Showing posts with label Fernhill Hotel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fernhill Hotel. Show all posts

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Fernhill House Hotel. Its history and its beautiful gardens.

Fernhill House Hotel and its beautiful gardens.

You notice the ferns straightaway. After all, they are planted in groups around Fernhill House Hotel in Clonakilty. And, of course, in the 14 acres of gardens, (itself divided into three sections: managed, lightly-managed and wild). Garden Designer Mary Reynolds has plans and, because Fernhill is a great wedding venue, ferns just have to be included. 

The first reason is that they’ve always been here and the second is one of Mary’s inspirations. Cloich na Coillte is the Irish name for Clon and means ‘Stone in the woods’. Ferns help form the carpet that clothes the earth as part of  healthy woodland, covering the ground in a soft carpet of feathers. “In ancient Ireland, every plant was associated with certain energies. Ferns represent marriage and the secret bond of love. The gentle unfurling of the fern fronds symbolise the slow blooming of love in a committed relationship.”

And so couples come from all over West Cork to get married here, sometimes in the more managed part of the garden. Here, their photographer has some amazing backgrounds to work with, especially at dusk when parts, including the little bridge, are highlighted by fairy lights. 

And, on the Valentine’s Day after their wedding, the couple are invited back to plant an apple tree.

Our September visit to Fernhill started with a warm welcome from Michael O’Neill (jnr), the fourth generation of the family in the hotel. The hotel is built around the original house which dates from 1826. The Atkin family were the first owners. They didn’t have much luck on the male side. When the father died, the family, including Robert Travers Atkin (born Fernhill 1841) went to Australia where he went on to be “the founding father of social justice” in that country. He too died prematurely and the family headed for England. Here, a son of Robert’s became Lord Atkin and was directly responsible for opening the way for compensation claims.

Michael O'Neill and a herb spiral

The Wrights and the Cowpers were other families associated with the house as the 19th century closed and the 20th began. Michael Collins was a visitor in 1920 and, during the war, the Irish army were based here (an ammunition bunker from that time still stands here). The mansion house was bought by M.J. O Neill in the 1940’s and was turned into a hotel by his son Con with his wife Mary in the 1960’s.

The hotel has “grown” around the original house and so too has the wedding business and the garden is a key part of that. But the 14 acres accommodate much more nowadays. Many apple trees grow here and other fruit as well.

Ferns, and a well worn mill-wheel embedded in the wall

And expect to see many varieties of Irish trees and bushes under Mary’s direction, even if there are many here already. And not planted willy nilly! During the tour, Michael explained that they use a layering system with bushes or small trees in the first row, medium sized specimens  next and then the tallest; always with the aim of keeping compatible species close to one another.

We had just 30 minute for so in the garden but you could spend all day here to take in all the detail. As you move from the more fully managed area to the semi-managed area, you come across their stone circle (they built it themselves - it’s not an ancient one!). Here in the grassy circle on certain days you will see a group doing their yoga.

Move on a little further and you will hear the calming sound of running water as the river flows down the glen. Just sit here and relax. Indeed, forest bathing tours can be arranged here. Michael said he slept like a baby after his first experience of the bathing. Foraging tours are also done here, the schedule somewhat curtailed these Covid days, so do check availability with the hotel.

Listen to the birds and see those layered ranks of trees and imagine how they’ll look in the future. And as you stroll up the slope, note the series of terraces near the river. Here, trees are being planted and each terrace will be harvested (and replanted) in rotation, with the harvested timber going to the hotel’s wood-burner.

The family are much into sustainability. They have solar panels in place and have their own sustainable water supply. Michael jnr himself is a director of Sustainable Clonakilty and was a board member of the European Union’s EDEN group. His group had plans to plant no less than 10,000 tress locally this year until the Covid interruption but, still, they managed to get most of them into the ground.

Michael is also a keen historian and his starting point is the house. You can read some of the early details in our first post on our visit here and you’ll know that quite a few well known people have been through its doors. The early families, who lived in the 1826 built mansion and its then 1,257 acre estate, were part of the landed gentry. They had lawn tennis courts, a cricket pitch, a four storey castle tower, an ornate orangery and more. In fairness, they also ran a soup kitchen to feed the starving during the famine.

What may not be so well-known is that Fernhill has quite a literary connection as well, ranging from Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, the Victorian novelist, credited with the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” to Louise O’Neill author of the bang up to date “Asking for it”. Louise, by the way, is a cousin of Michael’s and a great grand-daughter of MJ who purchased the house in 1946.

The Irish army march through Clon during WW2

Michael has put together a folder showing other literary connections with sites that relate directly to the history of Fernhill and its surrounds.

Louise O’Neill - Almost Love and Asking for it

Sophie Hannah - Closed Casket (a Hercule Poirot story set in a Georgian mansion in Clonakilty)

Margaret Wolfe Hungerford (wrote as The Duchess) - Molly Bawn

Tim Pat Coogan - Michael Collins; Eamon De Valera.

Tim Crowley - In Search of Michael Collins

James Douglass - JFK and the Unspeakable

Henry Ford - My Life and Work

Mary Reynolds - Garden Awakening

Damien Enright - Scenic Walks in West Cork

Alison Wickham - Irish Women Speak.

From the garden to the kitchen

Michael had arranged lunch for us but before that he had another little surprise. He showed us some pretty old scrapbooks, full of newspaper cuttings. As with many such collections, the dates had been trimmed from the scraps but, judging by some that still had dates, it seemed they were collected in the early decades of the 20th century.

There were a few recipes that caught my eye:

Lobster Omelet (US spelling).

Salmon Kedjeree (sic)

Little Cheese Custards

Macaroni a la Napolitaine

Kidney Toast

Savoury Vermicelli

Roes and Mushrooms on Toast.

Needless to say, none of those were on the day’s lunch menu! It was a meal that we enjoyed very much indeed and you may read all about it here.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Clonakilty’s Historic Fernhill House Hotel: Lovely Lunch and Visit

Clonakilty’s Fernhill House Hotel: Lovely Lunch and Visit

An invitation to visit Fernhill House Hotel in Clonakilty was immediately taken up and we spent an very interesting few hours here, much of it in the company of our host Michael O’Neill, the fourth generation of the family who have been here since the 1940s. The original house itself was built in 1826 and the hotel has grown up around it. And it all sits in the middle of 14 acres of gardens in 3 sections, one managed, another semi-wild, and the other part more or less wild. Michael took us through the house and gardens.

Fernhill has historic connections. The man credited with the foundation of social justice in Australia was born here. His son, Lord Atkin, is credited with the initiation of compensation for civil claims, the famous case of the snail in the bottle of ginger ale. Michael Collins, who lived close by, visited here and, during WW2, the Irish army were billeted here. 

Strong literary connections also, ranging from Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, the Victorian novelist, credited with the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” to Louise O’Neill author of the bang up to date “Asking for it”. We’ll return to the house and gardens in future posts.

After our tour we sat down for lunch in the bright and airy dining room. The menu was encouraging, full of local produce, from the likes of Gubbeen, Cashel Blue, O’Neill’s Black Pudding, Shannonvale, Toonsbridge, Macroom Buffalo, Michael Twomey, Union Hall, not to mention herbs, veg and fruit from their own garden.

Loads of choices in the starter section. Everything from soup to large plates and also sandwiches and salads and various combinations on offer. 


CL picked the Citrus Cured Union Hall Salmon (shaved fennel and orange, marinated beetroot, mixed leaf salad, orange vinaigrette). Union Hall, another family firm, are highly regarded in West Cork and the Fernhill kitchen certainly made the best of the salmon.

And my Salt Cod Fishcake (chorizo and sun-dried tomato dressing, confit garlic aioli, pickled  mussels) was also excellent. A superb combination of flavour, texture and colour, a class or two above your regular fishcake offering.

The Beef Burger, with Michael Twomey’s Wagyu beef starring, was a very tempting dish on the mains, again quite a list of choices. My pick though was the Roast Agnus Feather Blade of Beef (crushed potatoes, creamed carrot and horseradish, rainbow carrot, jus roti). Very happy with that too, since again the accompaniments enhanced the leading element.


And contented sounds too from the other side of the table where CL was tucking into her Slow Cooked Barbary Duck Leg (sautéed potatoes, confit onions, buttered Savoy cabbage). Both dishes were excellently presented, nothing too fancy but neat and tidy.

We had seen apples and white raspberries growing in the garden during our tour and they turned up in the dessert menu. The Fernhill Orchard Apple Lattice Tart (served with crème anglaise, Ice-Cream, and apple crisp) made the most of the freshly picked apple while the raspberry appeared in the fruit that came with the Peach Crisp, also served with crème anglaise, Ice-Cream plus a shortbread biscuit. Lovely and warm, just like the sunny scene outside.

If you come here in the winter, or in future winters, the heat you notice originates in the garden. The O’Neills are very much into sustainability. On the walk, Michael pointed to a series of terraces on a slope near the river in the glen. Here, trees are being planted and each terrace will be harvested (and replanted) in rotation with the timber going to the hotel’s wood-burner.


There is so much going on here…

In the garden alone, you’ll see a stone circle (where Yoga sessions are held), an Ammo bunker from WW2, lots of apple trees interplanted with support plants, permaculture, those terraces of timber, and the impressive wedding facility. The plans of garden designer and artist Mary Reynolds are taking shape here but it is early days yet. You can take you’ll be seeing more and more native Irish flowers, plants and trees. So much to look forward to. 

Read more about the house and its superb gardens here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Clonakilty Street Carnival. The more we pull together, the further we will go.

Clonakilty Street Carnival. The more we pull together, the further we will go.

I spotted a demi-sphere in a Clonakilty back-garden last Saturday. It was made of old bicycle wheels. Inside there were a few hens and outside it supported some thriving peas. It struck me later that this kind of inventiveness, this ability to think outside the box and to cherish those who do so, is part of the town’s success. 
Chris O'Sullivan introduces Mayor Gretta O'Donovan

The motto at Richy’s Restaurant, now celebrating 16 years in the town - Think Global, Eat Local - is another example, another spur to raise the bar. Richy is full of enthusiasm. He doesn’t see barriers, he says. Richy doesn’t hum and haw. “If you want me to cook a meal on top of Carrigfadda Hill, I’ll do it.” 
Work to be done!

And they do support local here as was underlined the following morning when we sat down to breakfast at Glendine, a lovely B&B run by Mick (Clonmel) and Mari (Youghal) Hanly, both members of the brass band, and involved in the carnival and the town. Local all the way on the plate here.
Getting there

Clon, as it is popularly known, has a string of awards to its credit, including Tidy Town and Entente Florale. It is designated an Irish Heritage town. It is the first official Fair Trade Town in Ireland and, more recently, was named European Town of the Year in 2017, that after a major refurbishment of the main street, the very street in which they hosted, for the third time, an amazing street carnival, the highlight of which was the feeding of about 2,000 people last Saturday. Population of the town is about 4,500.

We got down there early-ish on Saturday morning. Three massive rows of tables were laid out. But they were bare. Not for long though. Soon the organised volunteers appeared. The tables were covered and then pots of wild flowers began to appear. At the entrance to the street, the providers, local restaurants and hotels, were setting up in the covered area.

In Clon, there is something for everyone: “Social Together” was the theme for the 2018 festival and that of course meant kids, lots of them. And they had their own long table. And much more besides. 

All day long, amidst the colourful ribbons, bubbles and bunting, there was live music, a kids’ zone with supervised bouncy castles, pottery classes, penalty-shootouts, face-painting, magicians, bubbles and popcorn machines, as well as giant games, ping pong, and crazy golf, and an enclosed area for the real smallies. Street performers, with games and costumes, helped the kids enjoy themselves.

Gradually the momentum began to build as the weather held good and the locals and visitors began to arrive in force to enjoy the free entertainment and to make the  theme of “Social Together” a lively fun-filled reality. The more we pull together, the further we will go.

And there was music, lots of it, off all kinds, from jazz to pop groups to their own magnificent Clonakilty Brass Band (founded in 1900). Some played in the Astna Square area near the kids zone while others took to the big stage at the other end of the street. And there were others trying their luck, even a teenage quartet belting out Beatle numbers on a side street.

While music in Clonakilty, like life in the town, has many strands, the town credits Noel Redding’s impact on his adopted home as “monumental”. In 1972, Noel, the original bass played with Jimmy Hendrix, moved to Clon and stayed there for the next 27 years. His legacy continues in the venues he performed at, the festivals he helped to inspire and the abundance of musical talent he fostered and attracted to the locality.

Of course, the main focus in the afternoon would be back at those tables. As three o’clock approached, we joined the queue, a long one but very good humoured. Soon, we were making choices, so many as you can see on the photo of the menu, everything from Quality Hotel’s Falafel and trimmings to Lettercollum’s Paella, from Celtic Ross’s Bacon and Cabbage croquette (very good reports on that one) to Hart’s Cafe’s veggie curry. I enjoyed the Asian style Seafood Noodle salad by Scannell’s while CL’s choice was the Nasi Goren by Richy’s. 

But there was something for everyone. Oh yes and there was dessert also, big pots of stunning fruit yogurt by Irish Yogurts. And a drink? Of course. Plenty of water, wine and a special beer for the day (a good one too!) by the local brewery. All for fifteen euro! The kids meals, by the way, cost seven. 
The queue!
Looking for a seat!

And once we had our meal in hand, the next question was where to sit? But no problem. As we left the serving area, we were met by one of the fantastic volunteers. She had a tray, put our food on it and guided us, chatting and laughing, to seats that we, left to our devices, might have found difficult to spot. So we ate and the music played and the sun shone! Great stuff.

So well done to the committee and the volunteers, people who also had their businesses and shops to run on the day. I met some of them including Kevin O’Regan, Mick Hanley, Michelle Mitton, Trish Kerr, Tim Coffey, Andrew Loane, Chris O’Sullivan, Robert O’Keeffe and Richy Virahsawmy.
from Scannell's

If Chris was everywhere music was happening, Richy was everywhere there was food! And he was a happy man as the rush wound down. “Would you find this anywhere else in Ireland?”, he asked. So big congrats to Richy and all his colleagues behind the scenes for another fantastic day in Clonakilty.

Sponsors too play a major role here and the list is as long as Mick Hanley’s arms (both of them!). This year the Street Carnival committee were delighted to welcome Irish Yogurts as a platinum sponsor. Irish Yogurts is a family run business and was founded in Clonakilty in 1994 by Diarmuid O’Sullivan.

Kevin O’Regan, Clonakilty Carnival Committee: “This is a community effort driven by commitment, enthusiasm and great energy.” Craic, ceol, bia, comharsanna, cuairteoirí = an meitheal is mó ar domhan. See you next year in Clon!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

In Spiller’s Lane. Choc And Aah!

In Spiller’s Lane
Choc And Aah!
Allison, on her bike, with her Clonakilty Chocolate
Clonakilty hotels and restaurants were out in force as A Taste of West Cork festival kicked off in the town’s Spiller’s Lane on Saturday. The sun came out too and so did hundreds of punters as the local mayor opened the event.
With music playing, we sauntered up and down the narrow lane and started off with a delightful cocktail from Fernhill Hotel. Ingredients were mostly local, of course, and the "Corktail" included service with a smile. Neighbouring stall saw the Emmet Hotel dishing out loads of delicious small bites. We sampled canapés featuring Union Hall Salmon and Chicken Paté, both excellent.

An Sugan (top)
and Richie's bun.
A beetroot salad? The offer came from the man at the Baile an Ard Foods Stand and, of course, we said yes. It was very impressive. He told me the salad, along with quite a few others, may be bought in local shops and supermarkets and that they also do catering for events such as Communions, Confirmations, parties, even Christmas. So now you know.

An Sugan had quite a menu on offer and we picked their Scallops with a parsnip and potato puree. Three big juicy scallops, for a fiver! 

And we did well next door too with Richy’s Bistro where the man himself served up their Steamed Pork Bun, based on a dish by a top New York chef. Ricky took a while to figure out how to reproduce it but it was worth the wait as it is a beauty, another gem for a fiver.

The Lettercollum Project
On the way back down (maybe up!), we stopped for the speeches alongside the Clonakilty Black Pudding stand. And then there was ice-cream from the lady at Clonakilty Homemade Ice Cream. The Honeycomb was delicious and a reasonable two euro for a boule. They have a shop in the town and do outdoor events and supply to restaurants and hotels around West Cork. They’ve been doing it for the past ten years and all the ice cream is made on the premises.
We had lots of other samples as we made our way around but our final stop was at Clonakilty Chocolate where Allison was not alone displaying her range of freetrade bars but also the newest addition to the family, the baby sleeping soundly despite the crowds. No need to sample here, we know how good her chocolate is.

We did buy a few bars, including the favourite Mo Milk Chocolate. This includes goats milk and Coconut Blossom Syrup, a creamy compromise between the bean and milk. Enjoying it now as I write this. Tough going!

  • A Taste of West Cork continues all this week with events, big and small, taking place across the area. Get your hands on the brochure or check it out here .