Delight for Laois family hotel as major award announced – The Leinster Express, October 2020

A beloved Laois country hotel has won the Irish Hotel of the Year Award.

Hannah and Paddy Flynn who own and run Roundwood House in Laois have won a prestigious César Award, “Irish Hotel of the Year” from the Good Hotel Guide.

It is all the more meaningful for the couple who took over the reins 12 years ago from Hannah’s parents, Frank and Rosemarie Kennan, because they themselves won a César Award in 1989.

“Winning that award was a real turning point for their business”, says Hannah, and she remembers how excited her parents were as they headed off to London for the award ceremony.

Hannah and Paddy won’t be going to London to collect their award, 31 years later, but rather will attend a ceremony on Zoom during which they will open a bottle of Tattinger Champagne, kindly sent to them by the Good Hotel Guide for the occasion. No doubt Frank and Rosemarie will join them for a glass too.

The Good Hotel Guide’s range of entries, 750 hotels, inns and B&Bs in the UK and Ireland, is deliberately eclectic and according to it’s editor, Adam Raphael, their selected properties “are not just the pick of the best; they have hospitality built into their very fabric.”

Bubble Breaks for Groups – 10 of the Best, Georgina Campbell’s Ireland, May 2020

As travel restrictions ease this summer we’re all dying to get away for a break and need something to look forward to, but we also need to feel safe – so, while all hosts will take special care to ensure that guests feel comfortable with their arrangements this year, those destinations that can cater separately for families and other ‘bubble’ groups offer the opportunity of a particularly relaxing stay...

Here are just a few especially appealing options to tempt you… Most plan to re-open on 20th July but dates and services may change, so do check regularly.

Roundwood House, Co. Laois

Secluded in mature woodland, at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, this unspoilt 18th-century house is an absolute gem and a sense of history and an appreciation of genuine hospitality (and good food) are all that is needed to make the most of a stay at this magical property. Restored by Frank and Rosemarie Kennan over many years, it is now run with equal dedication and charm by their daughter Hannah and her husband Paddy Flynn. Just don’t expect television or techie devices here: despite (or perhaps because of) Frank’s work ‘before Roundwood’ this is the place for a digital detox – and there’s an absolutely magnificent library in a converted coach house, which is perfect for quiet relaxation but it can also be set up for a drinks reception. The house is available for groups / private parties and the ten lovely en-suite rooms can accommodate up to 20 – but they also have two charming self catering cottages each sleeping two. Roundwood is a one-off and the area is a treat to explore.

https://www.ireland-guide.com/ten-of-the-best/bubble-breaks-for-groups---10-of-the-best.14098.html

10 secret hideaways in Ireland’s Ancient East, www.ireland.com

From castles and cottages to lighthouses and lovely glamping spots, Ireland’s Ancient East offers some truly unique places to stay...

An award-winning, family-friendly Georgian country house hotel, Roundwood House nestles in parkland below the Slieve Bloom mountains. This lovingly decorated oasis features blazing fires, communal dinners, expansive gardens and was once described as having a “marvellous doll’s house-like quality”. Explore the beautiful scenery of the Laois mountains, and retire to the unusual, purpose-built library in the evening to delve into the history of world civilisation with a glass of wine.

https://www.ireland.com/en-no/accommodation/articles/irelands-ancient-east-unique-acommodation/

An Idyllic Escape with Food Worth Fixating Over, The Taste, Darina Coffey, September, 2017

A Hidden Ireland gem you simply must uncover... In this country of hidden gems and uncovered treasures, hopping in the car and taking the road less traveled is always a fantastic idea. That road, for me, veered off the familiar N7 to Mountrath, a tiny County Laois village about which I had heard very little, apart from whispers from ardent food lovers of uncharted culinary territory. After a surprisingly painless drive, just an hour and a half after leaving Dublin, I navigate a winding tree-lined driveway through an enchanting forest to arrive at what can only be described as a Palladian villa, the 300 year old Roundwood House awaits. A member of the prestigious Hidden Ireland portfolio, I was about to find out just why the 33 member properties are so sought after. Owner Hannah greets you at the grand double doors and children’s shoes line the entrance way, you are being welcomed into someone’s home, but certainly not your neighbour’s two up two down. A double height entrance hallway is breathtaking in baby blue, with a mahogany round table centre-piece of fresh cut flowers and goodies from local artisan producers proudly on display in every corner. The personal touch, that genuine warmth, is an element of a property which can’t easily be faked and within minutes of my arrival I’m perched by the open fire, settling in and drinking in the ambiance of a historical house bursting with character and charm. Handmade oat flapjacks and coffee follow swiftly and the phones are set aside to simply unwind in the moment. Paddy, Hannah’s husband, co-host and chef, comes to greet me and tells me enthusiastically that he has been hard at work in the kitchen, with a group of chef friends helping him put together tonight’s five course surprise feast. I can’t but peruse the menu ahead of visiting a restaurant, but Paddy is giving nothing away about what will appear on the list of locavore delights later in the evening, building quiet anticipation. As Paddy and co work their magic in the kitchen, an afternoon of wandering the grounds and lounging without the white noise of modern life lay ahead of me, and I couldn’t have been more content. Roundwood has ten guest rooms, four of which are in the main house, and my Yellow Room, just up the grand staircase which dominates the entrance hall was true to its heritage in every way, lovingly restored rather than renovated. The presence of a fireplace harked back to the room’s original state and as would come to be a theme throughout my stay, a selection of books sat atop a handsome dressing table, willing me to dive in. The entire house is dotted with bulging bookcases rather than plasma TVs and wifi routers, reminding you that pleasures of the past can be just what the doctor ordered to escape the pace of life we all tend to keep these days. As it was a mercifully dry day, strolling through the cobbled courtyard, stopping to pet Rococo the golden retriever, admiring ducks and being mildly terrified by a plucky and inquisitive hen was the perfect way to while away an afternoon in nature. Roundwood’s extensive grounds are storybook beautiful, I sigh to myself, even before I clap eyes on the piece de resistance – A Beauty and the Beast-esque library. Spread over two levels, with ample armchairs in cosy corners, The History of the Evolution of Civilisation library is packed wall to wall with everything from Fisk’s tome on the Middle East to the Book of Kells. This enchanting space is couched in exposed brick, with beautiful brass lighting fixtures hanging from exposed beam-lined arched ceilings. I couldn’t help but feel like this space, in its sumptuous solitude, was luxurious in a way no hotel, five star or otherwise, has ever compared to. Reluctantly leaving the library, the aroma of all kinds of deliciousness greeted me at the doorway and filled the main house, beckoning guests to the dining room for the centerpiece of our stay – a dining experience to remember. As a Hidden Ireland property, guests can sit at a communal table to further the homely ambiance and in this case, despite being dotted all around the grand red-walled dining room, conversation flowed between guests immediately, something you just don’t get in a hotel dining setting. A couple who married at Roundwood mere months earlier and a family of four, their children now teens whose childhood holidays were spent here, were fantastic gauges of Roundwood’s enduring charm. “There aren’t enough superlatives, it must be my 10th time here” I’m told, and they speak of Paddy, Hannah and their kids like old friends and reminisce about many a session in the drawing room post dinner. Unburdened by choice, our starter was one of the most more-ish lamb dishes I have enjoyed in recent times- a wispy crisp of lamb crackling sat atop melting slow braised Lamb Cheeks with sweet velvety parsnip and a herbaceous mint chimichurri. Simple and ample as this was, every mouthful was to be savoured and I would have eaten it four times over – a triumphant start indeed. For our second starter, meaty Oyster Mushrooms are crispy fried and umami rich, and the heady scent of truffle lingers in the air. Leaves shouldn’t be exciting, but here they shone, freshly plucked from the garden hours before. Finished with a Mossfield cheddar crisp, which added to the intense savoury edge of the dish as well as providing pleasing crunch, this was a plate of simple ingredients with incredibly tasty results. Clever balance and emphasis on fantastic ingredients becomes the obvious order of the day by the time an ample main course of Sirloin of Beef arrives. Homegrown produce is a common theme, but Paddy tells me one of the girls who works here grew the asparagus – I’ll allow it, charred and grassy against blushing pink beef and magenta sweet beetroot puree with a dash of piquant horseradish. Seductively simple and entirely satisfying. The sound of greedy scraping of plates punctuates the evening – although each of the five courses are generous in size, there is a shared feeling that leaving any go to waste would be a travesty. “Does anyone feel like cheese?” chimes Paddy, emerging from the kitchen once our demolished mains are cleared – that most wonderful of propositions. What a happy girl I was to be presented with a quadrant of quality Irish Artisan Cheese alongside homemade sesame crackers and a pot of Hannah’s mother’s own green tomato chutney. Mossfield Cheddar (Bruce Springsteen’s favourite, Paddy tells me) sat next to one of my favourites, Crozier Blue, Little Milk Company brie and the jewel in the crown of Irish farmhouse cheese, the ever distinctive and ever enjoyable Milleens made up an expertly curated cheeseboard worth lingering over. A final flourish of a Chocolate Cup, filled with a scoop of homemade craisin and Cognac ice cream – that’s rum and raisin with added oomph – put my sweet tooth to bed and ushered me towards my room after what had been a thoroughly enjoyable dinner which alone was worth booking in for. The fact that Paddy is not a formally trained chef baffles me, but not unlike the gifted Kevin Murphy of ídas in Dingle, he is innately connected to his ingredients and committed to helping them shine. This carries through to a simple yet scrumptious breakfast, which begins with stewed rhubarb from the garden with local curd and granola and freshly squeezed orange juice. A French press of good coffee later (something which has proven elusive to even the finest hotels), and having sworn I was still full after last night’s extravaganza I had made good inroads into one of the better full Irish breakfasts I’ve enjoyed, all sourced from local farmer and butcher Mick Keegan, with two plump and perfectly poached eggs and more of that excellent green tomato preserve. Worth it. Lamenting that the rest of my day couldn’t include lingering in the library and saying my goodbyes, I reflected on the words of a fellow guest, he who comes year in year out – “three days at Roundwood is worth a week anywhere else in the world.” Utter tranquility, inimitable original charm and a welcome as warm and inviting as an open fire after a winter’s trek in the neighbouring Slieve Bloom mountains combined with an exceptional culinary offering, Roundwood is a feast for the eyes and the (hungry) soul – a Hidden Irish gem you simply must uncover. https://thetaste.ie/wp/roundwood-house-mountrath-laois-review/

Lesser Spotted Ireland: Midlands magic in overlooked Laois, Harry McGee, The Irish Time – August 2015

Forage with Wild Food Mary, dine at the gorgeous 17th-century Roundwood House and discover a lost village in the Slieve Blooms: Laois is under-rated... Poor Laois. For many tourists it’s just a name on a blurry sign as they zip through on the M7, M8 and M9 motorways to destinations where there is the neon of the sea and the tinsel of mountains. When you flick through Lonely Planet, the portents are not good: “Little-visited Laois is often overlooked as drivers zoom past . . . ” is its sad introduction. Yep, it’s a county that just can’t compete with the Atlantic counties, or even with Kilkenny or Tipperary, in the “come hither” department. In fairness to Lonely Planet, if you persevere for a few more sentences, the guide book points out that there is an allure to Laois. A real hidden corner of Ireland, it says. Or, a prime candidate for Lesser Spotted Ireland, in Irish Times speak. Okay, any time I have sat down in January and plotted my summer holidays, Laois has never emerged at the top of the list. It might not be as dramatic as the rugged Macgillycuddy’s Reeks or the Skelligs or Aran or the Rock of Cashel. It might not jingle like Killarney or Tramore or Salthill or Strandhill. But this road less taken brought me to a more discreet and mildly magical place this summer.  Eye-pleasing house Five kilometres from the town of Mountrath, the first wonderful stop is unveiled in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom mountains. Down an avenue roofed with trees and dappled with sunshine lies Roundwood House, an eye-pleasing Georgian House dating from the 17th century. This Palladian villa is gorgeous inside, with high ceilings, great windows, authentic period pieces and architecture. The floorboards are like the deck of a galleon: ancient, well-trodden but comforting. A “don’t touch” museum it is not. It’s a guest house and restaurant, and part of the Hidden Ireland group. The house is old but the vibe is young. Its owners, Hannah and Paddy Flynn, have taken over the running of the house in the past few years from Hannah’s parents, who ran it for three decades. The atmosphere is relaxed, laid-back and mellow. If a particular beverage company did Airbnb, this is what it would look and feel like. It’s very much a fully lived-in family home. We have our four-year-old daughter, Sadhbh, with us. Within seconds she has struck up a friendship with the couple’s young daughters, Amelie (7) and Lucie (5), and over the next day the three explore every inch of the house and the amazing grounds of long-grassed meadows, with their broadleaf woodlands of oak, beech and ash. A serene rainless sky helps. For a child this is what a carefree summer’s day is all about. Animals abound: hens, ducks, geese, two dogs, and cattle in the surrounding fields. There used to be a peacock but he was not replaced; he made a cacophony of noise during the night that undid the spectacular daytime displays of feathers. There are other unexpected discoveries to be made in the woodlands and meadows. We meet Mary Bulfin, aka Wild Food Mary, a forager and chef, who acts as a guide on a novel journey. Mary is a fascinating guide, full of knowledge and information, with a lively disposition. We walk no more than 500m, through a woods, a field overgrown with grasses, a hedgerow, past an oak and through a rhododendron passage. But it involves a kind of epic journey that opens up a new micro-universe of grasses, nuts, flowers, plants and weeds, all either edible or medicinal. Armed with a small utility knife, which she uses like a machete, Mary gathers massive mushrooms, which turn a suspicious toxic blue immediately after being picked. “Are they poisonous?” we ask. “Not at all, but those ones over there are,” she says, pointing to an innocuous-looking group of mushrooms with pointy heads. And then there are the nettles, wild garlic, sloes, whin, St John’s wort and a host of other stuff. Earlier in the Slieve Blooms she picked fraughans – blueberries or bilberries that are native to this corner of Ireland – which have a wonderful tart, sweet taste. There was lots of information. Be careful picking wild garlic leaves: they often grow next to bluebells, whose leaves are similar but as poisonous as they are beautiful. That long, ground-hugging sticky weed you find in your back garden is highly edible, healthy and can be juiced. In times past it was bunched together and used as a kind of sieve. It would catch the impurities as goat’s milk was poured through it. Whin (furze or gorse) is edible. You can use it in salads or make wine or tea from it. Areal bonus of the excursion was that it provided the inspiration for dinner. Paddy is an excellent chef, and the meal he prepares that evening includes all that has been foraged. The blue mushrooms make a starter (we hesitate until Mary has taken her first bite). The garlic, fraughans and other plants all find their way into garnishes and dessert. Like a lot of the Hidden Ireland houses, dinner is a communal affair, with all the guests sitting around one table. You kind of fear it will be all awkward small talk, but it turns out to be very convivial. Walking the Slieve Blooms The next day I drive up into the heart of the Slieve Blooms, where I meet Gerry Hanlon, an amiable shopkeeper from Mountmellick and a stalwart of the local walking group. These mountains are not Ireland’s most vertical: the highest is about 500m and the tops tend to be round and a bit boggy compared with the more jagged mountains farther west. But in the context of the midlands they are dramatic, rising suddenly out of the bogs. Unusually for a hill walk, we begin at the summit point, work our way down to the lowest point and come up again. That is at the Ridge of Capard, a viewing point where you can see a vast panorama of the midland plains that takes in 12 counties. In the far distance, you can see the Wicklow mountains, the Comeraghs, Galtymore, and the Knockmealdowns 103km away. Here on the ridge, you can see the fruits of projects to open up the Slieve Blooms to recreational walkers: dozens of waymarked trails and boardwalks erected over the mushiest terrain. These trails criss-cross the range from more than half a dozen starting points, including Kinnitty in Co Offaly on the far side. The walk we partake in is about 12km, a variation on an Eco trail that skirts the river Barrow before rising through forest and meadows up the Ridge of Capard. On our descent, Hanlon and I stay off the roads and tracks and follow obscure – and sometimes very overgrown – pathways through the wonderful broadleaf forests (and some newer coniferous growth) of the former Capard estate. The trailhead for this walk is at Glenbarrow, which is a nice picnic spot. On this Saturday its ample car park is jammed: a good sign. The walk from Glenbarrow includes a broad path among elegant tall trees near the river. Soon, you come to a waterfall named Clamp Hole. From there the path follows steeper ground uphill as it rises above the river valley. We pass long-derelict stone quarries: what back-breaking toil must have been involved. We stay with the river for a while, walking up on wide flags of sandstone rocks that protrude above the water. The river’s water has eroded and smoothed the sandstone so much that it looks like the limestone flags of the Burren. And what do they look like? Holey Emmental cheese. Another remarkable sight is the Lost Village, the ruins of a settlement of houses near the remote hilltop, some of which were occupied until the early 20th century. The most extraordinary ruins are of what was once a prosperous stone farmhouse, which has become engulfed by the forest. Wild Food Mary’s tutorial the previous day has not been totally lost. Along the way, I spot some St. John’s wort, along with an impressive blackthorn bush and its sloes. I do not come across any fraughans, however. They are a little bit like Laois, those native berries: a little overlooked and elusive but well worth the effort of the search. https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/lesser-spotted-ireland-midlands-magic-in-overlooked-laois-1.2316089  

Women Take the Lead in the Big House Revival, Mary Leyland, The Irish Times, February, 2011

Their houses are big, historic and challenging – but they are determined to keep them open for business. Three young women explain why they've become the chatelaines of their family homes... FRANK and Rosemarie Kennan are so synonymous with Roundwood House in Co Laois that it’s easy to understand their daughter Hannah’s belief that when she went off to university she would never come back. But come back she has, with her two small children and husband, Paddy Flynn, the Galway musician, with whom, eventually, she plans to introduce art and musical events at this lovely house, built between 1738 and 1748, possibly by Francis Bindon. “The idea was that one of us would be involved when my parents wanted to retire, but by then all the rest of the family were on very definite career paths. Frank and Rosemarie insisted that when the time came we were to regard Roundwood simply as a property and nothing more – they didn’t want any of us to feel under pressure. If we did decide to take over, it was to be for the right reasons. It’s not the kind of thing you can do just to keep everyone happy. Paddy and I took about a year to think about it, we didn’t even say anything to anyone until we were sure.” Roundwood House and its remaining 18 acres of woodland and pasture passed through various hands, including those of the Georgian Society, before the Kennans decided to restore it both as a family home and a business 30 years ago. “I grew up with guests in the house, that’s always been the norm for me. But it’s a very special place, there’s a strong personal tie and it’s hard to regard it just as a business. My parents put every penny they had into restoring and refurbishing it, and now that they have moved out (to the coach-house) it’s still a family environment and our guests seem to like that.” There’s a lot to like at Roundwood House, from its double-height balconied hall to its restored outbuildings. After three years in charge of what is at times a hectic schedule, with five-course dinners prepared by herself and Paddy every evening of the season, 32-year old Hannah has the confidence to say that yes, they are in it for the long haul. https://www.irishtimes.com/business/commercial-property/women-take-the-lead-in-the-big-house-revival-1.562495