Does Killarney have the highest concentration of hotels in Ireland? With more than two dozen for a population of around 15,000, by my calculations, that certainly can’t be far off.
Although names like The Great Southern, Gleneagle and Killarney Park are well known, Cahernane House bills itself as ‘Killarney’s best kept secret’. Built in 1877, it’s the only mansion-style hotel in town, and it’s been modernized in recent years – redoing rooms, restaurants and adding a handsome Coach House living suite thanks to a £7.8 outlay million euros by the owners, the Prem group.
Already a member of the Irish Blue-Book, it has also joined the handful of Irish establishments in the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection… so it won’t remain a secret for long.
Arrival & location
It’s a gentle approach. Situated 2km from Killarney, Cahernane is part of the hotel strip lining the N71, but accessed via a tree lined avenue which is just long enough to choke the traffic outside, but short enough to allow for walks into town (about 20 minutes). I see a red squirrel on a walk around the 6.4 acre estate; a blue tit leaping at another.
The house is on the edge of Killarney National Park (although you can’t see the lakes) and quickly transports you back in time. The reception area is lit by chandeliers, backed by a hand-carved oak staircase, and a stag’s head is placed above the Queen Anne fireplace. Antiques include a Davenport desk encrusted with landmarks such as Ross Castle and Muckross Abbey. It was made locally in 1880 – ask the staff to show you their puzzle box of drawers and lockers.
Check-in is warm and obliging. Bags are brought from the car and, when we don’t know where to eat, we are given bar and restaurant menus to read in the room. 8/10
Service & style
Prior to its revamp, Cahernane “had been really run down,” general manager Emer Corridan tells me. Today you’ll notice a hushed, opulent feel to the redone bedrooms, two light and airy atriums, redecorated lounges and a stunning transformation of the former Coach House by Julie Goggin (who has also helped high Prem hotels like Tulfarris and The Hoban in Kilkenny).
That said, the photography on its website gives a slightly more premium feel than what we find in the flesh. Some spaces, like the intimate library, are perfectly atmospheric; others, I think, would benefit from different furniture arrangements and better use of space. A piano feels tucked into the corner of a living room, for example, while an elevator to the bedroom hallway opens into a small nook we find cramped by a sofa and large armchairs.
The staff are a pleasure; I have a glowing idea of the next generation of Killarney passing through here. A young porter we meet has a gift for hospitality, chatting as easily with our 12-year-old son as with older American visitors. Our waiter at the Cellar Bar is another natural who knows his menus inside out (from portion sizes to celiac options). It is also a compliment to the management. 7/10
Twelve of the 48 rooms are in the main house, offering period features like sash windows and stucco work alongside rainfall showers and Nespresso machines. Others, in the 1960s garden wing, evoke the flora of Killarney without being too obvious – in botanical wallpapers or woolen throws, for example (those on the ground floor have small terraces) . Ours was a suite, a deluxe living room with engineered wood floors, a stand-alone tub, and a curved inlaid walnut piece used as a TV stand. A fake rose seemed odd, though. Even the smallest bits of freshness say a lot more.
The Coach House rooms are great. Set around a tidy garden, their wooden floors, large bathrooms and pops of color – an ornately red studded headboard caught my eye – are a hit, and the glazed staircase flanking one side of the building in cut stone is a nice feature. If you don’t mind being outside of the hotel, I would focus on those. 7.5/10
The Herbert Room is Cahernane’s fine dining offering, an elegant space with heavy curtains, chandeliers, estate views, and two AA rosettes to its name. Chef Cormac Vesey has recently replaced Eric Kavanagh, so it will be interesting to see how the five-course menu (€65 pp) evolves. Expect local delights like Kerry lamb and seafood.
After perusing these menus in our room, we chose the more casual Cellar Bar, a small barrel-vaulted space in the former wine cellar. In the spotlight are a juicy Killarney Blonde beaten cod (€19.50), Dingle crab and salmon cakes (€16) and a comforting dahl with lentils and chickpeas (€17.50). A dark chocolate opera cake with orange curd and raspberry sorbet is a popular dessert, and it’s heartening to see so many Irish ingredients and craft drinks on the menus.
Breakfast is back in the Herbert Room, where staff bring continental fare (there’s no buffet), tea and coffee in silver pots, fresh juices and a basket of toast and pastries. Hot dishes include Full Irish, Buttermilk Pancakes and ‘Eggs Cahernane’ – with wild mushrooms, pancetta, sourdough, chorizo and chive butter for an extra €4.
The bottom line
Cahernane is on a cool journey of expansion and refinement. More bedrooms, extended kitchens and a possible orangery are on the cards, Corridan tells me, which should further highlight this four-star among Killarney hotels. Looking at how far similar properties like Ballina’s Mount Falcon and Galway’s Glenlo Abbey are advancing creatively, there’s no reason it should stop there either.
Stay on quieter nights like Sunday or Monday, or use a Blue Book voucher, and the hotel offers late check-out. Book direct and you’ll also get a €10 discount and a glass of Prosecco.
B&B from €109pp. A two-night Halloween package including dinner and storytelling with Eddie Lenihan starts from €250 pp (October 31-November 1; suitable for adults and children). Pól was a hotel guest. 064 663-1895; cahernane.com