The magnificent Dunmore Gardens, located close to the Donegal/Derry border, has a new lease of life, thanks to the efforts of the well-travelled Amelia McFarland, who spent many happy childhood days there on holiday with her grandparents.
The celebrated Georgian House, built in 1742, is a place three generations of the McFarland's call home. Now, Amelia is realising her long-held dream of opening up the estate as a wedding, accommodation and corporate events venue.
"I love travelling and I love Dunmore. It was always well known for its hilarious parties and welcoming atmosphere and I wanted to bring all of that back again. I wanted to share this beautiful house and its gardens with everyone. So I came home to Donegal for a whole new adventure," Amelia said.
"I've always enjoyed entertaining and hosting monster dinner parties. So I am using all my experience, knowledge and expertise to ensure that those who come to Dunmore have a wonderful positive experience."
Amelia's life story in quite fascinating. Born in a Victorian hospital on Hammersmith roundabout in London, she moved to Russia with her parents soon after.
"I lived there until I was 10 years old, interrupted only with frequent visits to my grandparents in Donegal and Meath," she recalled.
Amelia’s first language was a mix of English and Russian. Amelia went to Russian rather than international schools and Russian gradually became her first language.
Amelia’s love for horses began in Russia where she learnt to ride with the Russian cavalry riding stallions at the age of 7.
"President Putin also learned to ride here. The army base was off limits for foreigners, so my parents were never allowed to come. And when they did once for a cavalry performance, they were not allowed to talk in case their ‘foreigner’s Russian’ gave them away.” says Amelia.
Amelia loved spending time in the dacha – a wooden house in the countryside outside Moscow. Many Muscovites have one in their family.
"In winter we cross-country ski-ed, went to the sauna and jumped into freezing lakes. In the summer I picked fruits and mushrooms in the woods. It was then I started getting an appreciation for food and preserving it. Most Russian families have large jars of pickled food to last them through the winter," she said.
During the summer holidays Amelia and her family always came back to Ireland, and back to Carrigans where her love for nature and the outdoor life which included warm hospitality grew.
"Usually I would be sent on ahead of my parents as they were always working so hard. I learnt to be very independent, making friend with strangers on the plane or helping to translate for the Russian kids that came over to Ireland.
"When I was in Ireland, Dunmore was my home. I would spend hours playing in the gardens or sitting in my great grandmother’s chair listening to stories and eating jelly babies," she added.
"We came back to Ireland for good when I was 10. And from there I went through the Irish school system, but my itchy feet couldn’t keep me in one place for long. I left Ireland for Newmarket as soon as I finished my education.
"I started as a groom in a racing stable. Starting from the bottom was tough but you learn discipline and how to work hard by getting up very early and finishing very late at night. The opportunity I got in Newmarket was the beginning of a new chapter of my life," she said.
She then set off travelling, spending almost a year in New Zealand before moving on to Australia.
"They are two very beautiful countries with a wonderful outdoor life style. But then I was offered a job in Japan that I could not refuse and that's where I spent the next year and a half of my life.
"Then over to America living on the Shenandoah River on the foot hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, near Washington. And, yes, I sang the song a lot while I was there," she said, with a laugh.
Having trained herself up through cookery courses and wedding courses - she also completed an entrepreneur course with Donegal County Council - Amelia is ready to throw open the experience of Dunmore Gardens to everyone.
"Whether it's weddings, functions, corporate events, parties or to come enjoy the accommodation and get away for some privacy, Dunmore has a welcome waiting like no other.
"This place has always been close to my heart and I'm looking forward so much to sharing the beautiful house and gardens which are filled with so many happy memories," Amelia said.
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