Surrounded by swathes of green at the foot of the Slieve Bloom mountains, the vast regency mansion of Ballyfin is steeped in history, romance, tranquility and incredible natural beauty. We take a look at four of the most intriguing things you never knew about Ballyfin Hotel, ranked 12th in International Traveller’s prestigious “100 Best Hotels & Resorts” list.
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1. There Are Only 15 Rooms…
Long admired as the most lavish regency mansion in Ireland, Ballyfin’s estate sprawls across 600 acres of land. Yet the hotel only includes 15 rooms, making it one of the world’s most exclusive destinations. The perfect place for a break from the stresses of the modern world, Ballyfin provides discretion and privacy like few other destinations.
Every room and each suite in the house offers an impressive array of amenities, specially chosen to give guests a sense of Irish tradition and hospitality. Rooms include the Lady Sarah Pole Room, which offers spectacular views out over the pleasure grounds and the cascade. This delightful room on the mezzanine floor is appropriately named after Sarah, the daughter of the Earl of Drogheda.
The Lady Caroline Coote junior suite is also among the most pleasingly elegant bedrooms at the world’s top mansion hotel, offering a graceful rococo stucco work ceiling. It was formerly Lady Coote’s boudoir.
2. It’s the Birthplace of a Famous Giant…
Steeped in Irish history, the site of Ballyfin has been settled from ancient times. Legend has it that one of mythology’s most famous giants, Finn McCool, was born here. When trying to stave off the threat of an enemy, Finn was said to have hurled a large piece of land that became the Isle of Man. The hole left behind by the clump of land became Lough Neagh.
Since then, the site of Ballyfin has been ancestral home to a number of families renowned in Irish history, including the Wellesley-Poles – the family of the Duke of Wellington. It was the Coote family, however, who built the mansion.
The Coote family was descended from Sir Charles Coote, an Elizabethan adventurer who came to Ireland in 1601. The Coote coat-of-arms is prominently displayed above the entrance to Ballyfin. The house itself was built in the 1820s and the family enjoyed the house for exactly one hundred years. The Cootes employed a large team of servants to preserve the life of refined leisure that is documented in Edwardian photographs – showing tea on the terrace or skating in the walled garden.
3. There’s a Secret Passageway in the Library…
Like any good historic mansion, there’s a secret passageway in the library. The 80 foot library, running the entire length of the mansion’s south façade, is home to over 5000 books. Perfect for whiling away a few hours with some of the finest classic literature, or conversations in the quiet corners, one of the bookshelves has a secret doorway. Manage to find it and you’ll be on your way to the sun-filled conservatory; tropical and balmy.
All the state rooms reflect the origins of Irish country homes, which were created as places for entertainment. The decoration of these interiors has long been acclaimed as among the finest of the Neoclassical and Empire periods in Ireland.
Aside from the library and conservatory at the world’s best mansion hotel, guests may enjoy the grandeur of the enormous saloon at the heart of the house, or the elegance of the drawing room, with its French inspired decoration and beautiful ceiling of rich stucco work.
4. Just Over a Decade Ago, its Future was Uncertain…
Having fallen into disrepair over the years, Ballyfin has been painstakingly restored over the course of the last decade. The urgent need for repairs had become all too apparent when a large part of the ceiling in the gold drawing room collapsed having been undermined by wet rot.
Masonry was falling from the façade and the conservatory, choked with overgrown vegetation, was in a dangerous state. The future of one of Ireland’s finest houses was perilously uncertain.
The restoration project has taken nine years – significantly longer than it took to build the house in the first place. Every single aspect of the house from the roof down required remedial attention. Skilled craftsmen worked on the elaborate inlaid floors, repaired the gilding and the stucco work or treated the stone work of the house which was disintegrating.
After this, redecoration began. The house was furnished with a collection of Irish art and antiques from around the world, fine Irish mahogany, French chandeliers and mirrors by Thomas Chippendale. The result is spectacular and today the mansion once again exudes grandeur and warmth, providing the kind of welcome envisaged when the house was first built.
Like what you see? You could stay in the world’s finest mansion hotel, as part of a romantic country escape.