the opulant lives of British aristocracy, evoked in the popular BBC drama Downton Abbey, are being relived by guests of the luxury resort Ballyfin Demense, just outside Portlaoise.
Guests can delve into a treasure trove of period costumes, bought from the Lyric Opera Company, and wear them to dinner, served by the attentive butler and waiters.
“There is a huge Downton Abbey factor,” agreed manager of Ballyfin, Aileesh Carew.
“A lot of people would refer to it. It appeals to everyone’s inner child, we like getting dressed up,” she said.
Almost two years since Ballyfin reopened as an exclusive hotel, business has been good, but she admits they haven’t escaped the recession.
“It hasn’t been easy, to get any business off the ground isn’t easy now, but there has been tremendous work from all to make sure our guests have a good experience, our sales team have been knocking on doors, and we ensure the product is good,” she says.
The man behind the transformation of Ballyfin from a Patrician Brothers school to a restored grand house, Chicago businessman Fred Krehbiel, makes a regular appearance.
“We see Mr Krehbiel about eight times a year, he is passionate about Ballyfin, that helps our motivation, it’s good for morale,” says the manager.
The hotel is a valuable source of income to the area she says.
“We have over 45 staff, the majority of them are local, five of them even went to school here. Most guests say it is so lovely to see locals, the fact that the know the area is very important too. We also buy local whenever we can, and with taxis, guides, a wide range of people say they are glad to see Ballyfin on their doorsteps,” she said.
The hotel has won a slew of international awards, including Best New Resort Worldwide in the 2012 Robbs Report, the top ten of Forbes Best New Hotels worldwide 2011, Best Restaurant in the European Hospitality Awards, and last week they made the Andrew Harper Gold List for 2013.
Ballyfin is closed this month and next for maintenance work, reopening on March 8, with plenty of bookings already taken for 2013. For €750 per room, couples can enjoy the life of true gentry, with activites such as archery, horse riding, wine and whiskey tasting, beauty treatments, guided tours, whatever is their wont, as well as gourmet meals and drinks. Surprisingly, they have as much Irish customers as American, many of them repeat.
“They tell us escaping for a night in Ballyfin is like three nights away,” says Ms Carew.