I had long wondered why Ireland, unlike neighboring Scotland, did not have a luxury train from which to view its glorious scenery. I was therefore extremely interested to learn that Belmond (formerly Orient-Express) was planning to launch just such a train in August 2016, to join the ranks of the Royal Scotsman and the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
Belmond had to start from scratch by purchasing 10 carriages and a locomotive from Irish Rail. These were shipped to Scotland to be re-engineered and painted in their distinctive livery of midnight blue. The next stop was Antrim, in Northern Ireland, where 40 craftsmen spent 35,000 hours transforming the interiors. As configured, the Grand Hibernian now has five sleeper cars, each with four cabins, for a total of 40 passengers; two dining cars; and an observation car.
At Dublin’s Heuston Station, a kilted drummer escorted us and our fellow passengers across a red carpet leading to the waiting train. As soon as we boarded, we were impressed by the caliber of the workmanship. Elegant wainscoting graced the passageways to the cabins, and custom-woven wool-blend carpeting clad the floors. Our cabin had two large windows, with both curtains and pull-down shades. Its interior was chiefly cream, with bright accent pillows, as well as a dark wood desk and a built-in armoire. The comfortable bed was made up with coverlets by Avoca, an Irish company that has been weaving high-quality textiles since 1723. I especially approved of the easy-to-reach reading lights. Original artwork adorned the walls. And then there were the grace notes, such as petite Galway Crystal vases with fresh flowers and a crystal tray with a ring holder. All cabins have en suite baths. Each is small but a model of efficient design, with white subway tiles on the walls, aquamarine tiles in the shower and sufficient counters and shelves for toiletries.