There are many lists of top hotels, restaurants, golf courses and attractions in Ireland that act as a guide to the consumer but I would much prefer the personal experience barometer that may have differing tools for arriving at a position on the list.
Whether a hotel is a very upmarket 5-star affair or a more humble 2 or 3-star operation really is not the point here. If that were the case, it would be just a matter of measuring all the top 5-star hotels in the Ireland which reduces it to a very simple and flawed analysis and ignores the actuality that there are many hotels who perform away above the standard of their star rating and many who do the opposite. And of course value for money is a huge consideration in making judgements.
Whether one is staying over on a leisure break or there for a business reason, a hotel has to offer first and foremost what it promises. It must do what it says on the tin. There is little point in having lavish websites extolling the virtues and facilities of a hotel when you are let down by the actual reality of what they offer during your stay. As with any business enterprise, the most important people in the hotel game are the staff from the very top down the bottom.
I have travelled extensively throughout Ireland in both leisure and business modes – two entirely different mindsets when assessing accommodation and facilities – and here are my Top 10 as derived from my own memories and feelings and quality of service provided.
1. Conrad Mount Juliet, Thomastown, County Kilkenny. A beautiful old stately manor, the ancestral home of the Mc Calmont family, standing on rich pastoral lands in south Kilkenny, was converted into a world- renowned golf course, designed by Jack Nicklaus which has hosted the Irish Open and the World Matchplay Championship. In addition, there is a newly added state- of- the- art equestrian centre together with a glorious spa and leisure centre. If you want to go the self catering route there are luxurious lodges at the edge of the golf course with the facilities of the hotel leisure amenities available to you at all times. The Lady Helen Restaurant in the old house is regal in design and classical in the fare offered.
2. Kellys Resort Hotel, Rosslare, Co. Wexford. If ever a hotel performed away above its rating of 4-star, then it has to be the institution that is Kellys Resort Hotel in Rosslare Strand, County Wexford. Long established, it is continually innovative and the word "resort" in the title is not lightly used for you never need to leave this place such are the attractions, amenities, leisure pursuits and food to crave for. You access the beach from the hotel and the spa is called the Sea Spa for the very good reason that all hydrotherapy treatments are with sea water. Forget a diet if you go there, because they will feed literally morning, noon, afternoon and night! Truly a gem and family run, reflected in the high level of personal service.
3. Hilton Mount Wolsey, Tullow County Carlow . Mount Wolsey was originally also a stately home that lies just outside the small town of Tullow, east of Carlow town. Now owned by the Morrissey family, it is a superb 4-star amenity with a Christy O'Connor designed golf course, leisure centre and spa. A very convenient setting with easy access from Dublin makes it popular with residents of the capital seeking a weekend break.
4. Merrion Hotel, Merrion Street, Dublin 2. This 5-star hotel is comprised of four superb Georgian townhouses ingeniously and seamlessly joined together and located so conveniently in the centre of Dublin. The modest and understated entrance gives lie to a luxurious interior complete with almost obsessive levels of personal service. Superb bedrooms and suites complete with excellent leisure and spa area which you will need when you eat the most famous restaurant in Dublin, Patrick Gilbaulds, the best Michelin star fine dining experience in Ireland.
5. Slieve Russell Hotel, Ballyconnell, County Cavan. One of the great 4-star hotels in Ireland, the Slieve Russell is located in the heart of the Lakelands area of Ireland. Offering superb amenities more akin to a 5-star experience, outstanding service probably sets it apart from a lot of similarly equipped facilities. A superb championship golf course, a leisure centre and renowned spa makes for an ideal family or couples retreat. Being only 90 minutes from Dublin and Belfast adds to the convenience.
6. Ashford Castle, Cong, County Galway . This was the original doyen of Irish hotels back when Ireland did not have any upmarket resorts. It still can carry its weight in a more competitive market. Located in the picture postcard village of Cong on the shores of Lough Corrib, Ashford Castle emanates the addictive ambience of luxury at surprising reasonable prices. Superior service and wonderful old-world rich and warm decor draw the visitor to its bosom. The hotel was recently purchased by Gerry Barrett of "G" Hotel fame in Galway City and the resort offers all the pampering one could possibly need.
7. Solus Elske Hotel, County Donegal. Winner of the Irish Hotel of the Year Award for 2010, the only 5-star hotel in County Donegal certainly deserves the recognition. Located just east of Donegal Town, the hotel comprises 98 suites and embraces the visitor with opulence and genuine welcoming service. The food is superb given the fact that it is very new to the market and facilities excellent. Great base for exploration of the vast county that is Donegal. Spectacular castle facade makes it a hugely popular wedding venue.
8. Jurys Inn, Galway City. Located in the heart of Galway city, near the famous Spanish Arch and ultra convenient to the pubs, clubs and restaurants of this throbbing city, Jurys Inn Galway pushes the upper boundaries of 3-star ratings. Location, facilities and most of all, service, make this the best of the Jurys Inn chain in Ireland. Great for business and pleasure and particularly economic for families. A fantastic all-round hotel in a superb location in the most fun city of Ireland.
9. Mespil Hotel, Mespil Street Dublin 4 . Another great value 3-star hotel that punches above its weight. Location and value for money is a big factor in the Mespil Hotel being on this list. In a lovely situation on the banks of the Grand Canal, it is still a less than brisk walk to all the attractions of the city centre including Grafton Street and Stephens Green. Modern decor and Wi-Fi rooms, together with very good dining in-house and huge choice nearby make it worth a try when visiting the capital.
10. Osprey Hotel and Spa, Naas, County Kildare. The Osprey is a 4-star hotel recently opened but attracting worthy attention for the quality of accommodation and facilities. 104 rooms including garden apartments make for choice and luxury for couples and families. Very conveniently located in the Devoy Quarter, a re-developed area in the centre of Naas, the hotels boasts two restaurants offering contrasting menus of modern and traditional dining. A superb spa and leisure are completes the package and the intimate nature of the setting and design make it feel like a superior boutique hotel.