Time Traveling to Ireland’s Temple House

No photograph could prepare me for the my first glimpse of Temple House, a Georgian mansion set on an estate of 1,000 acres a few miles south of Sligo. After I drove past the gates and through the green pastures filled with sheep, the sight of the stately home took my breath away. It’s huge and imposing—like something out of a wonderful costume-drama film.

I stepped back into history during my visit to Temple House, a country manor in the rural area south of Sligo named for ruined medieval Knights Templar Castle on the grounds.

I stepped back into history during my visit to Temple House, a country manor in the rural area south of Sligo named for ruined medieval Knights Templar Castle on the grounds.

Despite the grandeur—and everything from Temple House’s exterior to its antique-furnished rooms is grand—it’s a homey place run by the down-to-earth Perceval family, who have lived here since 1665. Deb and Sandy used to manage the guesthouse until their retirement a few years ago; they’ve since turned it over to their son, Roderick, and daughter-in-law, Helena.

In My Lady’s Chamber

I stayed in the smallest room: the pink room, which is anything but small. I slept cozily in a half-canopied bed and tucked my luggage into a huge wardrobe, as if I were Irish gentry. I had a small writing desk, and I absolutely adored throwing open my ceiling-high shuttered windows each morning to behold the soft, green fields dotted with sheep. (The only thing not historic—and happily so—is the bathrooms. They’re modern.)

There are six guest rooms much like this one, all lavishly furnished with a mixture of family heirlooms and other antiques.

There are six guest rooms much like this one, all lavishly furnished with a mixture of family heirlooms and other antiques.

Although the mansion has 100 rooms, only a handful of them are restored and habitable. (Imagine trying to heat 100 rooms! In fact, I doubt there’s electrical wiring to all parts of the house.)

I especially loved the elegant dining room, the site of fabulous breakfasts and dinners. (The innkeepers emphasize locally grown foods, many from their own organic garden.) Guests gather at the immense, lavishly-set table while a crackling fire warms the room and paintings of the Perceval ancestors peer down from the walls. Roderick regaled us with colorful tales of his family through the centuries. I’d look from his face to his Victorian forebears—and noticed the same features: a similar nose, the shape of the eyes, a chin!

I can’t imagine growing up amidst so much history and finery, but then I remember that it takes huge sums just to keep up the place. The Percevals have to work hard preparing meals, cleaning bathrooms, changing linens and entertaining guests, so it’s a modest living—just in a grand setting.

Tea is served every afternoon in this cozy parlor. (The homemade chocolate biscuits, shortbread and fudge are divine!)

Tea is served every afternoon in this cozy parlor. (The homemade chocolate biscuits, shortbread and fudge are divine!)

Te best part of Temple House? Countless things: It’s so comfortable, wondrously welcoming, and the fellow travelers I met were excellent company. There’s a lake that you can boat or fish on and ruins of a 13th-century Knights Templar Castle on the property to explore. (The Templar Castle gives the Temple House estate its name.)

Yet, what I loved most was feeling like I had stepped back into history. (If you really like old stuff, and want to travel back to pre-history, make a day trip to the nearby ancient Carrowmore Megalithic complex.) But even if there were nothing else in the vicinity to do, I can think of no more charming place to relax, read a book, eat fabulous food and dream of eras past than at Temple House.

Laurel Kallenbach, writer and editor

P.S. For more tips on places to visit in Ireland, visit Discover Ireland.

Take a Celtic Seaweed Bath

I had a wonderful—and surprising—spa treat on a cold, rainy day near Sligo, Ireland: a hot Celtic seaweed bath. I’ve had what Americans call kelp baths before, and they usually consist of a tub filled with water turned greenish from powdered dried kelp.

However, a seaweed bath in Ireland is the real McCoy—complete with three- to four-foot strands of fresh-harvested kelp right off the Atlantic coast. Bathing with olive-brown chunks of underwater plants is a cross between a mermaid experience and “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Either way you consider it, your skin and hair feel silky afterwards.

Whole strands of fresh-harvested seaweed from the Irish sea turns bath water a rusty color, but the effects are great for the skin.

Strands of fresh seaweed from the Atlantic turn bath water a rusty color, but the effects are great for the skin.

My 50-minute treatment started with a 10-minute steam treatment to open my pores. Then I (gingerly) climbed into the tub where the seaweed (Fucus serratus) was floating. The water and tub are extremely slippery from the seaweed, so I clung to the grip rails around the tub. Thankfully, there’s a rubber “no-skid” mat on the bottom of the tub.

But ah, steeping in the rusty, tea-colored water and bobbing about with my seaweed felt divine. I massaged my tired traveler’s feet, did a few stretches, and submerged my head a few times so that my hair benefited from the treatment.

After about 20 minutes in the bath, I hoisted myself out (remember: slippery!), showered, and dried off—feeling as limp and drifty as, well, seaweed!

You can find Ireland’s only indigenous spa therapy at Voya Spa (formerly Celtic Seaweed Baths) in Strandhill, Co. Sligo. A single 50-minute bath costs  25.

Health Benefits of Seaweed Baths:

  • Relaxes the muscles
  • Infuses the skin with vital minerals (especially iodine) and antioxidants
  • Acts as a moisturizer by forming a protective gel-like layer on the skin
  • Supports skin regeneration with some anti-aging properties
  • Detoxifies the body
  • Moisturizes hair and decreases static charge

Laurel Kallenbach, writer and editor

For information on visiting Ireland, check Discover Ireland.

On Downings Beach, Ireland

There’s a working-class beach town called Downings in northern County Donegal, Ireland. Located right on the Atlantic, the views are lovely, and Sheephaven Bay shelters this surprisingly long, sandy beach.

Oceanside Car Park

The Irish treat Downings’ Beach a lot like a local park. And here’s the funny part: They drive their cars right onto the beach and park them surprisingly close to the water. (I suppose it’s because that’s where the sand is hard-packed after the receding tide.) Still, it’s astonishing to see people use the sand as a “car park,” as they call it here. Many families set up beach chairs and picnic right beside their car!

A day at the beach in Downings, Ireland (Co. Donegal)

A day at the beach in Downings, Ireland (Co. Donegal)

Sunday on the Beach

I took this photo late on a Sunday afternoon in August, after most of the action died down for the day. (That’s why there are only a few parked autos—earlier at least 50 of them were lined in neat rows.)

The horse wagon is for the wee kiddies to ride, whereas the boys in the foreground were more interesting in net fishing. Or were they butterfly hunting?

Downings has a several hotels and pubs (which favor country-western music over fiddles and Irish tin whistles most nights of the week.) The tiny town was once a getaway for folks from nearby Northern Ireland fleeing “The Troubles.” There’s still a large caravan (trailer) park in Downings.

Laurel Kallenbach, writer and editor

For information on travel in Ireland, visit Discover Ireland.

Legendary Green Spa in Ireland

With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, it seems only appropriate to mention a green, holistic resort and spa on the Emerald Isle: Delphi Mountain Resort & Spa. (And by “green,” I’m thinking of the eco-friendly type, although in Ireland, the term certainly applies to the foliage too.)

The Delphi Mountain Resort and Spa

The Delphi Mountain Resort and Spa

I couldn’t help but envision legendary Irish heroes at Delphi Mountain Resort & Spa, a contemporary timber-and-stone lodge hidden in Connemara’s remote fjords a little more than an hour’s drive from Galway.

In fact, on a hike through the mountain terrain, our guide regaled us with the romantic tale of Diarmuid and Grainne, lovers who escaped the wrath of Grainne’s husband-to-be (legendary chieftain Fionn MacCool) by fleeing to hiding places throughout Ireland. Diarmuid, a fabled warrior, is said to be buried on Mweelrea, the mountain that towers above the resort.

The spa in the Delphi brings Ireland's ancient motifs into its modern setting.

The spa’s relaxing area offers views of the Connemara foothills.

Delphi’s architectural style draws from Ireland’s ancient standing stones and Celtic tree lore—reflected in its use of storm-felled oak, ash, beech and elm and (what else?) local stone.

The spa, which offers fabulous mountain vistas, is the ideal resting place for modern-day athletes just returned from kayaking, hiking, rock climbing or surfing. Pampering body and beauty treatments are done in candlelit treatment rooms designed like early-Christian monks’ “beehive” cells. The therapist use certified-organic and herbal products, including Irish seaweed hand-harvested from Ireland’s west coast.

The health-minded gourmet cuisine—much of it local and organic—is fantastic. I happened to visit on my birthday, and I dined on an exquisite lamb dinner with chocolate gateau for dessert.

Relaxing yoga, tai chi and meditation complete this spa experience, which is nearly as epic as the tale of Diarmuid and Grainne themselves.

Legendary Environmental Policies at Delphi

  • Waste reduction and recycling programs
  • A mechanical water-treatment plant that ensures that the water leaving the resort is as clean as the water coming in.
  • Solar panels (for preheating water) and wood chip boilers that use wood from the resort’s sustainably managed forest. Electricity comes from Air-Tricity, a wind-farm operation in the U.K. and Ireland.
  • A recent addition was constructed with recycled-copper roofs, recycled-newspaper insulation in the attics, and wood came from certified managed sustainable forests.
  • Compact fluorescent light bulbs to save energy.
  • New rooms are fitted with energy-saving cards that ensure that there’s no energy wasted when units are occupied.
  • Outdoor activities designed to minimize impact on the environment.

Laurel Kallenbach, writer and editor