Ireland’s Original 5-Star Lodge Is a Bucket List Item
Do yourself a favor and get to Sheen Falls Lodge
Located in the south of County Kerry, Ireland, is a small town called Kenmare. The Irish name for the town, An Neidín, translates to “The Little Nest,’” which feels apt given its small size and position among the tallest mountains in the country.
In spite of its size — its population is right around 3,000 — and presumably as a consequence of its proximity to both the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara peninsulas, it’s become one of the most noteworthy tourist destinations in all of Ireland. It even made CNN’s most beautiful European towns list in 2022.
And it is undeniably beautiful in the way that most of Ireland is. But what’s even more impressive is Kenmare’s rich history…and arguably even richer culinary scene. Ireland isn’t exactly known for its extravagance in that department, but thanks largely to a surplus of expats from 36 countries around the world, it’s bursting with good food. Kenmare actually has more restaurants than pubs, which feels like a notable statistic for a small Irish town.
As far as destinations go, it checks all the boxes. And when you’re deciding where to stay, there’s only one clear choice in Kenmare’s crowning jewel: Sheen Falls Lodge.
A Brief History
In the 1660s, Sir William Petty was gifted some 270,000 acres of land in southwest Kerry by Sir Oliver Cromwell. Nine years later, he founded Kenmare. When he died in 1687, the estate passed to his daughter, whose husband — the first Earl of Kerry — built Sheen Cottage at Sheen Falls, a fishing and shooting base that still lives on the property to this day.
The property changed hands a few times over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries and took on many forms — a fishing lodge, barracks for Anti-treaty forces, a commercial fishery and then, finally a hotel. Officially opened to guests in 1991, Sheen Falls Lodge is an homage to all of its former iterations.
All of this to say that the lodge and the town of Kenmare are undeniably and inextricably linked.
Sheen Falls Lodge
Fast forward to today, and all roads still lead back to Sheen Falls Lodge, where Kenmare is baked into every nook and cranny, literally — the chocolatier in town was formerly the pastry chef at the lodge, for example, and the food tour guide’s son is the sommelier. In Kenmare everything is said to be made “out the back, over the road or up the street,” and there’s nowhere this sentiment rings more true than at the lodge. Every single room is adorned with evidence of such, from the hand-woven waste baskets and ceramic mugs at the coffee station to the complimentary chocolates — everything is made locally. It’s a truly special place — and I don’t say that in the obligatory travel writer way. For context, by the third day of my stay on a tour of the property, I found myself in the boathouse on the edge of the bay seriously contemplating a destination wedding/elopement, despite having no previous ties to Ireland, familial or otherwise.
Set on 300 sprawling acres and touted as Ireland’s original five-star lodge, it comprises 72 rooms, three cottages and two villas — all of which have a view of either the bay or falls. The rooms are spacious, decked out in colors sourced from just outside their windows, and designed with relaxation in mind, thus “not for one-night stays.” (Three nights is said to be the sweet spot.)
Relaxation reigns supreme here. Every night, I fell asleep to the sound of the falls with the help of the temple balm and pillow spray that had been laid out on my nightstand. The fire in the lobby burns 24/7, regardless of season. There’s a charming, secondhand library on the ground floor, which is maintained and updated twice weekly by a local couple. There are tastings — wine, whisky and gin — offered in the cellar (the Lodge boasts a 600-bottle wine list). They even have their own special Sheen Falls Lodge branded gin. Salty and reminiscent of the sea, it’s the perfect way to cap off a day without ever having to leave the property.
What to Do in Kenmare
There’s no shortage of outdoor pursuits at Sheen Falls Lodge — fishing, falconry, horseback riding, clay pigeon shooting, archery, kayaking, paddle boarding and hiking are all on the menu. I partook in the falconry experience, which involved an incredible amount of facetime with some even more incredible birds of prey and a very experienced falconer. The lodge also has fishing rights to the rivers for 15 miles, and the chef will cook your catch upon request, so it’s a very popular pastime among anglers of all skill levels, too.
To see a bit more of the surrounding area, take a trip to Garinish Island. Located in the harbor of Glengarriff in Bantry Bay, Garinish is a small island well-known to horticulturists around the world as “an island garden of rare beauty.” It’s only about a 30- to 40-minute drive from the lodge, and a short ferry ride (where you’ll be treated to insane views and many seal sightings), but it’s impossible not to feel like you’ve been transported to another country completely. Because it’s protected in the bay, it’s home to a plethora of tropical flora and a number of fascinating garden buildings, a Grecian temple chief among them. There’s even an Italian garden, which features colonnades, steps, raised terraces and garden structures arranged around a formal pool and enclosed by clipped Yew hedges. Open to tourists from April to October, it’s worth every penny and second it takes to get there.
In the warmer months, go play a round of golf at the lodge’s sister property, the Ring of Kerry Golf Club, which offers guests the opportunity to “experience a true Irish golfing hidden gem.” Just a 10 minute drive from the lodge, it’s a links course, and not members-owned, so it’s easy to get a tee time — even on weekends. It also offers club rentals.
What to Eat in Kenmare
Converted from the property’s horse stables, The Stables Brasserie and Bar is a new addition to the F&B offerings at Sheen Falls Lodge, this one a bit more casual. A simple, all day-menu where grill classics, light bites and comfort food are all on offer, it’s where you might go to watch a match and grab a pint should you feel so inclined.
The Falls is the lodge’s answer to fine dining. Picture a seasonal menu that invokes the “richness of Kerry’s bounty” (e.g. estate-smoked salmon, mountain lamb, organic vegetables and micro herbs grown on the grounds) prepared by an Irish chef with a French flare and voilà — you’ve got The Falls.
Located on the fringe of Kilmackillogue Harbour and 40 minutes from the lodge, Helen’s Pub is an establishment that, similar to Kenmare itself, draws quite a crowd in the warmer months, despite both its size and remoteness. Locals travel for it, oftentimes by boat. The menu is simple but exceptional, featuring an abundance of fresh seafood, including a brown crab sandwich that comes highly recommended.
Back in town, Mulcahy’s is a slightly elevated yet comfortable option right on the main drag. The emphasis is, of course, on wild, free range, seasonal and local ingredients here. I tried the special — salmon in a phyllo pastry with ricotta and spinach — which was perfection.
I’d also strongly recommend a food tour with Kenmare Foodie Tours, with TV cook and Irish food blogger, Karen Coakley. A two and a half hour walking tour that involves lots of tasting and meeting local food artisans — many of which are husband-wife duos, interestingly — it’s here that you’ll get the full breadth of Kenmare’s culinary capabilities. While there are several standouts on the tour, Aileen Crean O’Brien and Bill Sheppard’s Tom Crean Brewery is not to be missed — if not for its incredible origin story, than for its lager, which was voted third best in all of Ireland last year.
This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.
Suggested for you