The Eccles Hotel overlooks one of the gentler coves in Glengarriff, like a stray from a quiet resort on the English Channel: architecturally a dignified, genteel, domestic, discreet Victorian design, but in a wild and alien setting.
But how far is it really an alien setting? Glengarriff has been a stopping-place for the curious visitor for three or four centuries, and some of those visitors—Georgiana Chatterton and William Makepeace Thackeray, amongst others—mentioned (with varying enthusiasm) the hospitality of successive inns here. By the latter part of the nineteenth century the then proprietors, the Eccles family, felt confident enough to rebuild their premises in the contemporary style appropriate to a watering-place, catering for a fashionably middle-class passing trade, with an emphasis on literary and artistic interests; the new hotel had a picture-gallery and a reading-room.
So this hotel was not, and is not, some external intrusion, incongruously imposed upon a victim landscape; rather, it has evolved slowly in response to the changing needs of the users of the locality—designed, furthermore, to meet the aesthetic and functional requirements of travellers who had come to admire and enjoy the locality. Here as elsewhere, not all buildings for the tourist are quite as seemly, but the hotel shows that some graceful compromise is possible.
And the effect has pleased many following in the footsteps of Thackeray. The world is full of unlikely places that saw the genesis of great artistic works—Mozart’s first symphony composed round the corner from what is now Victoria Station in London, for example—and Ireland is replete with such tales; a wall-plaque on the island’s remotest hostel, at Killary Harbour on the tip of Connemara facing Mweelrea, tells us that Wittgenstein stayed there whilst working on his Philosophical Investigations. By comparison, the anecdote here is almost an anticlimax; for George Bernard Shaw stayed in the Eccles Hotel in July, 1923 while writing Saint Joan, although it had been begun a few months earlier in Malvern and continued in railway trains, and was to be completed a month later in the Great Southern Hotel at Parknasilla. Shaw, the passionate sceptic, the urban controversialist, and the eccentric ascetic, evidently liked the comforts of good hotels in picturesque places.