I’m not one to revisit places I’ve been to on holidays: feeling like there is always something more out there; something else to see; somewhere better to see and experience. By nature, I’m constantly moving on to the next thing which could either be because A. I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge or B. because I have the attention capabilities of an Irish Setter (I’m looking at you George Weasley ). However, Ashley Park, just outside Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, has drawn Husband-to-Be and I back twice already (we also wanted to go last summer but it was so busy with weddings we couldn’t find a date that suited). John and I went last February, almost a exactly a year ago, and despite the season, the grounds are refined in their starkness; glorious in their early snowdrop bleakness.
The Main House is a gorgeous yet creakily authentic Victorian style villa: its green and white façade and wrap-around veranda look almost Colonial. With its white wrought iron love seat swing on the lawn overlooking the lake with its little island on which stands a play castle ruin, draws the eye and the heart. Taking the row boat out on the lake is always pure and wholesome family fun, or delightfully romantic.
Attached to the Main House is the most beautiful Marquee all set up for a wedding in modern luxury with a 1920s palm tree café feel, again overlooking the wide expanse of lake glittered with fairy lights on the ancient trees; the moon illuminating the still water.
There are ten coach house cottages or suites which are completely different in character to the Main House and the original cottages, yet somehow they manage to feature Victorian references with gigantic pieces of stunning art – even Frieda Kahlo appears, hovering above a staircase in all her breath taking vibrancy.
But our favourite, the dotey little Gardener’s Cottage, in which we have now spent two idyllic weekends, trumps all of the rest for us.
It’s far from perfect- the walls are authentic in their unevenness; the beams exposed as long lost great oak trees, probably from the estate, and although there is electric heating, in order to be truly warm, you must build your fire in the stove. I have never felt such simple satisfaction as when I built a roaring open flame fire with NO firelighters and just a bit of old paper; twigs from the storm blown woodland and plentious amounts of estate logs and local turf. The cottage, a ground floor kitchen/dining area/living room/extra bed space soon grew so warm that we were opening doors, in January, at night time. Of course, given the aesthetically pleasing, symmetrical walled garden and the moonlit lake, nobody much minded. Especially two of our dogs – Elsie and CJ – who were most cordially invited by the gracious Margaret and PJ, our hosts. The spiral iron wrought staircase was only just mastered by Elsie, our sheepdog, an hour before check out (which was 2 1/2 hours later than specified as “there was no rush as there was nobody checking in to the cottage today”. CJ managed the stairs on night one, although I would urge caution after a few gins!
I have long struggled with anxiety and depression; as have many in my family. We do not have thousands to spend on family getaways or holidays. Nor do we have the time – both John and running successful businesses as well as John having a full time job; our daughter is in college and our five year old spends a week’s salary on Lego every month. We also have six dogs and three cats (all rescues) to support. We do try to get away every couple of months however: a weekend in London with the cousins; an annual few days in Europe for Eighteen Year Old’s birthday or just to explore Friend (which to be honest, I have been woefully unadventured in compared to my English betrothed – figures, doesn’t it? We never appreciate what we have). But this place, Ashley Park, brings to me a serenity; a glow of acceptance of all that I have in my life; the glory of natural Ireland; a Yeatsian kind of love for my homeland; a stillness in my mind that no amount of prescription anti-anxiety meds can induce.
If you are going to book an a getaway – no wifi; no network coverage; no TV; no distractions – just you – book Ashley Park.