Ireland has a new Taoiseach: Leo Varadkar, only just 38 years old, a gay doctor whose previous political role was Minister of Transport, Tourism and Sport, which bodes well for Ireland’s hospitality industry. One of the first places he visited after his appointment was Dublin’s glorious Merrion Hotel (sadly, when he came to visit all that was visible, from windows above, were the tops of heads of waiting security people).
This hotel could be called the house that Peter made, because Peter MacCann, the unassuming photophobic general manager of the 143-room beauty was here months before its opening, in 1997. He and his wife Dorothy, guardian angel and branding specialist of The Merrion, have put in new ideas and zealously maintained a past that includes one of the houses that form the hotel – it was the birthplace of the Duke of Wellington. It is they who have devised a highly professional do-it-yourself art tour, to walk around the place looking at some of the hundreds of pieces of valuable Irish art loaned by Lochlann Quinn, a co-owner of the hotel (all the owners have been in it since the start, which creates so much depth to the property’s DNA). Up the stairwell of the main staircase are murals by Martin Mooney. Down in the lobby itself are Jack Yeats paintings, ‘The Hour of Sleep’, and one called ‘Defiance’.
Right now the building rises to six floors on one of its three sides, all wrapping around a beautiful garden. Here you find a life-size sculpture of James Joyce by Rowan Gillespie. Go down to the basement, to the indoor pool, and you swim to the allegory painting at one end, a wall covered with swathed drapes, and a garden with exaggerated perspective, and neat parterres. Monkeys cavort in this mythical countryside. One of my favourite paintings is actually a 1912 self portrait of Elizabeth Saurin, an Irishwoman who went through a Paris period and married the more famous William John Leech (1881-1968) though they divorced after two years. Come in through the doors of The Merrion today and you are instantly immersed in Irish history, and you eat, if not drink, Ireland, too.
I dined on Clare Island salmon, cured and tartare, with local soda bread (sorry, I drank a Coravin-store wine by the glass, Château La Lagune Haut-Medoc 2008, rather than pints of Guinness). At breakfast, specialties include a full-Irish, with black and white puddings, and fried bread. Want porridge? You have a choice of milk or the arguably more healthy water – personally, I would switch to the jars of Killowen Farm macrobiotic yoghurt, among the world’s best. A Green Team of hotel staff makes sure that history is paired with today – it is the Green Team which came up with the idea of a rotating wheel to say yes, please re-use my bedsheets (so much more fun than a static card). But then this is a luxury hotel that is constantly evolving. I look out of my taller than tall windows at the garden, and what will be a new Garden Room restaurant, with six new already-sold residences. When all this opens, before year end, there will be plenty of celebration, as there will be in 2018, when The Merrion reaches 21. A luxury hotel comes of age.
Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world. Read her daily travelogue, www.girlahead.com