Cullintra - A Legendary Farmhouse B&B In County Kilkenny

County Kilkenny’s Cullintra B&B is a legend in Ireland, known for its unusual combination of great cuisine, lavish décor and joyfully eccentric management. The one caveat: you’d better like cats.

By Maeve Tynan

Cullintra Farmhouse B&B, Ireland
Cullintra Farmhouse B&B, Ireland

Arriving at Cullintra at 8.30 at night, the elegant 18th century house made a wonderful first impression, beaming forth light into the darkness. As we crossed the front lawn, the October frost was already setting in for the night, giving an enchanted air to the plants and garden furniture. At the front door the lady of the house, Patricia Cantlon, greeted us in full dinner-party apparel. We soon realized the entire operation at Cullintra is infused with the personality of this woman, an artistic, bohemian type who does nothing in an ordinary way.

Country Style

Though we had a reservation, all the rooms in the house were taken. Room numbers are doled out according to order of arrival. We were led to converted barn out back. Any fears we had about sleeping in a barn were quickly erased. Our room was lovely, with bare stone walls, candles, muslin drapes and country-style wooden furniture. Better still, it was piping hot – a welcoming quality you don’t always get in Irish hotels. I did get a bit of a shock though after emerging from a shower. When I opened the door Patricia had said was the wardrobe, I found myself stepping out, clad only in a towel, into a courtyard complete with tractor and bales of hay. We would find that staying in the barn did not interfere with our enjoyment of the old house. Cullintra has so many nooks and crannies, inside and out, that you can always find a quiet place to read, chat or just soak up the atmosphere without fear of disturbance. Overall, the décor in the house has a kind of rustic French feel. With wonderful views of the gardens from every window, you never feel far from nature.

Within a few minutes of our meeting Patricia, she unleashed a tirade about Marcus, Sylvester and Sebastian. I was concerned to hear that that Marcus was about to get his leg amputated – until I found out all of the afore-mentioned gentlemen were cats. Cullintra is no working farm, but there are plenty of animals. The property includes animal and bird sanctuaries, but the cats clearly rule the owner’s heart. They run wild everywhere and the proliferation of cat flaps (doors for cats) in unlikely places means they can surprise you at any time. In fact, prospective guests should be aware that showing the faintest sign of interest will often trigger a lengthy explanation of cat genealogy.

Gong Show

Top Gourmet Irish Restaurant and Accommodation
Top Gourmet Irish Restaurant and Accommodation

At half past nine, we joined the other guests in the drawing room to await the gong that would signify the commencement of dinner. This was due to take place at half-past nine but in reality it was almost eleven by the time we sat down. The time in between was spent getting acquainted with the other guests, one of whom was there on his ninth visit. Most were Irish, but there was one couple in from Florida. Patricia took great interest in the seating arrangements, placing us next to Ciara and John, another young couple from Dublin. Luckily, they had stayed there the previous night, and they were able to warn us that dinner was a five-course affair. The food was divine. A delectable salad was followed by cucumber soup, Beef Stroganoff, cheese board and coffee and a selection of desserts. Patricia describes her cooking as French-Irish in style.

It was no surprise to me that Cullintra had received many awards, including the Bridgestone Good Food Award, the Good Hotel Guide and the Caesar Award. As the house has no drinks license, guests are encouraged to bring their own wine. Due to the prolonged nature of the dinner, everyone knows each other a lot better by the time they’re done. Our evening there ended with an impromptu game of crazy golf on the sheepskin rugs in the art gallery, after which I was well and truly fit for my bed.

Breakfast the next morning was an equally lengthy and social affair, lasting until 2 in the afternoon. We debated what to do with ourselves. The guests were heading, variously to Kilkenny City, the Woodstock Gardens in the picturesque village of Inistioge or the monastic site of Kells, all nearby. We decided to stay put, and explore the 230 acres of woodland that comprise the Cullintra estate. We chose a walking route that started at the Cairn, a large mound of individual stones on the property believed to be one of Ireland’s many ancient burial tombs for Stone Age people. From this vantage point, the view of the surrounding countryside is stunning, with only a few farmhouses giving testament to human life. Yellow gorse, lavender and fir trees cover the hills. From here, a path through one mile of forest led to the top of Brandon Hill. By the time you reach this point, you may be ready to face the prospect of five full courses again.

Small Dose Recommended

Cullintra is a totally unique and, for the most part, a very positive experience. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary with a strong social element and fine cuisine to boot, you’ll be happy here. However, the late night meals and total guest involvement can get a little tiring. By the time my roast beef dinner arrived at midnight on Saturday, I felt more like sleeping than eating. Cullintra makes for a brilliant weekend, but could become a rather tedious week. If you want to take a piece of Cullintra home with you, it’s not difficult to find a souvenir. Almost all the paintings in the house are done by Patricia, and are available for sale. When we departed, we only narrowly escaped inheriting Sylvester!

Running the farmhouse is obviously an absorbing task for Patricia, who seems to handle much of the work herself. That includes cooking all the food, getting up at five am to bake scones for breakfast, organizing all the accommodation and giving extensive advice about things to do in the area. She seems to conversation with some guest ongoing at all times. Her style is a bit meandering, but absolutely unflappable – somehow it all works.

The house has four rooms, a suite of 3 “family rooms,” and the aforementioned barn accommodation. B to B rates are €35 to €55 per person and dinner is €35 to €40 for five courses. Patricia prefers 2-night stays, and does not always accept one-night reservations.
Cullintra is in Inistioge, between New Ross and Kilkenny City. For more info, visit Cullintra’s website or call 011 353 51 423614