Place to love: Borris, Carlow

Hugo Jellett, the creative and executive producer behind the magical Borris House Festival of Writing and Ideas, on what he loves about this gem in Carlow

"I like a place that neglects the artifice of county boundaries, and embraces instead the topography. Borris’ mountain stream feeds into the majestic and little-explored River Barrow which marks the start of the finery of Kilkenny, with the looming spectacle of the Blackstairs Mountains and the threat of Wexford towers the far end of the village - yet defiantly Borris is Carlow’s. It is one of those villages with one street, meandering from the top of a hill down to the bottom, flanked on one side by the majestic Borris House and on the other by the incongruously wonderful Step House Hotel. There are close to zero examples of small village hotels in Ireland that know how to keep their doors open to the locals and the well-heeled visitors at the same time except this one, stylish and unpretentious, and it is reason alone to come to this village to hide from your iPad and your Fitbit and your keep-cup and the Backstop.

But Borris has more. It has pubs, a few of them, that seem to have got it right. O'Shea’s is the most infamous, a 'Select Bar' whatever that is, but also a proper hardware joint, and also the village shop. It feels like you discovered it, until you come to hear that most of the Rolling Stones spent a fair bit of time in it. And John Joyce’s pub, a few doors down, a dark beautiful wooden creature heaving with hooch and the prices written with marker on a bit of white card and nailed to the back wall. Those who drink here are inclined to a song. And on down to Charlie Nolan the butcher, known far and wide for his skill in sawing bones while chatting about soft days. The bank that opens the odd time in the week, with a double security door that appears to be wedged open for customers ease. And behind the town, a towering viaduct that once saw trains passing in the sky. It goes without saying that this is a walker’s paradise, if that is your tonic - but it is also easy to idle here and just be.

Each year I spend a few weeks here because I'm involved in The Borris Festival of Writing & Ideas and my best memories are of seeing our speakers out around the village being nosey - Geldof hopping the wall into “someone’s Japanese garden”, Margaret Atwood buying an anorak from the haberdashery, Chrissie Hynde flagging down a man with a car to drive her up to the airport, delighted he didn’t have tinted windows. The pavement outside O’Shea’s full of hundreds of people that would be mobbed silly if we were anywhere else. But Borris House is simply unlike any other, the phrase The Seat of the High Kings of Leinster says it all…"

Borris House Festival of Writing & Ideas runs from June 7-9.

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