The K club as it has been known since 1993, or Straffan house, as it has been since its construction exactly 180 years ago, is enthroned on a small ridge over a mile and a half stretch of the storied river.
Here the water is a world apart from the tidal urban waters of the city, more Anna than Livia, quintessentially bucolic and rural, crisscrossed by period footbridges, dividing into little islands (on one of which is the hallowed 16th green where the Ryder Cup was won in 2006) and tumbling over an angled weir within earshot of the luxury suites, the first spill of the Liffey descent for many a canoeist.
Hotel guests have the opportunity to fish here, bream brown trout or salmon in season and have the chef cook their catch for dinner.
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North Kildare is looking its best as we check in. From our turreted corner room the sun is shimmering on the mile and a half stretch of Liffey. There are miles of woodland walks through the gardens and storied golf courses. Caitríona from Blessington sorts out a series of complicated back knots in the spa and a fillet of seabass with fresh native mussels crayfish artichoke & yellow coconut sauce awaits in the dining room.
The prices in the Vintage Crop bar are five star, Temple Bar prices. Guinness is Eu6.50, Budweiser Eu6.95.
The dinner was seabass and igloo filled with chestnut parfait and griottine, anglaise cream & champagne jelly, sea asparagus, seared carpaccio of west Cork king scallops pickled with Straffan red rhubarb and mint custard monitor sorbet and jelly, fillet of seabass with fresh native mussels crayfish artichoke and yellow coconut sauce.
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Today’s K club a revelation of how times have changed in our country and my county.
The K club had an Easter egg hunt when we visited. There were 50 children staying over. How times have changed. Three years ago a four-year-old would not be let past the gate.
The drawing room with its fabulous chandeliers is set out for a children’s lunch. There are families in the pool. For an extra hundred euro they will give you an adjoining room for the family on one of their special offer breaks.
K Club packages generally start at 285pps for a two night with one meal. Wedding packages start at Eu67.50 a plate.
There are 90 full time staff and 200 part timers looking after 69 rooms about 20 of these staffers have been there since the opening including Brendan Farrell the concierge.
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John Ryan the barman and custodian of the Vintage Crop bar gives an engaging tour of the house and its artwork.
The portraits on the walls give you the flavours, French wine and art collecting entrepreneurs, but part of the history here is personal.
The year 1974, when I took my first dive off the weir and swam in the deep fresh Liffey, my lungs puffed up with young boy’s pride and the dreams of making it across the river without surfacing for air like the older lads could do. The K club was in my neighbourhood. My first visits to the house were in the raucous madness of Kevin McClory’s time when Straffan was where you would find the nearest thing that the Ireland of the Cosgrave coalition had to a rat pack.
It gave the neighbourhood an early smell of the exotic.
The vision and investment in Straffan House predates the boom and will remain after its passing. Michael Smurfit has secured the future for the project by buying back the section of the estate that had been funded by Gerry Gannon.
It guarantees a new generation of guests the opportunity to see that familiar river in an unfamiliar light.
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