Arrive at Sheen Falls Lodge today and you’ll find a perfectly-formed lodge hugging the banks of the River Sheen. This picture-perfect setting wasn’t always home to such a grand building, and it’s believed the first structure appeared by the Sheen Falls in the 1600’s when the land was gifted to William Petty by Sir Oliver Cromwell.
Petty, a remarkable English physician, scientist and mathematician, oversaw Cromwell’s survey of Ireland, the world’s first detailed national mapping of a country, which facilitated the lands being confiscated from the Irish and transferred to Cromwell’s soldiers.
As payment, Petty received 3,500 arable acres in Kenmare and Tuosist parishes, to which he added another 2,000, purchased from soldiers, eager to return to England. Cromwell’s reconstruction of seventeenth-century Ireland transformed the country, marking the beginning of the influential Anglo-Irish estate system here.
In 1661, King Charles II knighted Petty and gave him the remainder of Kenmare and Tuosist parishes, along the south side of the Kenmare Estuary. Historians believe that Petty ended up with some 270,000 acres of southwest Kerry, including the beautiful Beara Peninsula and town of Kenmare, which he founded in 1670.
Upon his death in 1687, his only son was a minor, so the estate passed to a daughter, Anne. Her marriage into the local FitzMaurice family resulted in her husband becoming the first Earl of Kerry. He built Sheen Cottage at Sheen Falls, which was used by the family as a fishing and shooting base, and is the site of the present-day hotel.
In 1777, the iconic bridge with its stone arches was built over the falls next to the house, and remains unchanged to this day.
During the nineteenth century, the house and its grounds changed hands several times, with a new fishing lodge built here in 1854. It is believed that some of the original walls of Sheen Cottage were incorporated into this new building. In 1879, the Lansdowne family, descendants of Sir William Petty, resumed possession of the property, favouring it as a fishing and hunting lodge for the family.
During the Civil War of 1922, the lodge was commandeered by anti-Treaty forces and turned into a temporary barracks. Some 70 men are reported to have billeted here, arriving with their own bedding and departing two weeks later, leaving the house in immaculate condition.
In 1948, the property changed hands, and again in 1966, when the estate was purchased by an Englishman who hoped to set up a commercial fishery. Apparently, he had heard old stories about the famous runs of salmon, trout, herring, and pilchards at Sheen Falls. Failing to make a success of the project, he sold it to an international corporation from which it was purchased by a Danish family, the Høyers, in 1988.
The Høyer family dreamed up the Sheen Falls Lodge that we know today, creating an exceptional five-star hotel on the river bank, which opened in 1991. Winning acclaim internationally, the estate was sold in 2013 to an international hotel group who invested in it significantly.
In 2018, Sheen Falls Lodge came under new ownership, marking a new beginning and exciting next chapter for Ireland’s original five-star lodge.