Refurbishments enhance panache of The Shelbourne in Dublin

Impressively clad doormen, gilded mirrors, shimmering Tiffany glass chandeliers and ornate marble balustrades – initial impressions upon arrival at The Shelbourne in central Dublin indicate it’s somewhat special.

Even more so as a phased renovation nears completion over the coming months with refurbishing of its heritage wing and deluxe rooms, thus granting the hotel a total of 265 elegant rooms and suites.

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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. It 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, immediately opposite the reception desk.

Indeed, Ireland’s first national Constitution was framed here in 1922 under the chairmanship of revolutionary hero, Michael Collins.

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Located on the elegant, nine-hectare St. Stephen’s Green, Europe’s largest garden square, close to Grafton Street, the city’s main pedestrian shopping area, the hotel now boasts a balanced blend of Georgian and contemporary design, both inside and out. Now a Renaissance Hotel by the Marriott, it comes as no surprise that previous guests have included such celebrities as Grace Kelly, Charlie Chaplin, Richard Burton and former US presidents, J.F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.

While the glimmering glow of gaslights is gone as are the clip-clop of horses’ hooves and the rustle of satin and crinoline as socialites stepped down from their carriages to attend fancy balls, The Shelbourne still remains a prestigious haven on the edge of the green. Its spacious ballroom caters for 350 dinner guests and for 500 delegates for conferences. It also has 13 smaller meeting rooms.

So varied are The Shelbourne’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.

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Our suite, named ‘De Valera’ after Ireland’s longest-serving president, overlooked a corner of the green and the twinkling lights of the city.  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.

Furnishings are elegant, mahogany tables and cabinets with a 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. Impressive overhead ceiling lights were glass with metal frames and antique brass finish.

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Artwork is a diverse mix of still-life oil paintings and pencil sketches of historic Irish settings such as Saint John’s Castle in Limerick and the ruins of Killmallock in the hotel founder’s home county of Tipperary. The room also featured plug-in and wireless high-speed Internet access, multiline telephone, feather bed with Rivolta Carmignani 300 tread count, 100 per cent Egyptian cotton.

Following earlier renovation, the hotel elegantly restored its Horseshoe Bar and Lord Mayor’s Lounge and introduced a new restaurant, The Saddle Room, offering steak and seafood, as well as a new bar, No. 27.

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The restaurant, in muted colors with dark oak walls and rich splashes of gold, features creative ice sculptures and offers contrasting seating choices – tan leather chairs around an elegant table or more discreet padded booths. It also boasts a sleek Oyster Bar with varieties from West Clare, Carlingford and Galway.

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For starters we selected seared veal sweetbreads with mustard jus and crispy potato and pan-seared Dublin Bay prawns with artichoke and shellfish sabayon featuring oriental flavors including cumin. For mains, we opted for meat – roast breast of wild Irish pheasant with choucroute and garlic sausage and a rib-eye steak with pepper sauce and onion rings. Baby green beans as a side dish came al dente with a distinct nutty flavor.

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.

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Breakfast is also served in The Saddle Room, with a la carte or buffet options. The three-egg farm omelet proved so substantial – comprising hash browns, two County Clare cheeses, Mount Callan cheddar and 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 Shelbourne 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 Espresso Coffee Perfection in Dunboyne, County Meath.

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The Shelbourne also hosts a traditional tea daily in the ornate Lord Mayor’s Lounge, off the main lobby, its large windows granting generous views over St. Stephen’s Green. Among the many delicacies are Castletownbere turf-smoked salmon on wheaten bread; Waterford ham and shallot on sourdough baguette; and cherry vine tomato with St. Tola cheese on pumpkin on turmeric bread. Not to mention scones with clotted cream and delectable desserts such as Harveys Bristol Cream sherry trifle, coffee and praline vanilla crunch and caramelized banana and coconut macaroons. The champagne on offer is Moet and the teas include ginseng Oolong and organic white with vanilla.

The hotel stands on the doorstep of many of Dublin’s highlights. Across the street is St. Stephen’s Green, which houses a lake filled with swans, a 19th century bandstand and a memorial to those who died in the Irish famine. Houses around the green date from the 1660s. The Little Museum of Dublin and the National Museum are a few hundred yards away. Shopping also is nearby with a major enclosed arcade at the edge of the green as is pedestrian-only Grafton Street filled with retail outlets, cafes and restaurants.

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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 are all within ten to fifteen minutes walk away.

Realizing the strong interest by visitors to Ireland in finding out more about their Irish ancestry, the hotel has launched what it terms a ‘Genealogy Butler’ service whereby it linked six years ago with one of Ireland’s leading genealogists, a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, to assist guests unravel the threads of their family history

Providing sheer elegance, a vibrant sense of history and a convenient central location, The Shelbourne is a quality choice accommodation in Ireland’s capital city, be it either for business or leisure.

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