In the frantic rush of a business trip, the indulgence of a luxurious adventure or the heady buzz of a romantic assignation, it’s simple enough to breeze through a hotel, sparing little more than a passing glance at the art on the walls. But this autumn and next spring, a wonderful opportunity arises (on three separate weekends) to see – and explore – Irish art in two of Ireland’s finest luxury hotels, which possess magnificent private collections within their Georgian walls.
The first is The Merrion hotel (pictured), housed in four beautifully restored Grade I-listed townhouses on one of Dublin’s most elegant squares. It has more than 90 pieces of 19th- and 20th-century Irish art on display, including, in the Front Hall, TheHour of Sleep (1951) by Jack B Yeats, brother of poet WB Yeats and considered one of Ireland’s greatest painters.
Ballyfin, in County Laois, an hour’s drive from Dublin, is the second hotel. It reopened in 2011, after an eight-year restoration brought the magnificent late-Georgian building back to life. While being run as a luxurious hotel – think four-poster beds and marble bathrooms that look out onto the bluebell-filled park – it also stands as a testament to the best of Irish art and architecture, showcasing important artists from the mid 17th century. Both hotels have important artists in common, including the abstract painter Mainie Jellett (1897-1944), who was responsible for introducing cubism to Ireland.
After arriving at The Merrion hotel on the Friday of these weekends, an expert from the National Gallery of Ireland will give guests a private tour of the hotel’s art collection, as well as accompanying them on a visit to the nearby gallery. An Art Tea will see the hotel’s paintings reinterpreted by its confectioners. Lastly comes dinner at Ireland’s only two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Patrick Guilbaud, which is housed in the hotel.
The next day, guests will travel to Ballyfin, where the afternoon sees curator, historian and Irish art expert William Laffan give a tour of the hotel’s collection. A five-course dinner in the State Dining Room that evening will provide an occasion for Laffan to put Ballyfin and its estate into context for those assembled, promising a fascinating insight into the country’s art, history, topography and society.
Sunday will, appropriately, be a day of rest. But with 600 acres of parkland, a folly to climb, a lake to fish in or boat on, and an indoor pool and spa to indulge in, there shouldn’t be any risk of too little to do.