I came upon Adare — often touted as the prettiest village in Ireland — after an overseas night flight direct from Chicago to the Emerald Isle. Early morning light was just shimmering across Shannon airport when my plane landed. As soon as I fetched my luggage, I then hailed a taxi to my hotel in Adare — Dunraven Arms Hotel about 45 minutes from the airport.
Though I was sleep deprived when we arrived at the small village, I wondered for a brief moment if this idyllic setting was more a daydream resembling a Thomas Kinkaide painting than an actual modern-day Irish town. With a Norman castle beside the River Maigue, probably the best collection of medieval friaries in Ireland, and flowers everywhere, my imagination was definitely engaged.
As I look around, I see thatched roof cottages with manicured gardens surrounded by a profusion of colourful flowers. The main street is lined with popular eateries with quirky but memorable names like the Blue Door, Wild Geese, and the Arches. Popular Irish pubs include Sean Collins & Sons Bar as well as Pat Collins Bar & Restaurant. Could the owners of the two pubs possibly be related? A castle and several medieval monasteries built of stone add to the historical charm.
My driver tells me that Adare in County Limerick is regarded by many as Ireland's prettiest village. Once a marketplace during the Middle Ages, it was actually the English landlord, the third Earl of Dunraven, who designed the streets in the early 19th century and built the thatched cottages for workers constructing Adare Manor. That would account for the architecture being a fusion of traditional Irish and English style. Nowadays, some of the cottages have been converted into fashionable boutiques, craft shops, as well as cute cafes and restaurants. Unfortunately, some of the thatched roofs caught fire several years ago and are still waiting to be repaired. Something about getting affordable insurance, I heard.
I check into the four-star Dunraven Arms Hotel, with 87 rooms on several floors. It's a lovely property, conveniently located on Main Street and with loads of charm. Established in 1792, the hotel is a favourite for equestrian holidays and includes an all-weather cross-country and a large indoor arena set in 120 acres of private parkland. My room was on the second floor and hotel staff told me there is no elevator, so be sure to ask for help in getting luggage to your room.
Another option is the award-winning, five star Adare Manor — the ancestral home of the Dunravens. Now a luxurious hotel, the romantic Tudor-Gothic building (circa 1831) is situated on 850 acres of rolling green countryside and is known for its golf. Former President Bill Clinton stayed here on his 1998 visit to Ireland.
Refreshed from my power nap, I set out to discover Adare with several cameras in hand. I first come across the Old Trinitarian Abbey, located right on the main street through town, and practically next door to the Adare Heritage Centre. Gazing upon the early 13th century architectural treasure, I learn that this is the only recorded Trinitarian monastery in Ireland and was originally built by the Fitzgerald Clan for the Trinitarian order of monks. Though the order was founded in France primarily to rescue Christian captives taken by the Moors during the crusades, it is thought that the monks who came to Adare were actually from Scotland. The monastery was badly damaged during the reign of King Henry VIII, but today is used by the Roman Catholic Church.
Other medieval attractions include the Augustinian Priory (1315) as a functioning Anglican/Episcopalian parish church, Desmond Castle (1202) and the ruins of the Franciscan friary (1464), both on the demesne of Adare Manor. Tours of the Norman castle operate daily from June to the end of September.
You will find a little bit of everything you need at the Adare Heritage Centre. From tourist information on what to see, where to stay, and what to do to the excellent Dovecote Restaurant where I had a delicious strained and pureed vegetable soup along with the typical Irish brown soda bread.
Be sure to visit the museum inside which details the history of Adare from the 13th century Norman conquest where the Geraldines of Kildare developed Adare, to the ancient Middle Age Abbeys. Small donations are welcome.
I investigate the many boutique shops until I decide on an early supper at The Blue Door. This is an idyllic restaurant with a beautiful indoor/outdoor bistro-type setting. I stop because the crowds indicate the food must be good. And it is. I order a salmon served with boiled potatoes and carrots. Be sure to finish with the sticky toffee pudding.
IF YOU GO:
Adare is located in the heart of County Limerick, about a 45-minute drive from Shannon airport. Known as the gateway to the southwest of Ireland, it borders the counties of Kerry, Cork, Clare and Tipperary. Adare is also a favourite as a wedding destination and for honeymooning newlyweds.