We picked up a Renault Scenic at Dublin airport, which gave us the feeling we should be on a school run. I’d been thinking of something a little flasher, obviously, but there was plenty of leg room, at least. It was a beautiful day, and, as we headed south towards Kilkenny and Kilgraney House, the sun poured in through the double sunroof (bonus point for the Scenic). Turning on the radio, we caught a local Name That Sound competition.
The DJ was just reminding a contestant that the sound in question had been a mystery for a record four days. A clinking noise was relayed, and the caller said, in the broadest of accents: ‘Well, it’s the lid being replaced either on a teapot or on a cookie jar.’ A noticeable perk in the DJ’s voice revealed that one of these was, in fact, the right answer. ‘So, Paddy… (we are not making this up) …what’s it to be: the teapot or the cookie jar?’ The excitement mounted as Paddy changed his mind several times. We in the car were shouting ‘Teapot! Teapot!’ as we drove down the motorway at 70mph (top speed for the Scenic: deduct bonus point). After several suspenseful minutes, Paddy plumped for the teapot. After a full trumpet fanfare, the DJ announced the prize – dinner for two at what sounded like the local fish ’n’ chip shop. Quite brilliant.
The nearer we got to Kilkenny, the prettier the countryside became; after one and a half hours on the road, we arrived in County Carlow. The drive to Kilgraney House, through beautiful scenes of trees and rolling fields, prepares you for the elegant hotel itself. Its interior has been decorated with surprising touches by Bryan and Martin, the owners and our hosts for the night, who made us feel most welcome and happy to be there. The reception looks like the front hall of a very attractive home, which is, essentially, what it is; we later found out that the paintings and objects that give the Georgian house a well-travelled and individual feel are mainly from the Philippines, where Bryan and Martin used to work. Our room was bright and spacious, done out in natural linens, creams and olive green.
We were told we had the choice of dining à deux, or communally. The first option would place us in a smaller room off the main dining room; the communal experience meant eating with the other hotel residents. Yikes! For city-dwellers like us, who don’t say hello to their neighbours, the prospect of socialising with complete strangers was daunting. However, when in Ireland… We plucked up courage, and decided to be convivial. We were offered afternoon tea on the lawn, and basked in the last of the sun’s rays before getting ready for our sociable dinner.
After rehearsing repartee in the bath and to the mirror, we descended to meet our fellow guests for an aperitif downstairs, before filing into the dining room for our six-course set menu. After a couple of drinks, the conversation flowed. We found ourselves with two artists, a film student, and a couple who refused to tell us what they did (we reckoned KGB, professional S&M party organisers, or hotel reviewers). It turned out to be a most enjoyable evening. We covered: the euro, potato blight, Albania, painting holidays in Spain and Venezuela, and how to get rid of slugs in an eco-friendly way. The food, which included delicious wild venison, was faultless.
Bryan and Martin shared the hosting and cooking, and laughed at our attempts to bribe our fellow guests to reveal what they did. They’d obviously been through the same line of questioning the previous night and couldn’t bear to go through it again. Which brings us on to our tip of the trip – we suggest going solo the first night, and communal the second; that way, you have plenty to talk about.
Coffee and liqueurs were served in the sitting room. An open fire and accommodating sofas made it so relaxing – elegant but informal – that at one point I nearly got up to put the kettle on myself. After a wonderful night’s sleep (the bed was super-comfortable, if a little smaller than we’re used to), we woke in time for breakfast, where we proceeded to consume, between us, fresh pancakes with home-made orange crème fraîche, a full Irish, and scrambled eggs with smoked salmon – a true tribute to Bryan and Martin’s kitchen, since we had been planning on no more than a coffee and the smell of croissant.
On the way home, we had been told we must have a drop of the black stuff at O’Sheas, which must be one of the most fantastically old-fashioned pubs we’ve ever been to. Not only does it sell a fine glass of Guinness, but it also doubles as an electrical shop, so ordering a pint and a pack of lightbulbs isn’t uncommon. We were sorry to leave the gentle weirdness of County Carlow, and the warmth of Kilgraney House. It already has something of a cult following, but Bryan and Martin have great plans for the place, including a mini spa and further rooms. We are confident that whatever they do will be perfect in every detail – and even more confident that it won’t be long until we return.