Emerald Isle Incentives
By Leo Jakobson
December 12, 2013
There are few countries that share as close a connection to the U.S. as Ireland. Waves of immigration dating back more than two centuries have left an extraordinarily strong Irish imprint on the American imagination. Because of this, the Emerald Isle is a place many Americans know, and have dreamed of visiting. It also has a beautiful countryside and lovely, historic cities, as well as world-class golf, spa facilities, fine dining, shopping, and, of course, plenty of opportunities to mingle with the friendly locals. It’s a perfect incentive destination.
It’s also a value destination in the Euro-zone these days, and has a low VAT rate of 9 percent on the hospitality sector, which the government recently announced would remain through 2014. As of April 2014, the air travel tax of three euros will also be eliminated. That will reduce prices on the many direct air links between the Dublin, Belfast, and Shannon (near Limerick) airports and the U.S.
To the Manor Born
Accommodations run the gamut from international brands like the Four Seasons, Westin, Marriott, and Hilton to historic manor home hotels and even castles, such as Dromoland Castle Hotel & Country Estate, a five-star property with a history that dates as far back as the fifth century.
The lavish, 99-room property, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a hotel this year, is set within a 450-acre park with exceptional scenery that includes rivers, forests, and gardens, only 15 minutes from Shannon Airport. It also has a championship golf course and academy. Other activities include horseback riding, fishing, archery, tennis, and falconry. Facilities include a pool, sauna, and spa, as well as five meeting rooms that can accommodate groups of 20 to 450. In addition, Dromoland Castle recently acquired and renovated the former Clare Inn, which is now the three-star Inn at Dromoland, a 155-room property on 21 acres adjacent to Dromoland’s own estate. It has event space for up to 400.
The Lodge at Doonebeg, a five-star golf resort set in a rambling stone manor house in County Clare, was voted the top resort in Europe by Condé Nast Traveler’s readers in the magazine’s “2013 Reader’s Choice Awards.”
In County Galway, the magnificent five-star, 83-room Ashford Castle, a Leading Hotels of the World member, is undergoing a renovation after being purchased by the Red Carnation Hotel Collection in May. Activities there include falconry, horseback riding, fishing, clay pigeon shooting, lake cruises with an historian, and a nine-hole golf course.
Another Leading Hotels of the World member is the picturesque Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort near Shannon. It has a total of 63 five-star rooms and 25 townhouses on an 840-acre estate with extensive parkland and a formal French garden, set alongside the River Maigue. Facilities include an indoor heated pool and spa, and guests can also rent classic cars, engage in falconry or fishing, or take a ride in a hot-air balloon. There’s also a Robert Trent Jones, Sr.-designed championship golf course, which has hosted the Irish Open. The resort has nearly 5,500 square feet of event space and can accommodate groups up to 250.
In the heart of Dublin, overlooking St. Stephen’s Green, the five-star, 265-room Shelbourne Dublin, A Renaissance Hotel, dates back to 1824. Recently refurbished, it features fine dining and a newly opened spa, as well as more than 10,600 square feet of meeting space.
A more modern property in both age and style is the Marker Hotel, which opened in April in Dublin. Overlooking Grand Canal Square, the 187-room property features marble bathrooms, full-size desks, a spa, a rooftop lounge, and more than 7,500 square feet of meeting and event space.
The Powerscourt Hotel, Resort & Spa in County Wicklow, just 25 minutes from Dublin, has just become the first Autograph Collection hotel in Ireland. The five-star, Palladian-style property with an iconic curved and arched front has 200 rooms, a 30,000-square-foot ESPA spa, and two championship golf courses. There are eight state-of-the-art meeting rooms and a 6,000-square-foot ballroom.
Dining in Style
The Irish food scene is varied, with venues ranging from pubs rich in atmosphere and traditional dishes to Michelin-starred restaurants and gourmet markets offering farm-to-table fare, as well as artisanal purveyors of everything from cheese to seafood.
Among the options available are historic country homes that will open their doors to corporate groups. One such is Ballywalter Park Mansion House, a restored, 270-acre manor dating to the mid-19th century, and home to the 6th Baron Dunleath. The silver is magnificent and the cuisine is all locally sourced: herbs are from the estate’s garden; meat is from a local butcher; fish is from the nearby ports of Portavogie and Strangford Lough; and game is taken from the estate. The wine cellar and port menu is personally selected by the Baron himself.
A new venue for special events and banquets is St. Columb’s Hall in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland; it is being renovated this year as part of its conversion into a multi-purpose venue. Built as a temperance hall in 1886, the historic building set in the heart of the city, next to Derry’s walls, is expected to open before the end of the year.
In the south of Ireland, Cork City Hall, opened by Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Eamon de Valera in 1836, has a magnificent, barrel-vaulted Concert Hall that can seat 600, banquet-style.
Home to the Book of Kells, a gloriously illuminated, eighth-century gospel, famous Trinity College Dublin has a number of conference and banqueting venues, such as the Dining Hall, a high-ceilinged, wood-paneled room that reminds one of Masterpiece Theater, which can accommodate 250 people for meals and 500 for receptions.
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