Temple House near Ballymote in County Sligo is one of the "Great Houses" of Ireland - houses built and used by the landed gentry, often the centre of a sprawling demesne and estate. Owned by the Perceval family for several hundreds of years, it was last substantially rebuilt in the 1860s and survived the War of Independence unscathed.
If you knock at the door today, you'll more than likely be greeted by Roderick Perceval himself. Landowner, farmer and host in his own B&B. All in all not an unusual combination in Ireland's west. Only this is not your common-and-garden B&B with utilitarian, smallish rooms, tiny breakfast tables crowding a small communal area and the noise from the road competing with the TV next room. If you want a quiet, stylish night ... you'll find it here. The long drive from the gate may already hint at that ...
Time to Meet the Percevals
When you arrive at Temple House (see some images here), you are not nearly there - enter through the gate, cross a cattle-grid and then the winding driveway takes you slightly uphill towards the house itself. As you drive slowly towards it, some sheep gaze at you. Then you catch your first glimpse of Temple House - a grey, Georgian pile that has nearly a hundred rooms. You park near the porch, make your way up some steps and ring the bell. A reminder stuck next to it tells you it might take up to five minutes for someone to answer the door. No servant is lurking nearby these days, Temple House is very much a family affair.
Sooner or later steps echo in the hall and Roderick Perceval flings the door wide open. He bids you welcome, ushers you across the doorstep and ... you are immersed in Ireland past. Hunting trophies adorn the Entrance Hall, period wooden furniture lines the walls, a splendid tiled floor adds colour. You are now in the family home of the Percevals.
With a name echoing Arthurian romances, the Percevals first came to be known as knights in France. 1.200 years or so ago. They then made their way across the Channel, following Guillaume of Normandy. Henceforth known as William the Conqueror, he became King of England - while his loyal retainers carved up English lands to settle there. As did the Percevals.
The next move, also involving a crossing of water, took the Perceval family to Ireland. They were granted lands during Tudor times, in reward for services to the crown. This usually translated as "successfully kicking Irish butt" or, at least, keeping the natives from becoming restless. Whatever the story, since then the Percevals have stayed in Ireland and, some decades later, managed to acquire Temple House. The main family seat since ...
The House with a History
Temple House, on the shores of a large lake, was named after none other than the Knights Templar. Those grizzled crusaders (and scheming financial geniuses, according to some authors) established a stronghold here in the middle ages. Not for long, though - the Templars fell foul of the French king, he had the pope in his pocket and the order dissolved.
As in many areas, the Sligo stronghold fell to another knightly order ... the Hospitallers or "Knights of St. John" (later "Knights of Malta") took over.
Even later, the possessions went secular and came into the hands of the Irish McDonagh and O’Hara families and later the Crofton family. And from them, through marriage, they went to the Percevals. Who built and rebuilt houses over the next centuries. With the last major addition coming in 1864 - Alexander Perceval, nicknamed "the Chinaman" and a very successful merchant, had returned from Hong Kong, bought the family home back after a few years in the hands of an outsider, and rebuilt an earlier Georgian mansion in a grandiose style.
All this building work was not altogether successful - Temple House as it stands today is, in effect, an old core added to. Which means that while the exterior is convincing, the interior layout often gives the game away. There are irregularities here and there, making it ideal for a prolonged game of hide and seek. And giving the house character.
From Great House to Great B&B
Growing up in Temple House, Roderick Perceval remembers none-too-wistfully, was a very bracing experience, "It was cold and damp!" Dashing from one heated room to the next was the norm. Which does not bode well for a B&B.
But things have changed. When Roderick led us through the almost museum-like vestibule into the Castle Room on the upper floor, we were very warm indeed - modern central heating has been installed and the two open fireplaces (one in the bedroom, one in the bathroom) are decorative only. Add a soft, warm carpet and (at night) well-shuttered windows and you can safely say that "cold" and "damp" are very much attributes of the past.
But the past is present: no off-the-shelf and bland furniture here, every item in the room, from the huge double bed to the dressing table, would fetch a tidy sum at an auction and could, it seems, tell stories -including some ghostly ones, Temple House comes with an assortment of "presences". Or so they say, during our stay no ancestor in rattling chains strolled through and we had, indeed, one of the quietest nights ever. Thick walls, good plumbing and just a few sheep outside be thanked. Oh, and... no TV. Which is no big loss. Actually a blessing, as volume would have to be adjusted to account for the size of the rooms.
Mentioning room size - it varies, but how some guests can actually describe the Castle Room as "small" is beyond me. It is large, period. But not as large as the Half Acre Room just down the hall. The name gives you a hint at the perceived (though not actual) size of this room. Actually a suite, with a separate bed in a small annex. Ideal for families. So, how many rooms does Temple House have? Six, all twin or double, but it can sleep more than a dozen. All rooms have a view, with the Castle Room looking out over the lake and the ruins of the old Templar stronghold.
Yet you never have the feeling that you are in a commercial operation, a smoothly run but ultimately impersonal "historic hotel". You feel a (welcome) guest in a family home. And you are likely to meet the family by and by, from Roderick's wife Helena to their (friendly) dogs.
More than Just Bed and Breakfast
I would call Temple House a B&B for the discerning traveller - you get a bed and your breakfast, that's true, but there is so much more on offer. For instance dinner. If you always wanted to have it really old-fashioned style, sign up for the nightly meal. Served (like breakfast) in the dining room under the gaze of the Chinaman and other noteworthy Percevals, at a massive communal table and with the other guests as company. Very good fare prepared by the French cook Guillaume, complemented by a decent wine (ask Roderick for help if your wine knowledge extends to "red and wet", you won't be disappointed), with a sweet dessert and a great cheeseboard to round it off ... and the atmosphere will become convivial fast.
Activities in and around Temple House are ... walking (ask for a map, and maybe take one of the dogs along), boating (there is a boathouse near the ruins, so rowing on the lake is always a possibility), fishing for pike (reference the mammoth example in the entrance hall to measure your success), kayaking with full instructions provided and even shooting parties (in autumn and winter). The fascinating "Eagles Flying" is just a few minutes away and the megalithic cemetery of Carrowmore can be seen from the house. Or head for the coast just north of the demesne. Or see the poet Yeats' grave at Drumcliff, below Ben Bulben.
A splendid day is assured ... so why not choose Temple House for a very special day too? It is, after all, an approved wedding venue and you can hold both your ceremony and reception here. And then stay on for the honeymoon, if you like. As Roderick points out, "We can hold all sorts of weddings here, from the small, intimate family affair to literally hundreds of guests ... indoors, outdoors, traditional or quirky. Just ask ..."
"Just ask ..." would be an apt motto for Temple House, all in all - as mentioned before, guests are made welcome by Roderick and Helena and are encouraged to ask for anything they need. Cup of tea? No problem. Babysitter? Can be arranged. Transport to nearby Ballymote Station or the small airport at Strandhill? Just a phone call away. Roderick will even help you to plan your day, should you be at a loss for things to do. After all, centuries of local knowledge have certain advantages ...
To get your own first impression, have a look at our images of Temple House.
Also take note that Temple House is a member of Hidden Ireland - a network of very special accommodation choices all over Ireland.