The queue for passport control at Dublin airport is short. I stand behind the sternly-painted line, ostentatiously displaying to everyone in sight that not one atom of me is too far forward. (It’s genetic. My mum once declared chocolate cherry liqueurs at customs.) The passport official beckons me forward with an expression of such inscrutability, it makes the Mona Lisa look like Jim Carrey.

He takes my proffered document and – still poker-face – silently compares me to my photograph, which lacks only handcuffs for convict-chic.

Suddenly, his face breaks into an enormous beam.

‘Happy birthday for tomorrow, Katie!’ he lilts.

Great British Life: Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Paul LehaneAdare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Paul Lehane

Later, when we’ve driven (222.2km, so my online map neatly informs me) down ubiquitous motorways, we arrive at the village of Adare in Limerick. We swing onto a drive punctuated by a gatehouse that looks as if a giant has playfully lifted the top of a Lego turret and plonked it down on the ground.

As Ian leans from the car window, Anthony steps out – so smartly dressed I instantly check my tights for holes.

‘Hello!’ Anthony says. ‘And happy birthday for tomorrow, Katie!’

Ireland, I think. Yep - I’m going to like this country.

Great British Life: Terrace Room, Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack HardyTerrace Room, Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack Hardy

ADARE MANOR. I mean, listen. I’ve been to some hotels in my time. But Adare Manor has a beauty straight out of Disney… Or maybe it’s a French chateau I’m thinking of. Or, no! An English Gothic revival house.

Or perhaps all of the above - and a bit more thrown in - with the River Maigue skirting its limestone facade like a bright sash. The brown trout swimming through those still waters mirror the colour of the locally quarried stone: both delicately shot through with bands of red.

It’s a site somebody has always loved, right from the clock-strike of Windham Henry Quin, second Earl of Dunraven, inheriting in 1824. He was – so the story goes – a martyr to gout; once an active outdoorsman, he now rarely left home. (Though that home – even in his early days of accession - was a rather lovely Georgian mansion.) History doesn’t detail how good a patient he was… Let’s just say that women the world over will sympathise with Lady Caroline, his wife, who (possibly having reached saturation-point on playing cards and cribbage) (though this is pure guesswork on my part) counted to 10 and suggested he direct his frustration into remodelling the house.

Great British Life: Dunraven Stateroom, Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack HardyDunraven Stateroom, Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack Hardy

As Ireland descended into its dreadful famine – prompted by a tragic, prolonged blight of potato crop – the Earl embarked on his magnum opus, turning the family seat into a state-of-the-art masterpiece inspired by great private and public buildings throughout the Continent. Far from an unbecoming show of wealth, the project provided much-needed work for local craftsmen. You need only glance at the glorious gargoyles (honestly, I’d swipe right on the chap below the Minstrels’ Gallery in the great entrance hall), the wood-carvings, the decorative stonework to see that.

‘Can you imagine actually living here!’ I say to Sarah Ormston, the hotel’s marketing manager, as I drink in the spectacle of that entrance hall, its black marble fireplace dancing with flames: such scale, it feels cathedral-like.

‘Oh, I know,’ Sarah says. (I love that she knows every inch of the building, yet still retains a sense of awe.) ‘Have you seen the Gallery yet? Have you seen where you’re having breakfast?’

Great British Life: The Gallery, Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack HardyThe Gallery, Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack Hardy

I point up to my would-be date, who appears to be supporting the weight of that beautiful Minstrel’s Gallery all by himself.

‘Nobody knows who the gargoyle actually is: rumour has it that he was a character from the village. It looks like he’s got a toothache, the way he’s holding his mouth.’

‘But’, I protest defensively, still in those heady early-relationship days, ‘he works so hard!’

‘He’s not actually holding anything up,’ Sarah disabuses me. ‘He has no structural role, even though it looks like it.’

How utterly unlike a man, I think, baffled; simply to look as if he’s doing all the work.

Great British Life: Deluxe bathroom at Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack HardyDeluxe bathroom at Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack Hardy

‘Many of the gargoyles are taken from the Bestiary [a medieval book of mythical beasts]. I always feel a modern interior-designer would say, ‘This doesn’t work!’ because they’ve just taken the things they love and put them together. But that’s what so fun when you’re walking around: you’re discovering new things you didn’t expect around every corner.’

That’s so true – and particularly so when you learn that this is a rare Irish calendar house: 365 leaded windows; 52 chimneys; seven stone pillars; four towers.

Some of the interiors, including the Great Hall and fantastical fireplaces, were the work of Augustus Pugin. Renowned architect PC Hardwick also played his part.

‘It looks like a castle but I don’t think a castle would have this amazing light coming into it,’ Sarah says.

Great British Life: Sitting room in the Lady Caroline signature suite, Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack HardySitting room in the Lady Caroline signature suite, Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack Hardy

Almost more extraordinary than its construction is its recent history. In 2015, the by-now-hotel was bought by Irish businessman and racehorse owner JP McManus. Over two years, 700 construction workers took off the roof, lifted the floors, and gently removed woodcarvings from the walls. Everything that could be was lovingly restored and put back again, as well as a new wing (sympathetically) added.

The result, you can’t help thinking, is something the gout-ridden Earl would have given a gnarly thumbs up to (and Lady Caroline a sigh of relief).

We ascend to our bedroom – our suite. I’m going to spare you slightly here… Actually, do you know what? I’m not. So eat your heart out – it’s incredible. A breath-taking sitting room looking onto Hardwick’s design of sweeping gardens; a huge shower area and freestanding bath with an amazing view both ways (for us, over formal parterre to the hills beyond; for guests wandering outside, Ian emerging from the bath, having forgotten to draw the blinds). And a chandeliered bedroom of grace and elegance.

There’s also what looks to be a pretty candle on the table alongside fruit and biscuits. It takes me a while to realise it’s the most perfect little birthday cake.

Great British Life: The swimming pool at Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Paul LehaneThe swimming pool at Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Paul Lehane

WE LIVE LIKE PRINCES. (Or, rather, like Earls.)

There are no fewer than 25 (and counting) activities on site: gym, pool, bikes, cinema. Among extras you can book are dodgeball, tennis, archery, axe-throwing (yes, honestly), a horse-and-carriage tour.

The resident falconer will introduce guests to eagles and owls living in the old stables. There’s even a sports simulation room for when it’s raining. (NB: I’ve been reliable informed that it occasionally does in Ireland.)

Walking opportunities are legion: through the grounds, the woods; or a short stroll down the road where historic Adare shows off its thatched cottages (once home to estate workers), and a river ‘washing pool’ where local women would gather both to scrub dirty linen and to air it.

Great British Life: Sitting room in the Lady Augusta signature suite, Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack HardySitting room in the Lady Augusta signature suite, Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack Hardy

I sneak off to the spa (the 111SKIN products are amongst the nicest I’ve ever tried) for a facial, followed by a sauna and a dip in the spa pool.

Perhaps my favourite activity of all is a whiskey-tasting with beverages manager (‘anything that has a liquid form’), Aodhan O’Farrell.

Like the whiskey itself, the tasting is a delightfully complex experience: history, technology, humour, and a little bit of fruitiness.

‘Whiskey has been making a massive comeback in the past 15 years,’ Aodhan says. ‘I grew up in a house where my dad would have a little bit every evening. My mother saw it as the devil’s juice.’

The first distillers were way back when - Greeks and Romans (medicinal only, or so they claimed). Over the centuries that followed, Irish whiskey had its ups and downs, battling the tightening up of the law on distilleries; independence from Britain; the deep disapproval of Catholicism; the American Prohibition. All were nails in the coffin of a once-booming industry.

Great British Life: The Carriage House bar, Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack HardyThe Carriage House bar, Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack Hardy

‘During the Prohibition, there was whiskey getting into the US in the speakeasy bars: the Scotch managed to get some really good stuff through, but the stuff we were getting through was absolutely horrific.

‘Before this, even in Scotland, one in every three glasses that was poured was an Irish whiskey; but it went down to nothing.’

Hollywood didn’t help: ‘Killed us as well – the old black-and-white movie. Humphrey Bogart drank scotch on the rocks. That was the cool thing.’

I tell you all this because it’s fascinating. But let’s turn to the positive, for the 45-percent tide has well and truly turned: Irish whiskey is enjoying another golden age.

And talking of golden:

Let’s talk barrels.

We’re about to titillate our hundreds of olfactory receptors with whiskey that has been perfected by gifted blenders who work with time and barrels (virgin oak, bourbon, sherry, port) to unbelievably exact effect.

Barrels that add colour to this otherwise clear liquid; that turn it caramel-y, fruity, spicy.

I love (actually not the most expensive, but all the examples we taste have a sophistication way above your average supermarket shelf) a 15-year-old Redbreast (£80-odd a bottle): a drink that tipsily insists on telling your happy nose about the time it’s spent maturing in ex-sherry casks.

Great British Life: The Carriage House, Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack HardyThe Carriage House, Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack Hardy


‘Every year, around Christmas, bottles come in a copper cage that you can use as a birdfeeder.’

Technically, I don’t like whiskey, I tell Aodhan.

This I love.

It’s not just me he’s converted. Some of the old boys in the local are now drinking the proper stuff when they can. ‘It’s funny. When I met them, they were drinking these entry-level whiskeys. And now they’re whiskey snobs!’

Great British Life: Entrance of the Carriage House at Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack HardyEntrance of the Carriage House at Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack Hardy

AH, YES. The food.

We have a relaxed meal in the more informal Carriage House the first night.

But, nice as that is, the second is amazing. The fine-dining Oak Room provides an eight-course set menu with wine flight. What’s more, they conjure up a vegan one for me; a gluten-free one for Ian. No problem.

You’ll probably want to know about his: Ballyneety beetroot salad, horseradish, wild leek; bread and Abernethy butter; hand-dived scallop, basil, gazpacho, caviar; monkfish-on-the-bone, girolles, vin jaune; aged Thornhill duck; milk, banner blueberries, ginger tea oil; chocolate soufflé tart, cherries, vanilla.

(Royal Belgian caviar; and a cheese trolley, too, if you want to push the boat out. Or at least to cause it to float far lower in the water.)

Great British Life: Stateroom bedroom at Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack HardyStateroom bedroom at Adare Manor, Co. Limerick. Photo: Jack Hardy

Head chef Mike Tweedie toured Ireland to find his suppliers – and it shows. With a menu that’s international, but 75 percent Irish, it’s an exceptional taste of what can be done with a marriage of skill, top produce and imagination. Just superb.

Breakfast in the Gallery (oh, my; the room itself has to be seen to be believed: at 40m long, with towering barrel-vaulted ceiling, it speaks of castles and cathedrals and even Versailles), there’s everything from Irish traditional to the most delicious of vegan pastries. And when I come to leave, there’s a box of them specially packaged up for me. Just because I liked them.

Over a drink in the drawing room with deputy general manager John Kelly, I tell him how impressed I’ve been. With everything. But particularly the fact that this is both one of the most high-end hotels I’ve ever stayed in; yet one of the most relaxing, too.

‘Some guests who come here for the first time might anticipate things will be rigid and stiff,’ he says. ‘We’re the exact opposite of that. We have three core values: natural, pioneering and grá.

‘Grá is the Irish word for love.’

• Adare Manor is at Adare, Co. Limerick, V94 W8WR;