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Ballyfin carriage

A carriage pulls up before Ballyfin to give us a tour of the 640-acre estate. Photo by David Lansing.

Late in the afternoon we went for a carriage ride around the estate ending up at a five-story medieval-style stone tower perched on a hill with views of the Slieve Bloom mountains. The tower is a folly, which means there was no practical purpose to it; it was built solely for decoration.

Actually, that’s not completely true in the case of the Ballyfin Tower. It was built by the original owner, Sir Charles Coote, in the 1860s in a bid to give jobs to the local population during the potato famine. So it at least served some purpose.

Ballyfin Tower

The Ballyfin Tower, built as a folly in the 1860s. Photo by David Lansing.

When we got to the top of the tower, there was a young Irish couple up there. We’d noticed them earlier having tea in the library. The young woman’s face was mottled and she was dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. Seeing our concerned look, she smiled and cried at the same time. “He’s just proposed!” she blurted.

The young man told us the story: He’d lured the young girl out to Ballyfin to have tea, which appeared to be quite the coup since the hotel is only open to those staying there (no lookyloos). After tea, he’d suggested they climb up the tower for a quick peek before leaving. Then he’d dropped to one knee and presented the ring. All very dramatic. Imagine telling that story to your children one day.

Of course, he’d lied about not staying at Ballyfin as well. “It’s costing a bloody fortune,” said the young man, “but I think it’s worth it.”

No doubt he’s right. I have a feeling we won’t see them at dinner.

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Gobsmacked at Ballyfin


Our arrival at Ballyfin. All photos by David Lansing.

Pulling up in front of Ballyfin I am gobsmacked. The size of the estate. The size of the house. The staff—all lined up in front of the stairs waiting for our arrival. We’re so intimidated that for the longest time, we refuse to get out of our vehicle. As if we’ve just intruded on a G8 conference and the staff here thinks the Obamas have arrived instead of us.

Mouths open, we follow behind a bellman who has a piece of luggage in each hand and is hustling up the steps. A pretty lass with strawberry blond hair says, “Cead mile failte.” A thousand welcomes. Her name is Carolina. We shake her hand. Next to her is Sorcha. “You’re most WEL-come,” she says, in that Irish way. “Please come in.”

I haven’t been outside of our vehicle since early this morning yet still I feel the need to wipe my feet before going inside. But there’s nothing to wipe them on. Sorcha leads us down the entrance hall with its antique Italian mosaic floor, through a doorway topped with giant elk horns, through the Whispering Room, and to the robin’s-egg-blue stair hallway where half-a-dozen grand portraits fill the walls.

“Are those real?” I stupidly ask.

Sorcha smiles but does not laugh. “Yes,” she says. “They’re original 19th century Coote family portraits. Some are quite good.”

The Cootes, you see, once owned Ballyfin which was built in the 1820s.

The Mountrath Room at Ballyfin.

Up the stairs, still gobsmacked, down a long corridor or two we get to the Mountrath Room. “Here we are,” says Sorcha, pulling back the heavy drapes to reveal views of the conservatory and, perfectly framed by our window, a watery stair case cascading down to a pond where Neptune appears to be sunning.

“Cocktails are at six in the Gold Room,” she says. And with that, she quietly closes the door behind her, leaving us to ponder several things: How come we didn’t have to register? And why have we no room key? And, most importantly, how have we ended up in this enchanted manor house?

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