If you were the proud owner of a 1300-acre estate with 3 lakes and 7km of woodland trails, which featured some of the oldest and largest trees in Ireland (several on the National Register), you would probably offer your guests a not-to-be-missed, personally guided tour before dinner.
But weather on the Emerald Isle being "predictable," and trails sometimes sloppy at their edges, what would you do with the inevitable muddy walking shoes and hiking boots? Perhaps you would do as the Radisson Farnham Estate, which is located near Cavan Town in Co. Cavan.
A sign attached to a large mud-splattered riding boot, just inside the west entry, reads, "If you wish, place your dirty shoes in one of the bags provided and use the slippers you see here with our compliments." Ah, nice. Slippers and bag for messy shoes. But Lords Farnham, any one of them stretching back over 330 years, might have gone one step further and assigned a footman or lady's maid to the task of cleaning shoes. After all, records of early 1900's mention a house staff of 11, and back in the late 1700's, records show that 100 employees tended farms and woodlands that covered some 24,000 acres.
According to a brochure, the last of the Maxwell family, the 13th Lord Farnham, died in 2001 at which time the property was sold. A contemporary, four-star hotel, golf, and housing development now occupies the site and gratefully bears the imprint and legacy of the Maxwell family. And not just in the restored estate house as impressive as it is with gilded mirrors, marble fireplaces, parquet floors, and eight-foot tall windows, but above all, in the giant trees lining the woodland trails. The Maxwells were first and foremost avid and prolific planters of trees, many of them non-native species imported from around the world. And to see them, in the relatively short time before supper (one could spend many pleasant hours walking the trails), the present estate manager, Michael Barry, couldn't have been more accommodating. He graciously provided a tour in his 4-wheel drive vehicle.
It's hard to overstate the awesome size, rarity, and stunning presence of these awesome specimens, some of whose ages approach 400 years. One visitor to the Farnham Estate in the early 1800's described a carefully managed woodland and deer park known to be 200 years old at that time.
So called "first growth," virgin, or never harvested forests are rare, especially in Europe. In Maine, for instance, in the early days of logging, white pine 8 feet in diameter and 140 feet tall were eagerly sought and routinely harvested. Not one example survives. Here at Farnham, on easily accessible rambles, you'll be able to see many species (oak, beech, hemlock, chestnut, cedar, lime) that approach this enormous size and age. And yes, you'll be able to do other things here. Ride bikes, a convenient way to explore the trails, and fish in the 3 lakes, gear provided. And there's a modern spa which smells enchanting as soon as you open the door: scented oil.
Then, you may go from indoor heated pool to the outdoor merely by diving under a glass partition. The meals here are superb. Best salmon ever, bar none. The chef's not so closely guarded secret? Marinate in teriyaki, serve over coriander noodles. Absolutely delicious. After dinner, try a game of chess. You've heard of lawn tennis at Wimbledon, for instance? How about lawn chess? Just last evening, a man and a boy challenged each other on opposite sides of an 8-foot checkerboard with chess pieces over 2 feet tall. This stirring action took place right in front of a weather-scarred cypress reaching well over 100 feet into the air, which tradition claims was planted by Bishop Bedell in the 1600's commemorating a treaty of peace between the English and the ever-resentful local clans.
Earlier, the assistant head of housekeeping, Helen Leddy, allowed a quick look at one of the eight guest rooms located in the restored part of the original estate house. The rooms have all the modern conveniences, but the unmistakable ambiance of another era with marble fireplaces, wide plank floors, period wood panelling, wavy glass windows whose panes look out on the vast expanse of terraced lawn and a prized centuries old cedar of Lebanon.
"My grandmother," Helen said, "is 90 years old now, but in the 30's and 40's, she was a house servant, chambermaid for Lord and Lady Farnham. She must have been well regarded, for the Farnhams considered her part of their household and took her with them when they travelled to England where they also maintained a home."
It's hard to move around here without encountering a tale of two eras.
Directions: From Dublin, approx 90 km, take N3. Then R198 out of Cavan Town toward Killashandra for 5km.
Written by Joy Davis - Summer of Travel 2007