Kilmokea may not be on the beaten track as far as accommodation goes ... in fact you might experience a Beatles moment or two going there. As in long and winding roads leading you past strawberry fields forever. The final stretch involving a narrow causeway which takes you unto an island, just off the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford. Finally, at a fork in the road, you have a choice - head left for Kilmokea Gardens, straight on for Kilmokea House or right for rural backwaters. We carried straight on, arriving at the well sign-posted yet well hidden guest-house of Mark and Emma Hewlett just in time for afternoon tea.
A House With History
Kilmokea was a rectory once, built of sturdy stone in the late 18th century and displaying typical Georgian architecture. Understated elegance, yet quite a not-so-humble home for the local rector. Local being relative - the house and its around seven acres of gardens are near the shore of the river Barrow on Great Island. Hence the much more recent causeway you have to pass, though this effectively kills the island impression you get. Though it makes crossing over much safer - in fact the last rector living at Kilmokea drowned in a swimming accident. Just one of the many curious stories attached to the property.
Though lying in County Wexford, Kilmokea is just nine miles from Waterford City (the quickest way still being the ferry from Passage East). New Ross is around five miles to the north, to the south a leisurely drive will take you to the historic lighthouse at Hook Head. Other attractions in the area include the John F. Kennedy Arboretum and the Kennedy Homestead. And then there are the many attractions of Kilmokea itself.
I already mentioned the gardens - they are to the back of the house and form the background to your stay. Holding both botanical and archaeological interest. This area was settled and re-settled several times. Remains of a monastery have been found, the Vikings built a harbour town next to the Barrow, the Normans an earthwork fortification that now forms part of Kilmokea's boundaries. Then the rectory was built, passing into private hands in the 20th century and finally bought by Mark and Emma Hewlett for conversion to a bespoke guest-house.
Staying in Style
Have they succeeded? I'd say yes - the building is attractive in layout and setting, both old-world-charm and a general feeling of welcoming hospitality are created instantly as you drive up the gravel path. Almost instantly added to by Mark himself on our visit, who appeared from a weeding session with some dogs in tow and made us very welcome indeed.
But the question remains: does Kilmokea live up to expectations created? Certainly as far as rooms are concerned. We were shown into the Magnolia room, spacious yet not ballroom-size, where a massive four-poster bed and a fine view of the gardens created another favourable first impression. The master bedroom of the house, it is named after the pink magnolia just outside, a blooming marvel in spring. It is also the only room at Kilmokea with both a double bath and a large shower.
Other rooms are decorated in varying styles - a look at the website will give you an impression if the look is important. And if you have other priorities, the Hewletts may well be able to cater for them. There are pet-friendly rooms and parts of the old stables have been converted into self-catering apartments. With interconnecting doors and a veritable number of combinations possible, Kilmokea does not have to adjust the guest bookings to the house ... but can actually adjust the house to the bookings. As Kilmokea is also licensed as a wedding venue, this may prove very advantageous.
As to peace and quiet, you'll really enjoy the silence at night. Closed wooden shutters in our room also kept out the dawn chorus that starts in the gardens, but you may actually choose to keep those shutters open and be woken by nature.
Dining, Wining and Breakfast
Once you had a look around the gardens, you may be ready for some food - after all, loads of tempting food is grown organically in the garden. So it is no wonder that the Hewletts proudly feature organic dining amongst the attractions. Which takes the form of a three-course set meal in the spacious dining room.
During our stay, Emma cooked the meal and we enjoyed starters of salad, pears and local cheese (pate was the alternative option), followed by a main course with fresh potatoes and vegetables. We opted for the monk-fish and the lamb respectively. In a nutshell: delicious with just the right consistency of fish and meat, complemented by very fine sauces and with a hint of herbs that made any additional spices or salt absolutely unnecessary. For dessert a sticky toffee pudding and a parfait made their way to our table, both rounding off a very fine meal indeed. The wine list is long and varied ... I'd imagine even connoisseurs will find their favourites here.
Breakfast the next morning was another treat - from freshly baked bread to freshly made porridge, with a "Full Irish" that was both hearty and tasty. Home-made jam not to be ignored either, so you will start the day with a smile.
Summing Up and Verdict
Small wonder that the Hewletts have won several awards for hospitality and dining - both RAC and AA recommending highly, so Kilmokea is among the top twenty houses in Ireland. That is, at least in part, due to the facilities that add to the experience here. A heated indoor pool, a whirlpool, a sauna, aromatherapy treatments, you might be tempted to while away some hours just enjoying the spa. Or to have a relaxing swim after exploring the Hook Peninsula.
Kilmokea is usually open from February/March and stays open until November. Which, compared to the usual accommodation calendar in Ireland (which grinds to a halt after the October bank holiday). The reason? Wexford Opera Festival, another local attraction. And even though it is a bit of a drive from Wexford to Kilmokea.
The final verdict? Recommended - the only caveat being that Kilmokea is not on the main road(s). But then again, that is what you want from a country retreat, isn't it? Have a look at some more images from Kilmokea to get a thorough impression.
Also take note that Kilmokea is a member of Hidden Ireland - a network of very special accommodation choices all over Ireland.