Create Split Programs in Dublin & Ireland’s Countryside

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The Marker Bar
The Marker Bar

Dublin is becoming an innovative hub of technology, sustainability and culture thanks to a new throng of creative groups that are settling in town. The Docklands area is Dublin’s most poignant example, home to new offices of Google, Linkedin, Amazon, Facebook and the sleek Convention Centre Dublin.

Open since April, The Marker Hotel is a chic and modern property with 166 guest rooms and the only rooftop garden in the city. The design of the expansive lobby draws on the elemental nature of Irish geography. The 3D ceiling takes its inspiration from the ancient basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. The moment you enter, you can’t help but let your eyes drift to the white geometric structures that appear to be falling from the high ceilings.

“It is exciting to have a new hotel that is modern and contemporary as part of Leading Hotels of the World,” says Ken Lyons, senior sales manager. “The Marker creates a wonderful contrast against the many traditional hotels found in the city.”

Step onto the rooftop garden for creative cocktails and smooth electronic beats for a cool alternative to the pub scene. Whether for teambuilding activities on the patio during the day or a cocktail party by night, General Manager Charlie Sheil says this is the most intimate space in the whole city.

Tech companies top the list of bookings, some of which are already penciled in through 2015. Easy access to the convention center and the technological advances found onsite are a major selling point, according to Sheil. The Marker Hotel’s 7,500 sf of meeting space, including nine meeting rooms seating 10 to 250 guests, is another big plus.

The 130-seat Brasserie restaurant facing the Grand Canal is a bold, abstract space with a large marble slab table in the center for intimate group dinners. Menu highlights include succulent rare breed pork and beef combined with colorful salads, soups and pastas. A prix-fixe theatre menu is fully customized by Chef Gareth Mullins for groups using private booths and banquettes.

DUBLIN: CITYWIDE MEETINGS 

During a 4-day trek around Ireland, we booked Moloney & Kelly Travel DMC in conjunction with Meet In Ireland to guide us around popular group venues and attractions.

“Never has there been a better time for groups to travel to Ireland,” says Michael Dalton, groups/incentives manager. “You can experience the perfect mix of Georgian city life and countryside castles all in one trip.”

For 5-star sophistication, The Merrion is set in a two-centuries old Georgian townhouse. The 142-room hotel includes the largest private art collection in Ireland and the expansive Prince Charles outdoor garden for groups up to 100 pax. The Merrion’s Waterloo Ballroom seats 100 with six breakouts.

Order a traditional Irish tea in the drawing room or conduct a quick meeting before heading into sessions. The elegant fireplace includes original plasterwork and original hand tools. Paintings by Roger Conner add country ambiance to the gold/cream walls.

“We host a great mixture of meetings, many of those are groups traveling internationally,” says Matthew Rowlette, director of sales/marketing. “We’re in a fantastic citywide location that gives groups easy access to nearby pubs, shopping and business centers.”

The Merrion is the only hotel in Ireland with a 2-Michelin Star restaurant. The 80-seat Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud is an upscale spot for celebrities including Sean Penn and U2’s Bono. The multitude of courses, featuring majestic dishes like blue lobster ravioli with free-range egg pasta is a constant act of culinary seduction. For casual meals, check out The Cellar Restaurant, an underground wine cave for 96 pax filled with original 18th century cellars. Our group enjoyed pre-dinner cocktails with a harpist whose soft tones echoed off the stone vaulted ceilings.

At night, head to the 24-hour onsite pub for a Basil Smash cocktail, a drink that is exclusively and secretly served to guests in teapots filled with gin, freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice, fresh honey and basil leaves over ice. We sipped out of teacups in the quiet, 40-pax bar of classically upholstered sofas and chairs under traditional rococo cornices. Nearby, the Temple Bar District is lined with a raucous collection of fun Irish pubs.

Other Dublin venues include The Shelbourne Dublin, A Renaissance Hotel. The 262-room hotel is where the Irish constitution was signed. The open lobby is filled with 39 Waterford crystal chandeliers from the 1860s, gold and red accents along the wooden panels and sky-high ceilings with Corinthian columns.

Book the Constitution Room for private dinners of 18 people and enjoy the harmonies of Anuna, a 7-piece folk choir. Although we couldn’t understand the language, our group was truly inspired by the haunting Celtic tunes. This is easily one of the most memorable group dining venues in the country.

The Westin Dublin originated as a bank in 1863 and remained in operation until 1997. The 163-room hotel is located adjacent to the Trinity College campus, maintaining its rich history and classical design. The 250-seat Banking Hall is an overwhelmingly beautiful group venue. The ballroom is the former storage facility for university uniforms.

In January, the Westin completed a $4 million guest room renovation, adding deep chocolate leather and soft shades of cream, silvery green, beige and champagne to room interiors. Nine suites were unveiled, each named after traditional Irish writers including Patrick Kavanagh, Sean O’Casey and Maria Edgeworth.

DUBLIN OUTSKIRTS 

Roughly 30 minutes outside of Dublin in Kildare, the Carton House is a concentrated dose of modern-day Ireland. The 165-room estate sits on 1,100 acres of rolling woodlands along the River Rye. The building originated in 1739 and serves as one of the most important houses in Irish history. The main block of the house is from the 18th and 19th centuries and is the main focal point when you drive along the long curved driveway. In 2006, family owners expanded the building, adding contemporary space against the traditional architecture.

“When we decided to renovate and expand the hotel for 21st century groups, we wanted to make sure that the main part of the building’s history was the main focal point,” says Jennifer McCormack, sales manager. “As you make your way around, you’ll transition through time as you watch the styles change throughout the property.”

During our visit, we were served lunch in the 60-seat Gold Salon, designed as the main dining room of the house in 1739. In 1857, an organ was added and it was converted into a music room. The original plasterwork and gold trim still accentuate the cream and textured walls. The design includes images of gods sculpted along the high ceilings and statues of the Duke and Duchess of Lester.

Popular teambuilding and recreation options include a ropes course, forest hunts, Land Rover drives and clay pigeon shooting. The largest meeting space is the shimmering Carton Suite, seating up to 350 for gala dinners.

County Wicklow, an oceanfront area located about 40 minutes from Dublin City is an easy day trip for groups conducting meetings in the city. The Druids Glen Resort is a lodge-style hotel and golf club, home to 134 guest rooms and 11 suites, all currently under renovation. Over the past three years the 4-star hotel has completely transformed the cobblestone-lined meeting spaces into a bright and homey place for groups to gather outside of the city.

“We wanted to transform the look of the hotel to really tie into the countryside environment on the outside,” says Karina Dunne, director of sales/marketing. “The vibe totally changes from the busy energy of the city, but you’re still a quick drive away.”

The ultra-modern hotel is draped with earthy rafters and chrome candelabras along the bleach wood tables. All meeting areas were completely renovated, adding natural light and scenic views of the mountains, countryside and golf course.

The Woodstock House is a historic venue/onsite golf club from the 1770s with 8,000 sf of meeting space. The venue was once the home of many lords, bishops and the recording studio for contemporary rockers like Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton. Dunne says that groups schedule murder-mystery parties in the color-themed drawing and dining rooms and hold cocktail receptions on the rooftop terrace for 60 pax.

IRISH COUNTRY

Mile to mile of rolling countryside on the 2-hour train ride from Dublin to Killarney is utterly captivating. The silent beauty of rolling trees and a can of Guinness is an abbreviated dose of what it means to be Irish. The town of Killarney is a small city of shops, pubs and restaurants, all along Killarney Park and Sugarloaf Mountain.

The Europe Hotel was by far the most refreshing stop within the city of traditional castles and historic B&Bs. The 187-room luxury resort closed for over a year in 2006, completely gutting all public spaces to recreate a modern and atmospheric meeting environment. There is 5,570 sf of meeting space in total facing the purple-ish mountain backdrop.

“The hotel had been renovated throughout the years, but we knew it was time for something bigger,” says Gerry Browne, director of sales/marketing. “We decided to close for a year and a half because we wanted to totally redo everything and then reopen with everything new.”

Getting away from the city and settling into the lush green countryside really bonded our group. The hotel is located on 25,000 acres of natural forestlands. When sitting on one of the many scenic balconies and bay windows onsite, you can’t help but relax when soaring falcons and jumping Japanese deer are within your view. The hotel assists planners with teambuilding activities, including 12-seat canoe rides out to nearby farms and a tour of a 7th century castle.

Be sure to book a group spa session at the 2-story ESPA, filled with 16 treatment rooms, an indoor/outdoor pool, heated marble relaxation area and a scenic waiting room. Sitting on the birdcage-like chairs with our feet propped facing the view, the members of our group seemed to really let go and enjoy. Traditional Irish music and mystical black beer awaits guests at the Brasserie restaurant.

You can’t visit Ireland without getting your royal fix inside a castle. Book the 240-room Adare Manor, crafted by the Dunraven family in 1832. The hotel boasts 5,470 sf of meeting space. Arrange a horse and hound greeting as the coaches pull into the long and dewy grounds. The staff gathers in tuxedos, waving as two horses lead over 20 hound dogs around the lawn.

“The horse and hound greeting really wows groups when they arrive,” says Gillian Griffin, sales manager. “Every time you see it, you’re in awe of it.”

The staff also welcomes groups with owls and falcons as part of the onsite falconry program. During express check in, attendees can hold a 5-pound owl named Oscar. Other recreational options include horseback riding, fishing and moving archery, the only facility to offer such a program in the country.