Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Another generation adds to the charm of Coopershill House.

Having travelled the world in his youth, Simon O’Hara is well placed to know there’s no place like home, particularly when home is Coopershill House, the luxury country house hotel in Co Sligo.
Now 45, he began his career working in the City of London only to discover he hated being cooped up indoors. When a friend suggested he apply for a job as a safari guide in Nairobi, he jumped at it, “much to my parents’ concern, what with leaving a steady job and all”.
He spent the next five years driving across Africa, leading overland tours of up to 20 adventurous souls at a time, each looking to get up close and personal with African wildlife. It was, he says, the best job in the world. It was also custom made for him.
“I love open spaces, which is why I hated being in an office. As a safari guide I was driving across the Sahara, with no roads, no tracks, only a compass to guide me and it was terrific fun.”
From there he moved to Mexico, where he set up his own travel business, sending Mexicans on African safari honeymoons and bringing UK tourists on Mayan tours.

He returned to Sligo in 2005, taking over the running of Coopershill House from his parents a year later.
Generational handovers are notoriously difficult but not in this case. “It was actually a very easy transition and, because my parents moved into another house on the property, it was great to be able to ask questions such as ‘Why is this chimney smoking?’ and ‘Why might that light be flashing?’,” he said.
Now in their 70s, his parents went on to set up a thriving venison business on the estate, the end product of which is now on the menu at Coopershill.
The house has been in his family since it was built. “Coopershill is filled with happy childhood memories for me – my grandparents taught me to ride here – and I think what guests appreciate is that, unlike some other big old houses which can be like staying in a cold church, it’s a lovely warm home.”
The atmosphere is warm too. “We get an awful lot of repeat visitors, some of whom have been coming since my grandparents’ time, and what we are told time and again is that, more than a hotel, it is like visiting friends in the country who happen to have a big house,” said O’Hara.
“When you think about it, the place is full of lovely old crystal, antiques and silverware and the fact that no one has ever taken so much as an 18th century silver salt cellar is a testament to that fact – you don’t steal from friends.”

There’s another reason why the house has such a happy atmosphere - it also happens to be where O’Hara met his partner, Christina, an award winning, Ballymaloe trained chef.
“Christina came to work for my mother and was here when I returned from my travels. We always joke that we kept her so busy working she never had time to go and meet anyone else, luckily for me – and our 21month old son!”
Food is another huge part of the appeal for guests here. “It is consistently excellent and fresh. All our muesli, bread and yogurts are homemade, we have our own fresh eggs and of course, the venison sausage on the breakfast menu comes from our own farm.”
Above all, it’s the sense of escape that is most highly prized by guests. “Coopershill is all about the peace and quiet. There are no TVs in the bedrooms. Instead, guests enjoy the freedom and solitude of our 500 acre estate.”

He has added new innovations to the Coopershill experience, introducing, most recently, a half hour hawk walk on the estate for guests. But in the main his mission is all about preserving a recipe for hospitality that has been bringing guests back to this beautiful pocket of the Sligo countryside for generations.

“There are incremental improvements I plan to make, such as clearing lawns down to the river to offer boating. But by and large making very few changes to what we are so lucky to already have here is what is most important to us,” he said. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Living on the shores of Caragh Lake, Ring of Kerry & welcoming the Wild Atlantic Way

Carrig Country House is a proud member of Ireland's Blue Book. It is hidden away on the shores of Caragh Lake in County Kerry and is run by Frank & Mary Slattery.

When people asked us 18 years ago “Why are you moving to Caragh Lake?” they could not understand trading a bustling social urban town life with the ruggedness and wildness of rural life along the Ring of Kerry. We got it though – we could enjoy the natural etheral beauty of Castlemaine Harbour and Cromane out along the horizon to Dingle Bay capturing the shimmering dunes of Rossbeigh and Inch. We could look out across the harbour to the spine of the Slieve Mish Mountains as they connected with the Brandon Mountains further west along the Dingle Peninsula. We could turn west to enjoy the wooded hills and mountains surrounding the quaint and charming village of Glenbeigh and finally, turn south to feast our eyes on the idyllic tranquillity of Caragh Lake with its majestic backdrop of the Kerry Highlands and MacGillycuddy Reeks.

Being on the Ring of Kerry, we have shared our experiences with so many friends and visitors, whilst always encouraging them and others to slow down and spend more time. With this in mind, we are now thrilled to welcome the Wild Atlantic Way, which has been created and developed to highlight the wonderful communities, destinations and experiences along Ireland’s wild-west coast but also to highlight the hidden gems that have always been here but never quite discovered. We hope, through our blogs, to share our hidden gems with you for as you will discover, Caragh Lake is not just a lake, it is a lake with many untapped treasures…

Carrig Country House is a proud member of Ireland's Blue Book. It is hidden away on the shores of Caragh Lake in County Kerry and is run by Frank & Mary Slattery.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Top 5 Trends in Wedding Themes

Top 5 Trends in Wedding Themes

1)      Vintage is currently the post popular wedding theme. With personalised and homemade décor for the wedding day proving very popular at weddings this year!  

Brooch Bouquets have featured in lots of weddings this season. This is a great way to get the best of both worlds; a beautiful wedding bouquet which you can keep for a lifetime as a centerpiece in your home.

Perhaps enroll in a class to make your own bouquet, a great excuse for a girls day out with your bridesmaids is a “Brooch hunt” at your local vintage fair. 


Also Pinterest is a great resource to help create DIY personalised vintage accessories!
Check out Ireland'sBlue Book Weddings on Pinterest

2)      Hollywood Glamour and its sophisticated elegance have remerged as a style favourite throughout weddings at each of our Blue Book houses.  Femininity at its best dressed in satin or silk.

3)      Rustic Weddings are becoming increasingly popular, bringing the best elements of the outdoors “indoors” and incorporating the country style into their décor.  Upon first thought, when you discuss Tree Rings, Mason Jam Jars and rusted birdcages, wedding décor is not immediately what springs to mind!  


However, a recent trend amongst couples is to use Mason jars (sometimes covered in lace) as
Vases as part of their table display, rusted birdcages to display their table plan or using
tree ring slice upon which to display their Wedding Cake!

4)      Ultimate Tea Party Wedding – Reflecting the obsession with all things vintage, couples have been selecting Blue Book Houses as the destination for their wedding because of the classic Country House Style! 


Brides have been known to bring in their own antique floral tea cups in which to serve their arrival drinks.  Whilst  many serve traditional Breakfast Tea, the more adventurous have been know to serve colourful summer cocktails which reflect beautifully the myriad of vibrant floral designs  Although many find hiring the antique cups and easy solution, a way to ensure a more personal touch is to create a collection by borrowing from extended family sets.

5)     Garden Games and activities are a prominent feature of weddings at the Blue Book Houses.  Summer Weddings may feature lawn games such as croquet and boules to entertain guests while the photos are being taken, large paper flowers have been dotted along ancient trees and even the odd Petting Farm has been arranged to entertain the young (and old)!

The Blue Book Tip for March:

To create your own Personal theme (which could be a mishmash of multiple eras), start a mood board and begin collecting.  This will ensure that your day reflects the two of you as a couple!

For more information on Ireland's Blue Book Weddings see

Happy Planning.......

With thanks to our wedding expert at Barberstown Castle, Co.Kildare
Gretchen Ridgeway

Friday, 25 October 2013

Ghostly goings on in Ireland's Blue Book Grand Manors

Ghostly goings on in Ireland's Blue Book Grand Manors
Castle Leslie Estate - Co.Monaghan

In 1914 Norman Leslie was killed on the battlefield of France but weeks after his death he was seen by Lady Marjorie Leslie beside the chest of drawers in the famous Red Room.

He appeared as if in a cloud of light, reading through some of his letters, as if he was searching for one in particular. Lady Marjorie sat up in bed with a start, and said, `Why Norman - what are you doing here?' He simply turned to her and smiled, then faded away. So did the light.

Castle Durrow - Co.Laois

In a field opposite Castle Durrow on the other side of the river stands a monument know locally as the “Obelilsk”.  It is said to mark the spot where a young lady, a follower of the hunt was thrown from her horse and killed.  Remarkable enough though in true Irish traditional style the young lady clad all in white has continued over the years to make occasional brief nocturnal visits to the scene of her fatal accident. 

Barberstown Castle - Co.Kildare

Nicholas Barby built the Castle towards the end of the 13th Century on the land which was originally owned by the Great Norman family the Fitzgeralds.The story goes that for over 700 years people have come to Barberstown Castle, to be both protected and entertained within its walls.  You can take a step back in time and watch the story of Barberstown Castle come alive, hosted by none other than Nicholas Barby.

Medieval banquets are truly haunting with spooky music, wonderful costumes and an authentic insight into local history, teamed with our glowing reputation for good food.  Entertain your guests in the privacy of the original Castle Keep (1288) or in the Elizabethan Room and watch history come alive through Storytelling, Music and Dance.
Rathmullan House - Co.Donegal


Perhaps George Knox, born around 1660, had an uneventful life, but his son Andrew – grandfather of the first owner of Rathmullan House - was caught up in one of the most sensational events of the next century. The tale of ‘Half-Hanged MacNaghten’ is still dusted down regularly today.

Andrew, a long-serving MP for Donegal,  married Honoria Tomkins and they lived in the Priory in Rathmullan before moving to Derry around the mid-1700s when she inherited Prehen House. Andrew gave hospitality at Prehen to an old friend down on his luck, the celebrated gambler and bon viveur John MacNaghten. However, the relationship turned sour when MacNaghten wanted Andrew’s young daughter Mary-Anne to be his wife. After various twists and turns, the entire affair ended in tragedy in 1761 when MacNaghten ambushed the Knox family carriage on its way to Dublin, and Mary-Anne was killed.

MacNaghten was sentenced to death, despite having considerable public sympathy, but at the gallows in Strabane the rope broke three times. This entitled him to escape execution, but he said he didn’t want to be known as ‘Half-Hanged McNaghten’ and died at the fourth attempt. Of course, ‘Half-Hanged MacNaghten’ is what he’s been called ever since.

The oldest tablet in the church in Rathmullan commemorates the death of Andrew Knox in 1774 and also the loss of his only daughter Mary-Anne – ‘Mariana filia obiit November 1761’.

Andrew and Honoria had one other child, George. It was George’s son Andrew, nephew of the ill-fated Mary-Anne, who built Rathmullan House (perhaps it was to have an escape from the ghost of MacNaghten, which was naturally said to haunt Prehen House).

For more on the Ghostly goings on in Ireland's Blue Book Grand Manors be sure to visit


Happy Halloween


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Ireland's Blue Book Bake Off


The Ireland's Blue Book Bake Off 

Whether you fancy yourself as the next celebrity Masterchef, aspire to be a Michelin-starred chef, dream of competing in The Great Irish Bake Off
or you are more of a culinary novice, Ireland's Blue Book have a cookery course that's just right for you.

Dunbrody House Co. Wexford   
Dunbrody Cookery School has been designed to cater for all levels of cooks, from budding enthusiasts (Back to Basics) to the experienced gourmet (specialised courses). All of the courses at the Dunbrody Cookery School have been personally designed by Celebrity Masterchef Kevin Dundon. The emphasis at Dunbrody Cookery School is on freshness and sesonality of locally-sourced ingredients and utilising these to achieve fabulous dishes without the worry of overly-complicated recipes. Courses range from a variety of one day courses to the ever popular two day "Dinner Parties for Six course".

Ballymaloe House Co. Cork
The internationally renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School run by Darina Allen is located just 5 minutes from Ballymaloe House. Its beautiful gardens are open to the public from Easter to October, highlights include a maze and shell house. There is a huge variety of short courses available ranging from half a day to 5 days. Cookery demonstrations take place almost every weekday at the School from 2.00pm to 4.30pm. People who cannot spare the time to take an entire course often enjoy attending a demonstration session to see and taste the magic of creating Ballymaloe food.

Belle Isle Castle Co. Fermanagh       
At the Belle Isle Cookery School in Northern Ireland you will discover the delights of cooking in a relaxed atmosphere, with expert tuition, using top quality seasonal Irish produce. The schools hands-on cookery courses and demonstrations will introduce you to some of Irelands most exciting and innovative culinary ideas in a cookery school in one of the most beautiful settings in Ireland. At the Belle Isle Cookery School courses vary in duration from one day to 4-weeks and are designed for any level of cooking ability, from beginner through to experienced cooks. Each course takes a maximum of 14 people, allowing for a very 'hands-on' approach in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.

Castle Leslie Estate Co. Monaghan      
Following major restoration, the original Victorian kitchens in the Castle opened in July 2006 as the Cookery School. The learning space is a chef's dream and houses one of the famous Molteni ovens, an unrivalled masterpiece handcrafted with the Castle and its guests in mind. One of the best known cookery schools in Ireland, it is open all year round and offers cookery courses personally designed by our expert team of chefs. From time to time, we also invite speciality chefs to take over the kitchen at Castle Leslie Estate to share their expertise with our guests. So whether you're an experienced cook or a culinary novice, we have the right course to help you develop or enhance your skills.

For more information on how to book any of the courses mentioned above please see: http://www.irelands-blue-book.ie/cookery.html

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Why Ballyportry Castle is one of the most interesting places to stay in Ireland?


Why Ballyportry Castle is one of the most interesting places to stay in Ireland?
·       Ballyportry Castle located at the edge of the finest surviving archaeological and most interesting botanical and geological landscape in the west of Ireland.
·       It is one of the best restored Gaelic tower houses in the country and the most intact that is offered for rental.
·       Fullest evocation of late 15th century castle atmosphere of any Irish buildings.
·       Home of the late medieval Gaelic chieftains, the O’Brien’s, who sprung from an ancient Celtic sept whose most famous king, Brian Boru was High King of Ireland.
·       Ballyportry is almost half a century older than Trinity College, Dublin. It was built in the decade of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the Americas.
·       Interesting Times: The late 15th century Gaelic chiefs would have lived lives of privilege, culture, politics and warfare. It was a time of shifting political alliances.
·       Next year, 2014 will be a year of remembering Brian Boru as it will be 1000 years since the most famous battle in Irish history when he was the leader of the Irish forces against the Vikings. He decisively defeated the Vikings at the bloody battle of Clontarf at which he lost his life.
·       Restored by the American architect Bob Brown who, although without obvious Irish roots, fell in love with Ireland and it’s castles in the late 1960s.
·       Sympathetic restoration and subsequent researched conservation programmes have achieved the best example of medieval stone building conservation anywhere in Ireland.
·       Ballyportry Castle is between Kerry and Connemara, and inland from Galway Bay. It is beside the Burren National Park. County Clare is a peninsula surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, which is about 45 minutes away by car from Ballyportry Castle.


Friday, 1 February 2013

Love Bites with Ireland's Blue Book

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

1lb/450g fresh strawberries
7oz/200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids if possible)


Firstly wash the strawberries (leaving the stalks in place) in cold water. Drain in a colander and dry completely on kitchen paper.

Line a baking sheet or tray with greaseproof or wax paper.

Heat some water to boiling point in a saucepan. Remove from the heat.

Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a large heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over the pan of hot water ensuring that it does not come into contact with the water. Stir regularly until the chocolate is completely melted & smooth.
Hold a strawberry by its stalk and dip into the chocolate, rotating it slowly. Lift it out of the chocolate and allow the excess to drain back into the basin. Place onto the greaseproof paper.
Repeat the process until all strawberries are coated.
Allow the strawberries to set fully in the refrigerate for about an hour.

Cook's Notes
Milk chocolate or white chocolate may be used in place of plain if you prefer.
This chocolate dipped strawberries can be completed up to 4 hours before you intend to eat them.
If you wish to get a perfect, even finish to the chocolate, insert a cocktail stick or skewer into each strawberry before dipping. Once dipped, secure the other end of the stick into a piece of styrofoam or large grapefruit. Once set, remove from the stick and chill before serving.

              Love apple soup with poached oysters 

Tomatoes were originally known as “love apples” and considered a very romantic food.
Serves 2
2 beets, washed, topped and cubed                                    1 tsp. chopped chives
2 carrots, washed and roughly chopped                          1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, roughly chopped                                     1 egg white
1 tin (400g/14 oz) of chopped tomatoes                        1 egg shell, crushed
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped                                         1 tsp. caster sugar
1 bay leaf                                                                                      2 cloves
2 peppercorns                                                                            Salt to taste
4 fresh oysters
·         Place the beets, carrots and celery in a pan with about 600ml/1 pint of cold water.  Bring to the boil and cook until tender.
·         In another pot, place the tomatoes, garlic, chives, onion, egg whites and shells, sugar, bay leaf cloves and peppercorns.
·         Using a potato masher, mix all of these ingredients together and cook over a low heat for 25 minutes.
·         Strain the cooked carrots etc, reserving the liquid. 
·         Once the tomato mixture has finished cooking, pour the mixture into a jelly bag or cheesecloth sitting on a large sieve.  Allow to drain. Add this juice to the vegetable cooking liquor.  Season with salt and reheat but do not boil.
·         Shuck the oysters about 10 minutes before serving (or ask your fishmonger to do it earlier for you!).  Poached oysters in the hot soup for 1 minute before serving.
·         To serve, pour 2 ladles of soup into a hot bowl with 2 poached oysters.  Garnish with ½ tsp. of chopped chives or chervil.
You may think that this soup sounds like a lot of trouble but it is truly worth it.  Make the soup 2 days before and add the oysters just before serving.  If you can’t find fresh beets, use pre-cooked ones.

  Oysters with Champagne-Vinegar Mignonette

For mignonnette
2 teaspoons Champagne vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot
Pinch of coarsely ground black pepper
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

For oysters
1 1/2 cups kosher or other coarse salt
1/2 dozen small oysters, such as Kumamoto or Prince Edward Island, shells scrubbed well and oysters left on the half shell, their liquor reserved and oysters picked over for shell fragments
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
1 small cluster Champagne table grapes or 2 finely diced seedless red grapes

Make Mignonnette
Stir together vinegar, shallot, pepper, and sugat and let stand for 30 minutes.
Prepare Oysters
Preheat broiler.
Spread 3/4 cup salt in an 8- to 10-inch flameproof shallow baking dish or pan. Arrange oysters on their shells in salt, then top each with a piece of butter.
Broil 4 to 6 inches from heat until butter is melted and sizzling and edges of oysters are beginning to curl, 1 to 2 minutes.
Stir parsley into mignonnette. Divide remaining 3/4 cup salt between 2 plates and arrange 3 oysters on each. Spoon 1/4 teaspoon mignonnette over each oyster and sprinkle oysters with grapes. Serve warm

Orange Semifreddo300g sugar
80g water
240g egg yolks (8-10)
350g Orange coulis
500g semi whipped cream
Boil sugar and water until it reaches 119 degrees. Mix with the egg yolks. Add the coulis and mix well.
Whip the cream and fold into the mixture. Freeze well.

250 g egg whites
500g sugar

Mix the egg whites and sugar until stiff and shiny. Pipe into your desired shape and bake in a preheated oven at 100 degrees for 2 hours.

Chocolate Tuille
100g sugar
100g butter
10g glucose
75g flour
25g cocoa buter

Mix all ingredients until well combined and bake on a tray in a preheated oven at 170 degrees for 8-10 mins. The mixture can be shaped when still hot from the oven- to get a curved shape roll it around a rolling pin and leave to cool. 
440g YOLKS
750g CHOCOLATE (half 70% half53%)


560m1 WATER
720g SUGAR



2 Plum Tomatoes, seeded and diced
450g/1 lb smoked haddock fillet, skinned and cut into cubes
100g/4 oz Cheddar, grated
300 ml/1/2 pint cream
freshly ground black pepper
white bread rolls and sticks with butter, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Scatter half the tomatoes among four individual ovenproof dishes. Arrange the smoke haddock on top and sprinkle over half of the cheese. Scatter over the remaining tomatoes, season with pepper and pour over the cream. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake for 15 -20 minutes until the smoked haddock is completely tender and the top is bubbling and golden brown.
To Serve
Place the smoked haddock smokey dished directly on the table. Arrange the bread rolls and sticks in a seperate baske and put on the table with a small pot of butter, then allow everyone to help themselves.

Castle Leslie's Romantic Recipe 

White chocolate crème Brulee

White chocolate crème Brulee. ( makes 12 crème brulee dishes)


12 egg yolks(280g)
750g cream
250g milk
20g kirsch
50g castor sugar
650g white chocolate buttons/ or shaved chocolate


Whisk the eggs and sugar together
Bring cream and milk to simmering point, add to the egg and sugar whilst continuing to mix
Whilst hot add chocolate pieces and kirsch, whisk slowly until it is all melted, allow to cool
Once cold pour into moulds/dishes, bake at 100 degrees for approximately 45minutes or until it shows no liquid in the centre when gently moved form side to side


Serve with fresh raspberries and a rich dark chocolate ice cream