Christmas in Ireland can still be magical. The ancient Celts – and indeed those who preceded the Celts – had their mid-winter celebrations with Yule logs, candles, great fires and pagan spirituality.
Of course, stirred in with this heady mix would have been levels of craic that probably far exceeded the statutory 90. When Christianity arrived in Ireland, our ancestors embraced the story of Christ – but didn’t altogether forget about the craic. All agreed that mid-winter required a celebration.
You can still get that genuine Celtic Christmas in Ireland combined with a fair dollop of luxury, with increasing numbers of hotels a offering Christmas break deals over the festive season. Most package deals include traditional meals with all the trimmings, traditional entertainment, Christmas trees, mulled wine – and the huge bonus is that you won’t have to battle through supermarkets buying industrial quantities of Christmas tuck, and you won’t have to do the dishes afterwards.
In Dublin the Merrion Hotel (tel: 00 353 1 603 0600 www.merrionhotel.com) is offering a special two night stay, December 24-26 for €425 per person sharing a deluxe double or twin room. The deal includes a champagne and mulled wine reception in the bar, with Christmas dinner in the very fine Cellar restaurant. If you’re still up for a bit of craic on St Stephen’s Day, you can take yourself off to Leopardstown Races on the 26th you extend your stay until December 27 for a total price of €645. Who knows, you might win the price of your hotel stay back.
The Nuremore Hotel in Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan (tel: 00 353 42 9661 438 www.nuremore.com) is also laying on a traditional family Christmas. Three days of festivities are on offer, starting on Christmas Eve with afternoon tea, mince pies and various other seasonal goodies – all served in front of open fires. In the evening there’s dinner, followed by a trip to local churches for Midnight Mass or carol services. St Stephen’s day will be a more leisurely affair after the celebrations of the night before. You’ll have time to check out the hotel’s spa or golf course while, in the evening a gala dinner dance is the climax of the weekend. December 24-27, three night stay €469 per person sharing. Children sharing: 10 – 14 years €240, 2 -10 years €170. December 24-26 two night stay €345 per person sharing_Children sharing: 10 -14 years €170, 2-10 years €110
The five star Hayfield Manor’s Christmas Package includes three days and nights of festive luxury (tel: 00 353 21 4845900 www.aro.ie/aroreserve/sites/HayfieldManor)
Festive season begins on Christmas Eve with hot port and mince pies. Festive afternoon teas, turf fires and Christmas carols are all part of proceedings which includes two traditional dinners, lunches, music and dancing Û945.tel: 00 per person based on two people sharing a Manor Room.
If you fancy Christmas in Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, the Ocean Sands Hotel is offering some very attractive packages (tel: 00 353 96 26700; www.theoceansandshotel.ie). The hotel is offering a three night Christmas package December 24-26 for €235 per person. A five night package 24-29 December is €300 pps.
The beautiful Renvyle House in Connemara in Co. Galway features various winter breaks, but there are still a few Christmas spaces left. This romantic old country house, set in the wild splendour of Connemara, was once home to Oliver St. John Gogarty (Buck Mulligan of James Joyce’s Ulysses). Since becoming a country hotel in 1883, Renvyle House has played host to many famous people – Augustus John, Lady Gregory, the Yeats Boys WB and Jack B, and Churchill amongst them.
The hotel’s Christmas deal is a three night package December 24-27 of an average room price of €422 (tel: 00 353 95 43511 www.renvyle.com)
Where to stay
Harvey’s Point Country Hotel
Harvey’s Point Country Hotel In Co. Donegal is offering a three day residential Christmas break, as well as pre-Christmas breaks and New Year breaks.
Harvey’s lies on the shores of Lough Eske, smack bang on the Ulster Way, with the Blue Stack Mountains as a backdrop. The old boreen wends past the hotel then follows the lough shore, through ancient woodland and past quietly lapping water – if you’re lucky you might just spot the 21st century.
Harvey’s Point is absolutely stunning, first class accommodation. This is bleak chic at its most impressive.
The restaurant at Harvey’s Point – where you’ll eat Christmas dinner – has a magnificent panoramic view across Lough Eske, home to the increasingly rare char, a tasty species of salmon. Even scarcer freshwater oysters, reputedly containing pearls. Lurk along the lough’s edges. However, it’s illegal to fish for them, so this doesn’t represent a viable way of bankrolling your holiday.
tel: 00 353 74 972 2208. www.harveyspoint.com
The four star Cashel House, Connemara, Co. Galway (tel: 00 353 095 31 001, www.cashel-house-hotel.com) one of Connemara’s most elegant mid-19th century country houses stands at the head of Cashel Bay, and in the heart of Connemara. The hotel is set in 50 acres of award-winning gardens containing enchanting woodland walks. Christmas at the Cashel will be a fine mix of relaxation and celebration. On Christmas Eve a special cocktail reception will help you ease into the holiday period. A festive dinner will accompanied by harp-playing from Lynn Saoirse and carols from local singers. Christmas Day begins with a traditional Irish breakfast in the dining room – or in your own room. Santa arrives at 1pm, needless to say bearing gifts. You can then ensconce yourself for the afternoon in front of a turf fire – or head out for a walk on some of Connemara’s wild landscapes. Pre-dinner drinks are served at 7.30pm followed by a traditional Christmas dinner at 8pm featuring lots of good food, good company and more carols, traditional Irish music and dancing. St. Stephen’s Day features another traditional dinner starting at 7pm in the dining room. Three night packages B&B, two dinners and Christmas day lunch ranges in price from €695-€815 per person.
The Europe Hotel
The PR for The Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street in the heart of Belfast, calls it ‘world famous’. And indeed it is -although the hotel’s blurb doesn’t actually tell you why. Understandable really, because it once had the reputation for being the most bombed hotel in the world. This was at the height of the Provisional IRA bombing campaign, at a time when people said if you wanted your cocktail shaken, you just waited till the windows rattled and the floor shuddered as another car bomb outside went off. Another celebrated anecdote tells how a guest one evening phoned up reception saying, “I’m afraid I’m having trouble with my shower.”
“Trouble?” said the receptionist. “You don’t know the meaning of the world.”
All changed now of course. Today the hotel is famed only for its comfortable rooms, mellow bars, and proximity to one of the great pubs of the world, the Crown Liquor Saloon, directly opposite on the other side of Great Victoria Street.
Christmas here is a bit more do-it-yourself. For a total of £170pps you check in on Christmas Eve, enjoy festive afternoon tea, then have dinner at the Causerie Restaurant. Overnight accommodation is in a luxury executive suite. A multi-coursed Christmas dinner is an extra £35pp, flowed by overnight stay and breakfast on St Stephen’s Day.