THE BEL-AIR HO­TEL and Eques­trian Cen­tre cel­e­brates its 80th an­niver­sary this year and a spe­cial ‘Stet­sons and Shades’ night will be held to mark the oc­ca­sion.

In 1937, Tim and Bri­die Mur­phy from Cliff Cas­tle Ho­tel in Dalkey bought Bel-Air Ho­tel in Ash­ford and their daugh­ter Fidelma went on to set up the Eques­trian Cen­tre.

Four gen­er­a­tions and 80 years later, the fam­ily busi­ness con­tin­ues to go from strength to strength.

Plenty of mem­o­ra­bilia and pho­to­graphs from the 1930s right up to the present day will be on dis­play at the spe­cial func­tion tak­ing place on Satur­day, Au­gust 12, at 8 p.m..

Noni Law, Fidelma’s daugh­ter, says the event is open to all with an in­ter­est in at­tend­ing.

‘We are hop­ing to see some lo­cals, cur­rent clients and for­mer clients and guests. There might be some­one who hasn’t been here for a while. It should be a great night and we de­cided that it should also act as a fundraiser for Wick­low Can­cer Sup­port.’

The orig­i­nal house was built in 1750 by Hugh Ec­cles when the es­tate was known as Cron­roe. Hugh con­veyed Cron­roe to Julius Case­ment in March of 1862. The house was burned in the 1880’s and Julius built the present house in 1890.

Sir Roger Case­ment was a cousin of Julius and he spent a con­sid­er­able amount of time in Cron­roe. His sig­na­ture is still seen on a wall in an up­stairs room.

In Au­gust 1934, Cron­roe passed from the Case­ment fam­ily to an Amer­i­can, Nicholas Burns, who changed the name of Cron­roe Manor to Bel-Air Ho­tel.

Noni’s grandparents, Tim and Bri­die Mur­phy, bought Bel-Air in 1937 un­der slightly un­usual cir­cum­stances.

‘My grandparents were run­ning the Cliff Cas­tle Ho­tel in Dalkey at the time. My grand­fa­ther Tim asked my grand­mother Bri­die to at­tend an auc­tion that was tak­ing place at Bel-Air so they could buy a few beds for Cliff Cas­tle. When she re­turned, he asked if she had bought the beds and she replied that she had bought a bit more than that – she had pur­chased the whole ho­tel,’ ex­plains Noni.

They con­tin­ued to run both ho­tels and the rid­ing school with the help of their three daugh­ters, Ita, Ena and Fidelma. In 1980, Fidelma and her hus­band Bill Free­man, Noni’s par­ents, took over the run­ning of the ho­tel and rid­ing school.

‘I have been rum­mag­ing around try­ing to find stuff and some of what I have found is un­be­liev­able,’ said Noni.

‘I think it’s im­por­tant it is all seen and it will all be on show on the night of our cel­e­bra­tion. I found an auc­tion cat­a­logue from 1933, which is around the time the Burns bought it. I have a copy of the deeds from the Burns fam­ily and the Case­ments. I dis­cov­ered loads of great pho­to­graphs and old news­pa­per ar­ti­cles on Bel-Air. I don’t want to give too much away be­cause it will all be on dis­play on the night but I think peo­ple will be fas­ci­nated.’

For­mer Irish Pres­i­dent Cearb­hall Ó Dálaigh was a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to Bel-Air, while ac­tress, novelist and singer Mar­sha Hunt en­joyed the seclu­sion the Bel-Air of­fered while she was suf­fer­ing from can­cer.

Lu­ciano Pavarotti was a sur­prise vis­i­tor to pur­chase a horse, while at one stage ac­tress Mia Far­row used to spend her sum­mers at Bel-Air.

‘I found an old post­card ad­dressed to my mother from Mia Far­row ask­ing how she is and of­fer­ing to help out at Bel-Air over the sum­mer if my mother needed any as­sis­tance. Twenty years ago she came back here and stayed with her whole fam­ily.

‘ There is also a let­ter from Cearb­hall Ó Dálaigh thank­ing my par­ents for sug­gest­ing he bring some of their cooked meats back home with him.

‘Roger Case­ment spent quite a bit of time here and is meant to have sig­nalled out one of the win­dows when the guns were meant to be com­ing in,’ said Noni.

Most guest stay­ing in Bel-Air are ex­pect­ing a ‘real Irish’ ex­pe­ri­ence, some­thing the es­tate’s 200 acres pro­vides in abun­dance.

‘We aren’t so much a ho­tel as a big home,’ said Noni.

‘We have ten bed­rooms and peo­ple are al­ways com­ment­ing on the real ‘ fam­ily’ at­mos­phere around the place. It is a fam­ily home and peo­ple stay­ing here are treated like a fam­ily mem­ber.

‘You would be sur­prised at some of the peo­ple who come in and out of here but they don’t want to be known. They just want to come in and be left alone and treated the same as ev­ery­one else.’

Now Bel-Air con­sists of a ho­tel, work­ing farm, an eques­trian cen­tre, a liv­ery yard and a com­pe­ti­tion cen­tre.

‘I grew up with horses. I’d say I was al­ready jump­ing over a few fences when I was still in my mother’s stom­ach’ said Noni.

To­day, Bel-Air Ho­tel and Eques­trian Cen­tre is run by Fidelma’s and Bill’s chil­dren Noni, Aileen, Mar­garet and Wil­liam, while the next gen­er­a­tion are al­ready in line to take over.

‘My­self and Mag­gie’s chil­dren all help out, just like we did when we were their age. Whether it’s help­ing with the sta­bles, chang­ing bed linen or scrub­bing dishes, they do their bit.’

Tick­ets for the ‘Stet­sons and Shades’ night in aid of Wick­low Can­cer Sup­port cost €10 and can be pur­chased from Bel-Air, Clas­sic Cuts in Ash­ford­hfd or theh Wick­lowWikl CancerC Sup­portS of­fic­effi in Wick­low town.

ABOVE: Noni Law with a 1937 field cal­en­dar. RIGHT: Vic­tor and Leona Evans with Lu­ciano Pavarotti at the Bel-Air in 1990.

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