Elizabeth Bowen and The Shelbourne Hotel

Shelbourne book

Last September when I met up with my online book group friend sherry in Marion, Massachusetts she presented me with a copy of Elizabeth Bowen‘s ‘The Shelbourne Hotel : an enchanting account […] of the hotel that for more than a century has been at the heart of Irish life’. Tucked inside the book was this postcard (no date, but probably early 20th century) :


Postcard View

shelbourne 1

The Shelbourne Today

I read the book in May for a taste of the history of this grand hotel in advance of a booked Afternoon Tea with Julie, another book group friend, on Tuesday 7 June. This date had been in my diary for nearly a year! Julie was staying in Dublin to attend a meeting of Law Librarians later in the week. (I already know that next June I could be meeting her for tea at one of those glitzy hotels in …… Manchester)

Wonderland Tea

The Wonderland Sandwiches Arrive

Bowen’s history only takes us up to the end of the 1940s. The US edition (mine) was first published in 1951. You can read a potted history of the hotel here. But Elizabeth Bowen’s full account of how the hotel came about, the backgrounds to all the characters – owners and employees, quirky designs and family rows makes the story very entertaining – as you would expect from such a fine writer.

shelbourne lobby

The Shelbourne Lobby

For fun here I noted a few eccentricities/interesting features from the book to look out for but following refurbishments most of these have now disappeared. As far as I could see there is no longer a stuffed moose in the lobby;

(The moose, which for some reason was to have a depressing effect on Thackeray, is still on view)” [p.57]

the original lift has now gone;

And the Shelbourne now had in its core a new sound and motion: it had installed a lift. strung on cables, round and round which the flights of the staircase turn, the lift hummed up and down inside fretwork gates – as it continues to do today.” [1906-1913 p.168]

and (horror of horrors) although the room is basically as per Bowen’s description it is called The Lord Mayor’s Lounge.

In the drawing room ], for instance – never let us fall short and call this the lounge! – elaborately heavy frieze and patterned ceiling soar above pale-tinted walls, light coffee tables, and those armchairs and sofas whose easy-going resilience and floral cretonnes Mrs Margaret Jury might not, perhaps, have approved. Victorianism is a structural part of the Shelbourne’s ground floor, whose atmosphere it mellows and dignifies.” [p. 227]

Reservations required

The Lord Mayor’s Lounge welcomes you with traditional fine dining and world-class service. The perfect location to relax and retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.

  • Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Dress code: Shirt/Slacks Req.dubbr_phototour69
  • The Lord Mayor’s Lounge [source]

Despite the fact that the hotel has now moved on we had a lovely tea and the service was faultless. I see there is now an Elizabeth Bowen Suite at The Shelbourne.

A few days later, on my final full day in Ireland, I decided to seek out the site of Elizabeth’s former home Bowenscourt and her grave a few miles away from Anne’s Grove at Farahy, Co. Cork.

Farahy sign

There’s a car park just off the road as you descend into Farahy. Elizabeth Bowen describes the place in her book “Bowenscourt” which I own but haven’t yet read.

yellow houses

Drop downhill into FARAHY “here are a bridge over the small river Farahy, 2 or 3 shops, some yellow and pink cottages, the lower avenue gate-lodge of Bowen’s Court, a protestant rectory and a protestant church.”

lodge gates

Lodge Gates

Bowenscourt was demolished by the new owners in 1960 when Bowen had to sell the house, being no longer able to meet its running costs.


More or less the site of Bowenscourt

EB 1

Elizabeth Bowen and Bowenscourt

I saw no shops but there are still some yellow houses, the river still runs under the bridge and the church still stands. Elizabeth Bowen and her husband are now buried outside the protestant church at the garden-lodge gates.

EB Church

St Colman’s Protestant Church, Farahy, Co. Cork

EB grave

The Grave of Elizabeth Bowen and her Husband

Elizabeth Bowen died in London in 1973 and an annual commemoration of her life is held at the church in Farahy in September.

Many thanks to sherry and Julie!






6 comments on “Elizabeth Bowen and The Shelbourne Hotel

  1. Cosy Books says:

    I’m in awe of Elizabeth Bowen’s writing and eke out her books slowly to extend the pleasure. Such a lovely post and thank you for sharing the photo of her grave…I’ve never seen it. And your tea looks too delicious!

    • Yes, I’m so much in awe of her I have to admit to giving up on The Last September. I don’t know why that was so maybe just had other books waiting in the wings.

  2. sherry says:

    I’m having fun imagining Elizabeth’s reaction to the dress code for the lounge. Shirt AND slacks! Men and/or women?
    Actually, I think I’ve been there but so long ago it probably doesn’t count.
    Must dust off/excavate one of her books for the TBR heap.

  3. dianabirchall says:

    I’ve stayed at the Shelbourne a couple of times and enjoyed every single moment (especially the tea, and the sense of history!). We saw Woody Allen there at the height of his scandalous breakup with Mia Farrow when he was being reviled by the world’s press, and as he went out to his limousine, a few people actually hissed! Yes, this really did happen at the Shelbourne. I believe – I hope – I have the Bowen book unread, must look and see. Thanks for this lovely post, Barbara!

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