Ireland's landscape is a rich tapestry of architectural styles, with Norman castles and neo-classical mansions sitting side by side with cosy farmhouses and contemporary wonders. One thing's for sure, all around the island you'll find a warm welcome in interesting, charming accommodations that are packed with character, and characters! So in the spirit of turning your Ireland trip into a real journey, here are some of the most memorable places to stay along the way.
Blackhead Lighthouse, Belfast Lough, Co Antrim
As sleeping experiences go, you won't get much more unique than bedding down in a historic lighthouse standing on dramatic coastal cliffs. Built during the heyday of Belfast shipping in the early 20th century, Blackhead Lighthouse was responsible for guiding ships, including the Titanic, through Belfast Lough. Nowadays you can stay at the lighthouse in cosy cast iron beds and marvel at the maritime paraphernalia still there, or just admire the breathtaking views of Belfast Lough from your cushy bird's-eye-view window.
Cullintra House, Inistiogue, Co Kilkenny
At Cullintra House (cullintrahouse.com), a cosy chocolate box 19th-century home in the Kilkenny heritage village of Inistioge, you'll find a warm welcome but soon discover you're not the house's most important guest. Here cats are king and painter-owner Patricia's feline friends literally have the run of the place. You'll find cat memorabilia galore and little furries in the quaint bedrooms, in the dining room where guests eat communally and rambling the gorgeous grounds, like they – quite rightly – own the place.
No 25 Eustace Street, Dublin
You could easily pass No. 25 Eustace St in Dublin's cobbled Temple Bar area without realising the treasure that lies within. An 18th-century merchant's house that sleeps seven, carefully restored using authentic materials and furnishings, is available to rent on a nightly basis. Climb the creaky stairs to the drawing room where you can play the Bechstein boudoir piano or lounge in the rolltop free standing bath and imagine what life was like as a Georgian city slicker.
Grouse Lodge, Roesmount, Co Westmeath
Grouse Lodge (grouselodge.com), the beautiful rambling stone farmhouse and outbuildings that acts as a residential recording studio for Irish and visiting bands, became Michael Jackson's secret hideout for six weeks in 2006. REM, Shirley Bassey, Manic Street Preachers and Sinead O'Connor have all recorded in this reasonably-priced midlands village property with indoor heated pool, jacuzzi, nine double bedrooms, and on site organic chef. Come for the rock n roll stories, retold in the small hours at the on-site pub.
The Schoolhouse, Annaghmore, Co Sligo
The atmospheric little Schoolhouse in Annaghmore, Co Sligo, built in the 1860s on the banks of Owenmore river in secluded woodland now sleeps four but was once the schoolroom and two-bedroom house of the schoolmaster. You'll still see original school fireplace, chalk boards and coat hooks and legend has it that the last owner buried all his money in a tin on the school grounds.
Merchant Hotel, Belfast, Co Down
In a stunningly restored Victorian sandstone building, the five-star Merchant Hotel (themerchanthotel.com) in Belfast's historic cathedral quarter was once HQ to the Ulster Bank. Even in the 19th-century bankers knew how to spend money and the old world grandeur of antique tapestries, Italian marble, massive gilt-framed mirrors and impossibly high ceilings is truly impressive.
Number 31, Leeson Close, Dublin
Little has changed at Number 31 (number31.ie), iconic Irish architect Sam Stephenson's 1960s home and party pad, since the days when every visiting celebrity from Henry Kissinger to Ted Kennedy dropped in to its sunken lounge for a martini. Kilim rugs, a big open fire, mirrored cocktail bar and floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto an inner Japanese garden evoke the heady decade that once made this discreet guesthouse a magnet for Dublin's glitterati.
Inishturkbeg, Clew Bay, Co Mayo
Who wouldn't dream of owning their own island? Well if you can't own it why not stay on someone else's private island in the extraordinary setting of Clew Bay in Co Mayo overlooking ancient Croagh Patrick. Inishturkbeg (inishturkbeg.ie), a luxury island retreat developed from scratch on a deserted island offers a getaway to one of five island 'cottages' with infinity pool, gym and spa, access to a private chef, butler and use of the retreat's horses or catamaran for a scenic spin round the tiny ancient island.
Gyreum, Castlebaldwin, Co Sligo
If you want to reinvigorate your soul and get back to nature, it doesn't get much more earthy than a trip to Gyreum (gyreum.com), a wind- and solar-powered eco retreat in a colossal yurt-like timber temple with living wildflower roof, sunk into the hills of Sligo. Many come for their Pilgrim's Progress six-county walking tour that culminates in a full moon-lit hot tub, but it's an inspirational space to take part in a diverse range of creative and eco-centred events. Built on a ley line, stay in one of Gyreum's inner tents, break bread at the great communal table and absorb some of Mother Earth's free energy.
Drenagh, Limavady, Co Derry
You may not be to the manor born but you can still pretend. The ab-fab Regency pile of Drenagh (drenagh.com), on 1000 acres of parkland near Limavady, has been the home of the McCausland family since the 1600s but is all yours to rent. With eight bedrooms, you and your friends can enjoy the elegant delights of its billiard room, home cinema, indoor pool, walled garden (the largest of its kind in the country) while your chauffeur and house staff cater to your every whim.