“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow” W.B. Yeats
The first glimpse of Coopershill House comes into view as you traverse a minute humpback bridge crossing the Unshin River near the village of Riverstown. The river meanders through the countryside until it eventually reaches the majestic Lough Arrow. Coopershill House is a fine solid square Georgian House, built in the 1770’s. It is generous in its proportions and probably would have been referred to as a ‘tidy gentleman’s residence’ of that time. It sits on the top of a small hillock that nestles in a cosy landscape. The estate runs to 500 acres of woodlands and pastures. The long picturesque drive is surrounded by a patchwork quilt of changing colours with the seasons; white snowdrops, vibrant daffodils and calming bluebell displays. The trees carry a heavy abundance of lichen so you know that the air here in this oasis is purer than pure. Coopershill is a heritage house that has kept its integrity more easily than many others in Ireland. It has remained in the same family, the O’Hara’s, throughout its history with some interesting ancestry tweaking along the way. The House exudes a warm and welcoming ambiance of a home much loved and cared for over the seven generations; a place and sense of belonging where much pleasure is given to its occupants. One feels that they in turn have treated the House as a living family member.
The front hall with its stone flag floor is a symmetrical room and leads into the main hall. An impressive staircase dominates the space which brings you to the first floor bedrooms. As you head up the stairs to the bedrooms there is a feeling of being watched as various eyes from Stags’ heads look down on you. Ah! the joy of the hunt and the esteem that the hunter had for its quarry to have had all those lofty heads mounted. It is a spectacular collection and adds to the grandeur of the stairs. The bedrooms are set along a very gracious upper hall, the antithesis of the modern cramped hotel corridors. One wonders when the children were young did they enjoy playing games such as Boules as it has the perfect dimensions?
As befitting a Country House the bedrooms all have names – not numbers – including one called the School Room. I was allocated the Blue Room for this visit. Here the décor was blue and gold – a restful combination. The intriguing wallpaper of gold trees with a twinkling of unexpected glitter contrasted perfectly with the more sombre furnishings. Two windows in the bedroom meant it was very bright and the adjacent bathroom overlooked the front garden with its croquet lawn and fields beyond. Having stayed in Coopershill House many times before I can vouch that all the rooms have their own distinct personality as regards furnishings and each one so special that many returning guests often request a specific room.
The colour schemes throughout the House show some flair and imagination, particularly in the Drawing Room. Here a brave turquoise gives the room a dramatic lift and again contrasts and compliments with the deep browns of the mahogany doors and furniture. Wood crackled as it burned in the fireplace and I was looking forward to throwing a log or two on it later on – a forgotten joy due to modern apartment living.
Dinner: The Dining Room retains its authenticity with a massive well polished sideboard laden down with gleaming family silver. Portraits of family members from previous generations adorn the walls looking down on the diners. They would certainly be very happy to see the room full of people enjoying themselves. One wall is covered with Royal Copenhagen commemoration plates dating back to 1963, which makes for a striking collection. Tables are set in the grand manner with cut glass crystal and bone handled cutlery. I was definitely in my element. Dinner is a set Menu served at 8pm. There is a choice of starter and main course. For my starter I chose a crab tartlet. So often there is just a hint of crab in a tartlet but this tartlet was full of flavour and beautifully cooked. This was followed by Coopershill House venison which was outstanding. The texture of the meat was perfect and the flavour divine and cooked to pink perfection (as I like it!). I should point out that Coopershill has its own deer herd and their venison is highly renowned in food circles. The venison was accompanied by a really delicious medley of vegetables, many of which were grown in their extensive gardens. Rarely do I have a cheese course but I broke my rule as I was very interested to taste not only the lovely cheeses but the wonderful chutneys served to accompany them. My favourite was the rhubarb chutney which had a great zing to it. To finish I enjoyed a sinful chocolate mousse and a chamomile tea made with chamomile flowers from the herb garden.
The following morning the Dining Room was transformed with the addition of seersucker checked table cloths and Denby pottery. Eggs are cooked to order and the menu included some very tasty kippers; all in all it represents a real country breakfast with all the trimmings.
The grounds of the estate include a hard tennis court for the sporty types and the front lawn is set up for croquet for those who like a more Machiavellian sport! Coopershill House is less than 15 minutes drive from Sligo town and nearby Yeats country and the ‘Isle of Inishfree’. However, a must for visitors to the area is a climb to the top of the nearby monolithic Knocknarea mountain where Maebh’s Cairn (tomb) stands proud on its summit. The mythical Queen Maebh (pronounced Maeve) was daughter of the High King of Ireland according to Irish folklore. What is fact is that here is a neolithic passage tomb dating back 3,000 years and the largest one outside the Bru na Boinne complex in Co. Meath.
Simon and Christina O’Hara are the present generation of hosts who fit the House like the proverbial hand and glove. Christina presides over the kitchen and she has developed a reputation as an outstanding chef. Their understanding of their heritage property, whilst at the same time embracing many environmental changes, ensures that the property moves with the times. They have received several environmental awards, including the first EU Flower for Ireland. The future also looks very positive as I spotted their young son running around the following morning. Might have a game of boules with him in a few years time!