Gemma Tipton, The Irish Times
It’s the little touches that make a difference. The man at reception in the Bush Hotel seemed to be really pleased that I was checking in. This mightn’t sound like much, but seeing as around me swirled a wedding, two small and pretty bridesmaids were being told (in no uncertain terms) about the perils of getting in the way, and the bride was trying to get her hands on a cup of tea, I thought it was nice to be made to feel so welcome.
I didn’t linger to be in the wedding photos but scurried upstairs to find a large room (one double bed, one single), a small window and a bathroom where a rubber duck stared back at me in a friendly fashion. And strangely enough, for someone as picky as me, I was prepared to like it all.
The Bush is an old established place. It used to be a coaching stop for travellers and horses en route to Sligo, and it feels as if it has been in the business of looking after people for a long time. It has been modernised (several times) in the 200 years since it opened, and while there are spots of old-world charm you feel as if you’re in a hotel that was bang up to date a few years ago.
I was on a bit of a history tour myself, so headed out into Carrick-on-Shannon on what must have been one of the most unpleasant days of the year so far – sheeting, bucketing rain; rain in fact that defied all descriptive metaphors – to look at Ireland’s version of the Taj Mahal.
The Costello Chapel is the smallest in Ireland, and reputedly the second smallest in the world. It was built for love: when Mary Josephine Costello died, in 1877, her heartbroken husband created this place. She is buried under glass on one side, and he – when he followed her, 14 years later – is on the other. It’s a tiny monument, recently under repair, just on the main street.
Farther up the hill, at the newly launched St Georges visitor centre, you can arrange a visit to the Carrick-on-Shannon Workhouse and Famine Graveyard. This might not sound like the kind of thing you’d want to do for kicks on a holiday visit, but it’s quietly moving, in a low-key way, just like the Costello Chapel, and I was glad to have seen them.
The weather got the better of me, and I dripped back to my room for a hot bath (with duck), discovered the water pressure wasn’t great, but filled the tub eventually, then, suitably revived, headed out for a drink.
Carrick-on-Shannon is fantastic for pubs. There’s something for everyone. Driven out by the music in one, and loud sport in another, I felt like Goldilocks discovering the one that was just right when I got to the third. It had a band playing country music and singing of the terrible things that can happen to those foolish enough to fall in love, so it probably wasn’t for everyone, either.
A nightcap in the hotel’s sweet little lounge (complete with open fire) finished the night off.
The lights in the room took a moment to warm up, but that’s because the Bush has been transformed into a green hotel, and it’s up for assessment by the EU to be Ireland’s first hotel to be awarded an Eco Label.
It might have been all that history, it might have been the hot bath or it could have been the few drinks, but I slept beautifully, and trotted down to breakfast to discover to my delight that the Bush is one of those places that has eschewed hotplates and bains marie and still cooks breakfast to order.
This entails a bit of a wait, but bacon that is crisp and tender, eggs that are soft and sausages that are freshly cooked are always worth waiting for.
Fortified, I went out again, this time to look at the exhibition at the Dock, which is Carrick’s arts centre. It’s a lively and interesting place, with changing exhibitions and performances. It has a cafe and craft shop, too.
Calling in on the way back at the Good Food Hall for a smoothie (made to order) and a bit of incredible cake, I thought about how nice Carrick is. I know Co Leitrim is often derided as being underwater and underoccupied, but it’s a special sort of a place. How many counties, for example, manage to both be in the Midlands and have a coastline?
It was fun on a rainy day, and I know from previous trips that on sunny days it can be heaven.
I like Carrick, and I like the Bush Hotel. It’s not “perfect”, in the superior-hotel-chain manner, where you feel you’re being processed through head office’s idea of the ideal guest experience, but it’s a really nice place to be – nothing more, but, more importantly, nothing less.