EAST CORK — The setting had all the hallmarks of an Irish period drama. As we passed through the gateway, a winding driveway flanked by gushing weirs and a fairy-tale swan lake veered toward a historic country manor, magnificently buttressed by a 13th-century castle tower. When the resident pair of Irish setters, Earl and Countess, greeted us at the main portal of Castlemartyr Resort, one of the country’s most exclusive hotels, it seemed the air of aspirational Irish romanticism could reach no bounds.
Originally built by Richard Boyle, the first earl of Cork, in the 17th century, the property opened as a $700-a-night hotel in 2007. An economic crash and change of management later, the resort retained the pomp and reduced its rates, aiming to court Corkonians seeking a local luxury escape — like my friend Deborah and me.