Boasting impressively clad doormen, gilded mirrors, shimmering Tiffany glass chandeliers and ornate marble balustrades, our initial impressions upon arrival at The Shelbourne Dublin indicated that this place was special. Completing some of their planned renovations over the coming months with the refurbishment of its heritage wing and deluxe rooms, the hotel will have a total of 265 freshly-appointed rooms and suites.
Opened in 1824 when Tipperary man, Martin Burke, purchased a row of mansions in the city’s fashionable district, it is now known as the grand dame of Irish hotels. The property has played such a role in Irish history—bullet pockmarks on its walls being a stark reminder of the 1916 anti-British rebellion—that it has its own private museum showcasing its evolution. Ireland’s first national Constitution was framed here in 1922 under the chairmanship of revolutionary hero, Michael Collins. Now a Renaissance Hotel by the Marriott, previous guests have included such celebrities as Grace Kelly, Charlie Chaplin, Richard Burton and former US presidents, J.F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.
Located on the 22-acre St. Stephen’s Green, Europe’s largest garden square, the hotel stands on the doorstep of many of Dublin’s highlights. The green space is surrounded by 17th century homes and features a swan lake and a memorial to those who died in the Irish famine. The Little Museum of Dublin and the National Museum are a few hundred yards away. Along the edge of the green, the nearby pedestrian-only Grafton Street is also filled with retail outlets, cafes, restaurants and an entire enclosed shopping arcade.
Also within a 10- to 15-minute walk is Trinity College—alma mater of literary greats Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett and home to the Book of Kells—Dublin Castle and Museum, City Hall and the lively Temple Bar nightlife area. Recognizing many visitors' strong interest learning more about their Irish ancestry, the hotel has also introduced an expert Genealogy Butler who assists guests in unraveling the threads of their family history.
While the glimmering glow of gaslights, the clip-clop of horses' hooves and socialites stepping down from their carriages are gone, the hotel now boasts a balanced blend of Georgian and contemporary design. Its spacious ballroom caters to up to 500 and there are 13 smaller meeting rooms. So varied are the property’s delightful furnishings, to list them would be a considerable task. Suffice to say, they include a Louis le Brocquy tapestry entitled Cuchulainn V111, which sits over a restored marble fireplace in the entrance lobby and stunning Victor Richardson murals.
Our suite, named De Valera after Ireland’s longest-serving president, overlooked a corner of the green and the twinkling lights of the city’s downtown traditional Christmas market. Other suites, all designed by Frank Nicholson, are dedicated to various personages such as Princess Grace of Monaco; Irish 19th century political leader, Charles Stewart Parnell; the Earl of Shelburne; former world famous tenor John McCormack; and colorful actor Peter O’Toole, who was reputed to have bathed in Champagne here.
The room’s furnishings are elegant with a feather bed, and mahogany tables and cabinets featuring high French polish finish made by Italy-based Giemme Stile; gilt-framed mirrors; decorative table lamps by Chapman in black marble with solid antique brass trimmings; and two LCD flat screen TVs, one in the bedroom and one in the spacious sitting room. There are impressive overhead ceiling lights and artwork is a diverse mix of still-life oil paintings and pencil sketches of historic Irish settings.
Following its earlier renovation, the hotel restored its Horseshoe Bar and Lord Mayor's Lounge and introduced a new restaurant, The Saddle Room, offering steak and seafood, as well as No. 27, a new bar. The restaurant is a palette of muted colors with dark oak walls and rich splashes of gold. It also boasts a sleek Oyster Bar with varieties from West Clare, Carlingford and Galway.
For starters we selected seared veal sweetbreads with mustard jus, crispy potatoes and pan-seared Dublin Bay prawns with artichoke and shellfish sabayon featuring oriental flavors including cumin. For mains, we opted roast breast of wild Irish pheasant with choucroute and garlic sausage and a rib-eye steak with pepper sauce and onion rings. Washed down with a bottle of Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot 2004 and with modern jazz playing softly in the background, the evening proved a most relaxing one.
Breakfast is also served in The Saddle Room, with à la carte or buffet options. The three-egg farm omelet proved so substantial—comprised of hash browns, Mount Callan cheddar, crumbly St. Tola goat’s cheese, Irish farm bacon or ham, mushrooms peppers, onion, tomato, spinach and smoked salmon—that lunch became a distant notion. The twist to the hotel's version of eggs Benedict is that thin slices of grilled Irish fillet of beef are used, and it works. Mention also must be made of the coffee, deliciously smooth from Coffee Perfection in Dunboyne, County Meath.
The Shelbourne also hosts a traditional tea daily in the ornate Lord Mayor’s Lounge off the main lobby, and its large windows grant generous views over St. Stephen’s Green. Among the many delicacies are Castletownbere turf-smoked salmon, and Waterford ham and shallot on sourdough baguettes. Not to mention sweet treats such as scones with clotted cream, Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry trifle and much more. The Champagne on offer is Moët & Chandon, and the teas include ginseng Oolong and organic white with vanilla.
Providing a vibrant sense of history and a convenient central location, The Shelbourne Dublin is a quality choice accommodation in Ireland’s capital city, remaining still today as a prestigious haven on the edge of the green.