and enjoyed a nice coffee and afternoon tea- the biscuits were delicious!) and the breakfast was delicious- with beautiful fresh fruit, yogurt, pancakes, mini muffins and hot breakfast to order. The coffee was, at last, for we know how selective I am, delicious.
Each night the turn down service arrived with handmade chocolates and the offer of extra water, towels and anything I needed. Of course, the chocolates were never refused, and served on a beautiful scallop shell. Today, after freezing on an amazing tour of places relevant to Michael Collins with a local expert (you can see my information on this on the resources tab of the website!), I came in from the icy roads to lunch at the bar and bistro- a nice coffee, and the delicious tapas plate that included fresh Atlantic smoked salmon and local produce. Excellent and fresh!
The room was warm, but not overheated and I felt the extra two nights were the perfect choice towards the end of a long research trip. The only question is... how soon can I return?
​For images from the beautiful Inchydoney Island Lodge, please see below.

<![CDATA[Horse and Jockey Hotel, Thurles]]>Thu, 14 Jan 2016 17:16:23 GMThttp://www.irishhistoryaustralia.com/travel-tour-reviews/horse-and-jockey-hotel-thurlesPicture
It may indeed be a long way to Tipperary, but after driving it, pulling into the Horse and Jockey, near Thurles, was a massive relief. It had been a decent drive in pouring rain, so stopping was just what was needed.
The hotel has a long and impressive history; It has been an inn for over 250 years, standing at one of the great crossroads of Ireland- about halfway between Cork and Dublin, the 'unofficial' and 'official' capitals of the nation.
It boasts a leisure centre, spa and giftshop, as well as a cafe and dining room. It's apparently very popular as a location for conferences- Coca Cola were clearly having a session there on the day I departed, and the conference facilities, according to what I glimpsed, were impressive and well equipped.
It also boasts a proud Irish history- Wolfe Tone and his United Irishmen met there in the 1700s and a copy of the Belfast Agreement is near the cafe, which I admit served a very nice latte. It also served various cakes and teas that looked nice, had I not been so tired!
A wander through the little giftshop on the grounds was a pleasure- a lot of the items weren't really my thing, horse related and so forth, but they were very cute. There was nice jewellery and a few scarves, in addition to cups, plates, and gardening equipment. The 'Bakery' in the foyer also sold gourmet items that were tasty looking, as well as fresh rolls and pastries.
Had a small meal and settled in for the evening, watching a little TV- easy to work, which some aren't. Comfortable bed, but what I suspect was a generator outside hummed until very late- keeping me awake and ensuring that I had to keep the window shut. I believe it may have been something to do with being located near the kitchen, but it was irritating, especially when one likes fresh air. I'm very much not one for sitting in a stuffy room (something which drives people at work insane- just as the demand to have the heater on drives me mad) so this didn't sit well.
​Breakfast the next morning was very nice- some fresh fruit wouldn't have gone astray but the service was friendly and warm, the coffee nice and the selection impressive.
A nice hotel if passing through or holding a meeting, but I needed sleep. I would return, but would ask for a room away from the carpack.

<![CDATA[Old Ground Hotel- Ennis]]>Mon, 11 Jan 2016 18:13:13 GMThttp://www.irishhistoryaustralia.com/travel-tour-reviews/old-ground-hotel-ennisPictureOld Ground Hotel, Ennis
Ennis is a nice little market town between Westport and Cork, and the Old Ground is a beautiful hotel. Situated opposite the statuesque cathedral, the hotel has a rather nationalistic background- hardly surprising- we're heading towards Michael Collins territory here! The Old Ground was the headquarters of Sinn Fein from 1917 onwards and also hosted multiple meetings for the IRA around that time- at one point the RUC burned the furniture on the front lawn in frustration during the War of Independence. The hotel's website has an interesting essay on its history and it is well worth a read, especially if you're interested in the path of Irish nationalism. It's stunning in its age- built in the 18th century, it has lost none of its original charm, from the roaring fire in the lobby area to the old-fashioned dining area. 
Just down from the main dining area (where breakfast included a delicious scone and the first fruit smoothie I've been offered while here!) is the Poet's Corner Bar- Live music and a great, panelled atmosphere. 
My one concern was at about 11 PM- Normally not an issue, but when you're driving around, cold and disorientated you need sleep- the downstairs restaurant crowd were incredibly loud. I recommend a room at the back! This died down around midnight and wasn't an issue again.
I was woken at 7.30 by the bells of the Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul- very much in view from my window on the 4th Floor. These were loud, but not an unpleasant way to awaken- I should have been up earlier anyway!
A beautiful hotel- Just ask for a room not above the restaurant and bar area. Well worth the stay.

A beautiful view- The Cathedral opposite the hotel.
<![CDATA[Maldron, Derry]]>Fri, 08 Jan 2016 19:38:01 GMThttp://www.irishhistoryaustralia.com/travel-tour-reviews/maldron-derryPictureView of the Bogside from the hotel. The best thing was seeing this so clearly at night from a warm hotel room, sometimes!
Last time I stayed in Derry, I stayed outside the city walls. Given that everything in the city revolves (like in most walled cities) around a central diamond (eg. town square!) I wanted, this time, to be located a little more centrally, especially if it meant being able to wander the city with a little more freedom. The Maldron turned out to be perfect for this- plus it had one massive bonus that most hotels near the city centre didn't- car parking!
I admit that Derry's winding streets and 'wait and see who goes first' city gates are a little bit of a shock for the Australian driver, but the Maldron is easy to turn into, just by the gate on Butcher street. The carpark is surprisingly roomy- the website claims parking is limited, but I had no trouble- even when taking my car out to drive to Sinn Fein's offices, and then returning. On the final day's departure there was a work truck blocking the exit, but with typical Derry charm the driver was happy to move it so I could steer the 'tour-mobile' (eg. Mercedes I'm terrified to scratch) out of the parking lot.
The first night was a bit iffy. Exhausted from driving, I ended up in a room facing the road and felt somewhat like I was camping ON the road, given the noise. The next morning (bleary eyed) I wandered to reception- who were impossibly fantastic at addressing my lack of sleep. The lovely girl there instantly switched the room to one at the back of the hotel- and at this point, let me suggest that if you go to Derry, stay in the Maldron, and ask, beg or plead for a room on the forth floor, back of the hotel. It was fantastic. Not only was the room of a beautiful size, but the view over the Bogside was amazing. To sit on the windowsill and look down, easily able to identify the stunning Bogside murals and Free Derry Corner, even at midnight, was surreal and stunning for the passionate historian.
A couple of visits to the lyric bar beside the hotel proved to be worthwhile- a cheery bar staff, quick, reasonably priced food nice quality made things easy, and the hotel was happily central that anywhere in the city walls was a quick and easy stroll. 

Would most certainly stay again!

Note: If you do happen to wander to Derry and find yourself at the Maldron- wander down the side street along the city wall until you find Checkpoint Charlies. This fantastic little shop sells a collection of Derry paraphernalia, mostly relating to the Bogside. The lady who runs it was a delight and it is a bit of a must for anyone with an interest in Derry's history.

Although I didn't get much sleep from the first room- you couldn't argue with this view!
<![CDATA[The Fitzwilliam, Belfast]]>Fri, 01 Jan 2016 11:57:22 GMThttp://www.irishhistoryaustralia.com/travel-tour-reviews/the-fitzwilliam-belfastPictureDelicious Christmas pudding at the Fitzwilliam, Belfast
Stayed: 29th and 30th of December
After a long drive in the world's most horrific rental car (I won't be recommending Avis Dublin Airport, although i stand by my belief that Avis are an excellent company to hire from- especially after they fixed the issue in record time and with amazing service), I arrived at the Fitzwilliam. I had selected it because finding a hotel in Belfast that has parking is much like finding a decent bakery on Sydney's northern beaches- difficult!
From the word go, the Fitzwilliam was a delight. The hire car from Hades was collected at the drop-off point by the concierge, who unloaded our luggage and whisked the car away to a secure parking lot (where, a day later, Avis would be kind and exchange it for something better)- Check in with the friendly staff was a breeze and the room, on Floor 7 (executive room) was clean, modern and well laid out. Waiting for me in the room was a note of welcome and several small treats- a macaroon was amongst them, always a winner with me. The shower was fantastic- I find too many hotels these days are like showing under a hose- but the Fitzwilliam actually had water pressure- a relief after a long drive. The fluffy white towels were a bonus, too!
I had booked dinner and breakfast as part of the package and was impressed- the food was delicious, the staff attentive. Nothing was too difficult and service was quick and pleasant. The baked chicken was amazing, but the Christmas Pudding was to die for. Whoever they have in the kitchen there knows how do to a good meal.
The concierge desk was able to give directions without hesitation and several brochures for local attractions were found discreetly near the roaring fireplace in the reception area.
Upon departing, my bags were collected and loaded into the (new!) car with ease. The Fitzwilliam was just what I wanted from a city hotel. Fantastic location (Laundromat down the street, great shops within a ten minute walk (think Avoca. Fantastic) and the hop on/hop off bus stopping just a few doors down at the Europa (once the most bombed hotel in Europe, during the height of the Troubles)- I'm back there on January 2nd for another stay, so stay tuned for an update on this review!

<![CDATA[Cabra Castle Hotel]]>Mon, 28 Dec 2015 17:56:34 GMThttp://www.irishhistoryaustralia.com/travel-tour-reviews/cabra-castle-hotelPictureFront entrance to reception, Cabra Castle Hotel
Somewhat off the beaten track, this was another 'guess' at accomodation- I wanted somewhere out of Dublin, within easy reach of Newgrange and the Boyne site. Thanks to the trusty Navman (purchased in Australia, hired maps of Europe, so far hasn't led me too far astray) I found it at Cabra. What an amazing place. The original castle ruins are still close at hand- and date from around 1699.
The current building (or parts of it) date from the early 1800s and it is spectacular. The place has beauty, a little haunting history and some amazing rooms. The dining room itself was a feast for the eyes, from the stunning portraits to the beautiful and elegant decor. It's apparently a popular wedding venue- one was occurring when I arrived and I was told another was due to check in the next day. I can see why- the background, woodlands and a sprawling golf green- are stunning.
For a very decent price I had breakfast, dinner and a beautiful, second-story room in what I believe were once the stables, but are now stunning quarters. There are also cottages on the estate for larger groups to book and these were beautiful too. All up there were, I believe, 80 bedrooms, and I think that they were totally booked out when I stayed.
Dinner was amazing- Reached through a winding, but thankfully covered walkway that took me through towering hallways decorated with old portraits in a scene a little reminiscent of Disney's The Haunted Mansion, although far more charming and without the eerie sensation- although there is a distinct sense of history lingering. Dinner was a five course meal- the Irish Chicken was a standout- beautifully cooked and accompanied by fresh vegetables. Having snagged the best table- right by the central window (and very much in demand, if the loud requests of the man in front of me at checkin were anything to go by- Sorry sir, first come, first served!)- This meant a stunning view over the outdoor area, lit in a very Christmassy sense by fairylights. The rain was a pity- it must be amazing in summer.
breakfast was in the same beautiful dining hall- I must be an early riser, the place was deserted at 7am (and always confusing for Australians, who don't understand how it can be dark at this hour)- but the food was excellent-finally a good coffee, polite, attentive service and the option to order cooked food in addition to a nice buffet of fruits, cheese, pastries and cereal with chilled juices. From reading the hotel information it appears clay-pigeon shooting, horse riding, tennis and golf can all be arranged, although sitting and reading by the fire in one of the sitting rooms looked pretty tempting too, as did a nice drink in the very traditional and beautiful bar.
As an Australian, the chance to stay in castles isn't exactly an everyday thing- we don't have them! And Cabra was beautiful, the staff friendly and the food amazing. My second Irish castle stay (After the beautiful and haunted Ballygally in Northern Ireland) and maybe the best.

Elegant castle decor!
The stunning dining room
<![CDATA[Portmarnock Hotel And Golf Links]]>Sun, 27 Dec 2015 17:37:34 GMThttp://www.irishhistoryaustralia.com/travel-tour-reviews/portmarnock-hotel-and-golf-linksThis was a bit of a gamble- I hadn't been to Portmarknock before, but knew, having driven in Dublin before, that I didn't wish to navigate it after a series of planes and airports totalling close to 2 days!
What a lucky choice I made- this is a golf resort, only a 20 minute drive from Dublin Airport- easy to find and with a supermarket and chemist just around the corner. The hotel was beautiful- it is set both right on the coach (I could see the ocean from the room!) and in the grounds of an amazing golf course. Clearly those playing knew their stuff and were serious about the game- the onsite pr0-shop was very popular indeed and the golf buggies were tempting to my jetlagged mind.
You can book either a standard or ocean-view room. I recommend the ocean view- it is utterly stunning and I kept the window open through the night in order to hear the ocean- Mind you, I also heard the wild Irish coastal wind, but not being someone bothered about the cold, this wasn't an issue at all.
Service was fantastic and polite, very warm as I've found in most Irish hotels, both in the North and the Republic. The breakfast was a hot buffet, but service was quick and there was also the option of fruits, cereals, toast and pastries. 
All in all a beautiful location- morning saw me glance out the window and see men driving their horse-drawn, two-wheeled buggies up and down the sand as they raced. I also took in a short walk (in the bracing cold) amongst other morning-wanderers and noted the stunning coastline of the area.
If you're in need of an escape from the city- this isn't a bad option!
The beautiful coastline, right outside the hotel!