by Pádraic Gilligan, Chief Marketing Officer, SITE & Managing Partner, SoolNua Marketing
Cashel – now a destination
I have vivid memories of Cashel as a stop en route to Cork or Blarney when I worked in the late 80s as an Italian speaking tour guide. As an experienced guide I knew exactly at what point on the road to start the commentary on Cashel as I wanted the Rock to materialise on the horizon as a big reveal, almost as if my words of introduction caused it to be there!
But that was over thirty years ago. Another time, another place. Cashel is no longer a town you pass through en route to the lure and appeal of Ireland’s South West. It’s now the destination. The place itself. And the stunning renaissance of the Cashel Palace Hotel is, perhaps, the single most important contributory factor.
Cashel Palace – 300 years of history
Built almost 300 years ago, before the United States gained independence from Britain, for the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Cashel, the stunning Palladian structure was eventually sold to the colourful Lord Brockett in the late 50s and transformed into a small luxury hotel. The Magnier family, proprietors of Coolmore, the world’s largest thoroughbred breeding operation, purchased it in 2016 and, almost by stealth, while Covid diverted much of our attention, created the luxury haven it has now become – thanks to deep pockets, far sighted vision and a brilliant general manager, Adriaan Bartels. We spent 24 hours there last week, but it felt we’d been there for much longer. Here’s how we spent our time.
24 hours at Cashel Palace Hotel – arrival
Access to the Cashel Palace is from Cashel’s main street, as it has been for hundreds of years. You move back seamlessly from a bustling market town, through a tall period portal into a beautifully ordered stone courtyard, softened by lush greenery. The rose hued sandstone facade of the Cashel Palace stands before you in all its early Georgian elegance, its 4 chimney stacks reaching high into the sky. A young man in uniform appears beside the car and takes your bag “Welcome to the Cashel Palace. Please follow me”.
The ground floor is comprised of stately public rooms, sumptuously rich with crystal chandeliers, gilded mirrors, and life-sized portraits. Precisely what you’d expect in a Palladian period property. It’s not overwhelming, though, the soft furnishings exuding an easy, welcoming appeal. Check in protocols are swift, conducted informally across a large antique desk. Soon you’re climbing the original staircase and passing seamlessly to the new wing where the bulk of the 42 guest rooms are located.
24 hours at Cashel Palace Hotel – guest rooms and Spa
The guest rooms are elegant, uncluttered and restful. There’s hi-tech lighting and low-tech coffee, subtly monogrammed bed lined, and views through sash windows over the magnificent gardens. The now ubiquitous Nespresso is eschewed in favour of Ponaire, excellent locally produced coffee, and a pour-over system. A discreet mini-bar provides complimentary soft drinks and snacks, again all locally sourced. Solid sustainability principles are clearly integrated into the M.O. at Cashel Palace – your guest room key is old style, with a fob concealing the chip that controls the power in your room.
You’ve just enough time to visit the Spa prior to dinner and don a bathrobe that feels like you’re enveloping yourself in a cloud. The spa is located at the far end of the property but can be accessed discreetly via the guest room corridor. Besides a full range of treatments and therapies, there’s an indoor / outdoor pool and a Jacuzzi, as well as a sauna and a steam room. Most interestingly, there are invigorating sensual shower experiences with the sounds, smells, tastes and touch of tropical rain or Atlantic mist – all delivered indoors in county Tipperary!
24 hours at Cashel Palace Hotel – Dining
The Bishop’s Buttery – a legacy of Cashel Palace Mark 1 – is now a fine dining restaurant under the overall direction of Stephen Hayes with Darragh O’Flaherty as Head Chef. Based on our experience, it won’t be long before it’s recognised and awarded with international accolades. The table d’hôte menu offers 5 choices in each category. We started with the Glazed Veal Sweetbread and the Cured Foie Gras, progressing to the Pan Roasted Wild Turbot and the Spring Lamb Rump. There were also some spectacular amuse-bouche. The setting is friendly, cosy and informal, with none of the awkward reserve of typical fine dining.
The Bishop’s Buttery connects easily with the newly named Guinness Bar, all nooks and crannies with intriguing memorabilia. Outside there’s a magnificent terrace. Upstairs on the hall level, there’s a residents’ bar with views of the Rock and, overall, food and beverage is a major element in the overall identity of Cashel Palace.
24 Hours at Cashel Palace Hotel – Meetings, Events, Activities
Besides the new guest rooms, the extended Cashel Palace also includes a truly remarkable ballroom and associated spaces that can seat up to 200 for a formal banquet. Also available is Mikey Ryan’s pub, a full scale gastro-pub under the ownership of the property that can be accessed directly from the hotel or from the main street of Cashel. Given its ownership, horses are part and parcel of the Cashel Palace experience and arrangements can be made for privileged access to private equestrian facilities in the area.
We opted, however, for the High Kings’ Loop, a 2 hour walk out the Golden road and back via the Rock through some truly stunning woodland. The walk is well marked on designated pathways and returns to Cashel via Hore Abbey, at the base of the limestone outcrop upon which stands the eponymous Rock.
24 hours at the Cashel Palace, maybe, but timeless in restorative terms.
Pádraic Gilligan is Chief Marketing Officer of SITE and Managing Partner at SoolNua Marketing, a business events advisory working with destinations, hotels, agencies and associations on strategy, marketing and training.