Ireland has seen an influx of tourism developments recently, with multiple hotel openings and event announcements making headlines. Most recently Tourism Ireland released a new ad campaign to coincide with the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which premiered December 15.
The campaign focused on filming locations along the Wild Atlantic Way, including Skellig Michael, an island off Ireland’s southwest coast. Audiences caught a glimpse of this location at the end of the last film, The Force Awakens, when it stood in for Ach-To, Luke Skywalker’s hide-out.
Tourism Ireland reports that The Last Jedi saw the cast return to Skellig Michael, as well as locations across Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, including Cork, Kerry, Clare and Donegal. As part of the celebration, the destination marketing organization released its “first tourism campaign in space” – a billboard perched above the earth advertising “Earth’s Wild Atlantic Way.”
In addition, Tourism Ireland has also released a promotional film celebrating the island’s Star Wars connections while highlighting holidays along the Wild Atlantic Way with Mark Hamill – aka Luke Skywalker.
The film includes the trademark Star Wars screen-wipe transitions and sound effects which fans will recognize, as well as several holiday destinations along Ireland’s western seaboard. At the end of the film, Mark Hamill addresses the camera: “Escape the dark side along Earth’s Wild Atlantic Way – the perfect place to get away from it all.”
Tourism Ireland says that, since the debut of The Force Awakens, hundreds of millions of visitors have stopped by Skellig Michael to view its "beehive" stone huts and ocean vistas. Other filming locations included Loop Head, Ballyferriter, Sybil Head and Brow Head near Crookhaven.
Meanwhile, in hotel news, The Shelbourne Hotel Dublin has announced the completion of the first phase in a multi-million euro refurbishment project.
Led by Guy Oliver, principal designer and owner of London-based Oliver Laws, the refurbishment includes enhancements to the hotel's Heritage Suites, Heritage Park View Rooms and the Grand Staircase, as well as the restoration of the hotel's façade.
Heritage Suites and Heritage Park View have been redesigned in a comfortable and contemporary style, with a scheme that reflects The Shelbourne’s national and historical importance. Many of the furnishings and fittings used in the decor have been designed, crafted or sourced in Ireland, including Waterford Crystal chandeliers, contemporary Celtic-themed embroidered curtains, and a collection of contemporary photography by Irish artist and photographer David Farrell. There are also marble chimneypieces and antique mirrors in the suites’ lounge areas, some with window seats overlooking St. Stephen's Green, as well as marble bathrooms. Each room and suite has Irish ephemera and artworks, often drawn from the hotel's own archive collection.
The two-bedroom Princess Grace Suite has also been enhanced with historical artwork, including two landscape oil paintings and prints by John Leech, an antique dining table from Fennelly Antiques and French chairs alongside a writing table in the drawing room, which was restored from the hotel's own antique furniture collection.
Situated in the hotel's main lobby, The Grand Staircase is also newly restored. Once completed the four tiers of windows on the Grand Staircase will have the crests of each of the 32 counties of Ireland, with each tier representing a province - Ulster, Connacht, Leinster and Munster.
In addition to the restoration, the hotel is offering A Suite Stay Package including five-star accommodations in one of the recently refurbished Heritage Suites complete with luxury amenities, including champagne and strawberries upon arrival and dinner for two at the hotel's restaurant, The Saddle Room. Rates start from $ 1720.69 for a Junior Suite and 1898.61 for a One Bedroom Suite. The package is valid now through May 31, 2018.
Adare Manor, a historic Neo-Gothic manor house in County Limerick, has also announced the completion of its largest renovation in 25 years. The five-star hotel closed its doors in January 2016 and officially reopened on November 2. The highly anticipated reopening saw a flood of new bookings, including 35 weddings.
Tudor-revival style enhancements include a new ballroom overlooking the river Maigue, complete with a grand staircase, marble floors and crystal chandeliers, and can accommodate 350 guests. Additional work on the property included external stonework, windows, doors, furniture and woodwork. The roof was also removed, repaired then put back in place. Electrical and mechanical systems were updated along with the installation of a new heating and cooling system for the guest rooms.
Adare Manor’s next project will see the addition of a new wing with 42 bedrooms, increasing the total room count to 104 guestrooms. There is also a brand-new golf course, designed by Tom Fazio, slated to open in spring 2018. Other facilities include a new boutique, the spa by La Mer, a 28-seat cinema for private film screenings, and fine dining venues including The Gallery where guests will be able to enjoy afternoon tea.
Along with these recent hotel announcements, four of Ireland’s most distinctive properties have just been selected as additions to Ireland’s Blue Book for its 2018 edition.
Announced on November 7 at the Blue Book Annual General Meeting of Blue Book hoteliers and restaurateurs at Castle Leslie Estate, Co. Monoghan, the four properties are Castle Grove Country House, Glenlo Abbey, Virginia Park Lodge, and the private rental property, Killadangan House. This brings the number represented by Ireland’s Blue Book to 53, the highest since 1974.
Ireland's Blue Book is the sole Irish representative association of Europe's leading heritage accommodation provider – Historic Hotels of Europe.
Castle Grove Country House in County Donegal is a family-run Georgian house, built in 1695 and set on a 250-acre estate at the end of a mile-long avenue near the shores of the Lough Swilly. It has two drawing rooms with open fireplaces, a bar, library and bedrooms furnished with antiques. There is also a restaurant which serves cuisine by master chefs who combine locally-sourced produce with organically-grown fruit and vegetables from the four-acre Walled Garden.
Also a new addition to Ireland’s Blue Book for 2018, Glenlo Abbey in Galway is a five-star hotel and golf resort situated on a 138-acre estate on the edge of Lough Corrib. Affording views of the natural scenery of nearby Connemara, visiting guests can dine aboard the award-winning Pullman Restaurant, a fine-dining restaurant set on two original Orient Express carriages. The restaurant offers a AA two-rosette-awarded fine dining experience in one of Ireland’s most historic settings.
Virginia Park Lodge in County Cavan, an 18th-century hunting estate, was formerly the home of Lord Headfort and his wife, the actress Miss Rosie Boote, Marchioness of Headfort. Set on 100 acres overlooking Lough Ramor, it offers a getaway for walkers, fishermen, boaters and guests looking to relax in the Irish countryside. Twelve Woodland Huts also provide accommodation. Additionally, the Lodge was revived by chef Richard Corrigan, one of the most established Irish chefs in the UK. The chef also operates his flagship London restaurant Corrigan’s in Mayfair, and the 101-year-old Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill in Piccadilly.
Located in County Mayo is Killadangan House, a restored period property overlooking Clew Bay and situated minutes from Blue Flag beaches, The Great Western Greenway and Croagh Patrick, as well as the restaurants, cafes and the nightlife of Westport town. Newly launched for 2018, it offers private and self-catering accommodation for groups of up to 10, as well as small all-inclusive retreats organized throughout the year.
Meanwhile, visitors to Ireland looking for unique experiences in the coming year should note there are myriad options to explore.
For foodies interested in sampling some of Ireland’s culinary offerings, Insight Vacations has released a list of their top 10 most notable itineraries. Included is the “Irish Elegance” tour, with a highlight focusing on the innovative and locally sourced dishes at the historic Ashford Castle.
Travelers will dine at the 800-year-old castle and take part in an après-dinner walk around the grounds to conclude the meal. Ashford Castle completed a two-year, $75 million restoration and reopened to guests in April 2015, adding a spa and a new bronze conservatory that houses an indoor resistance pool with views across the Lough Corrib. Visit www.insightvacations.com for more information.
Also of interest for culinary travelers, Tourism Ireland has announced the creation of a brand new guided food tour along the Coastal Causeway Route in Northern Ireland called “Toast the Coast.”
Designed by Portia Woods, guests will be taken from Belfast or Dublin on a culinary journey stopping off in Whitehead, Larne, Ballygally, Glenarm, Carnlough and Cushendun, tasting both food and drink on offer, as well as exploring local tourism hot spots along the way. Taken on an executive coach, “Toast the Coast” also offers public tours of up to 12 people with the ability to provide private or bespoke packages. Full day tours begin in January and start at $140 and depart from Belfast at 9am or 10:30am.
More information on the new tourism offering can be found at toastthecoastni.com
Music lovers heading to Ireland in the coming month may want to check out the five-day Tradfest 2018 festival in Dublin, attracting over 25,000 visitors a year and highlighting the sounds of traditional Irish music, Celtic rock, folk, nufolk and world music.
The festival is a not-for-profit event and is one of the few fully independent music festivals in the country, which ensures that ticket prices are kept low alongside many free events. The festival also offers the opportunity to experience music in some of the city’s most notable locations including St. Patrick’s Cathedral, City Hall and St. Werburgh’s Church.
Tradfest 2018 will take place January 24 through 28 and will have a lineup including names like Judy Collins, Big Country and Martha Wainwright. More information can be found at www.tradfest.ie.