For a city girl, getting out into the countryside is something I just don’t do enough. It’s true, I own a pair of wellies. But their outings are often limited to the annual trip to The Electric Picnic.
So when I was invited down to Kinnitty Castle Hotel for a spot of mushroom foraging led by Bill O’Dea from Mushroom Stuff this weekend, my wellies’ hearts leapt with delight at the thought of stomping through forest grounds in search of fungi. And I was pretty psyched, too.
And so it was that an assorted group of bloggers and journalists and mushroom enthusiasts arrived at the stunning Kinnitty Castle Hotel in Kinnitty, Co Offaly on a drizzly October Saturday.
It’s believed there has been a castle on the grounds upon which Kinnitty Castle now stands as far back as 350AD. The ruins of the Kinnitty Abbey sit beside the castle, having been built in around the 6th century, but destroyed in the 800s. The castle itself also has a bit of a checkered history, being destroyed and rebuilt and burnt down and rebuilt and taken over and reclaimed and bought and sold in its time on this site.
Perhaps its most influential inhabitants of recent times would be the Bernard family, who came into ownership in 1764. It was Lady Catherine Hutchinson, the wife of Thomas Bernard, who commissioned the Pain Brothers to work on Kinnitty Castle in 1811. These famous architects, responsible for Dromoland Castle and Adare Manor, were the ones who created the neo-gothic aesthetic which has remained as the style of the castle to this day.
Its most recent history is that Atlantic Hospitality Services took over the running of the castle in April 2011, after the hotel went into receivership in 2008, having been owned by Cornelius Ryan since the 90s. Although AHS brought in a new management team and made a few changes to the interior, the castle remains much the same as it was and they have retained some members of staff who have worked within its walls for many years.
Our day at Kinnitty started in the Library Bar with tea and biscuits at noon, before we were ushered into the Slí Dala restaurant for lunch while Bill O’Dea from fungi foraging experts Mushroom Stuff introduced us to mushrooms and how to go about finding them in the wild.
After a warming lunch, and a stern talk about the dangers as well as the delights of mushroom picking, we were kitted out with foraging bags and brollies. With our feet securely fastened into our wellies, we headed out to the grounds of Kinnitty Castle in two groups, under strict instructions to pick whatever mushrooms we saw but to NOT eat ANYTHING.
My group decided to take the scenic route, so that we would have a chance to see more of the 650 acres of forest and parkland that make up the grounds of the castle, and hopefully find a few wee mushies along the way.
Spot the mushrooms?
I stayed close to Donal Skehan and his lovely lady Sophie, who really had the eye for the mushrooms. You can see in the photos that mushrooms often blend into their surroundings, and some people have the knack of seeing them clearly amongst the moss and trees. Donal compared Sophie to a truffle pig, she was so good at spotting them, which I’m pretty sure he meant in an affectionate way.
Donal and Sophie’s mushroom finds
My other foraging buddies were Kristin from Edible Ireland and Nessa Robbins from Nessa’s Family Kitchen. We spent nearly two hours gathering a few healthy looking fungi in the beautiful forest on the grounds of the castle before making our way back to the hotel, where hot toddies and slippers were waiting for us as Bill sorted through the mushrooms.
It turned out that the two groups, with a total of around 20 people, had amassed nearly 50 different varieties of mushrooms. However, only 5 of them were edible, and it was these 5 that were sent to the kitchen in Kinnitty Castle to be cooked up in some herb butter. They tasted amazing. Weird and wild mushrooms can not be beaten in their ability to present autumn to your tastebuds.
The evening continued after a little rest – wherein I think all of us made use of the amazing bath tubs in our stunning rooms – with drinks in The Library Bar, followed by dinner in the private dining room. Dinner just so happened to be an eight course tasting menu cooked for us by Executive Chef Anthony Holland, with matching wines for each course. It was pretty awesome.
Dinner in the private dining room. There was a lot of cutlery.
Baked rabbit loin wrapped in puff pastry with thyme, leek and confit carrot, garlic mousseline, red wine jus
Boulabán Farm apple cider sorbet
Seared supreme of halibut with sweet potato and beetroot crisps, rocket puree and lime and caper noisette
Our dinner included a knock out Slieve Bloom venison loin with venison and rosemary boudin, fondant potato, braised red cabbage puree and cranberry jam. Our dessert was a warm apple and blackberry filo parcel with Anglaise sauce, Boulabán Farm vanilla ice cream.
Those photos were, however, a little fuzzy. I wonder if the different wines with each course previous had something to do with that…?
We finished up with a platter of local cheeses, including Mossfield garlic and basil Gouda, Cashel Blue, St Killian’s camembert, Knockdrinna Meadow sheep’s cheese, Boilie goat’s cheese, pear chutney, red onion jam, tomato chutney, served with Churchills Reserve Port.
Platter of Irish cheeses
We retired after a few (okay, quite a few) drinks and a traditional music session in The Dungeon Bar which sits below the hotel.
Now, I wasn’t the only one who slept with the light on, as (like pretty much all other castles) Kinnitty Castle Hotel is supposed to be haunted. There were no sign of any ghosts during our stay, which I was secretly kind of disappointed by. Perhaps my next visit to this lovely spot will be more supernaturally fruitful.
Everything you need for a relaxing and revitalising country weekend is in Kinnitty Castle. You can get your nature hit on its beautiful grounds and have plenty of time to catch up on your reading in its Library Bar. There’s dinner in the Sli Dala restaurant and drinks and music in The Dungeon Bar. Country pursuits like horse-riding and clay pigeon shooting are available upon request, if you feel like bringing your tweed jacket and feathered trilby along with you. The 37 ensuite rooms, all original and unique, are so stunning that you may just want to chill in yours for the evening. Once inside the gates of the estate, basically, you don’t need to leave until checkout time.
A big thank you to the General Manager Andrew Lambert and his team at Kinnitty Castle Hotel for making our stay such a wonderful one. Thanks also to Joanna Hannick, the sales and marketing manager for AHS, for guiding us through the estate during our mushroom foraging. A giant thank you to Gillian and Tim from Host PR, who looked after us all so well throughout the entire weekend. And finally, a big thank you to the rest of the group for being such lovely company on our castle adventure.
I’ll definitely be visiting Kinnitty Castle Hotel again, to indulge once more in its quiet yet quirky atmosphere. And, hey, my wellies really need to get out more. So I’ll do it for them if nothing else.
Until then, here are a few more photos of Kinnitty Castle Hotel itself, including my beautiful Hutchinson Room.
Kinnitty Castle Hotel
The Library Bar
My bedroom in The Hutchinson room, named after Lady Catherine Hutchinson. She played a huge role in influencing the current design of the castle by hiring the Pain Brothers to redesign it in the 19th Century, as mentioned above.
The seating area in The Hutchinson Room
And finally, the amazing bathtub in The Hutchinson Room. Amazesuds.
For all further information, see the Kinnitty Castle Hotel website.
353 (0)57 9137318