Colin White discovers a treasure trove of antiquity and grandiosity in a perfect setting at Galway’s Ballynahinch Castle Hotel & Estate.
After a night on the tiles sampling the best of the West’s epicurean delights − namely a local beer named Clifford’s Connacht Champion − I arrived at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel a little worse for wear.
The previous night’s excesses were promptly laid to rest, however, upon my arrival at an estate so full of character and charm.
Ballynahinch Castle is surrounded by 450 acres of forest and promises luxury, history and style in equal measure for visitors, all in the heart of picture-perfect Connemara. The interior of the premises is decorated with rods, reels and other bric-a-brac, which all adds to the estate’s historical connection.
For fans of the great outdoors, the hotel has many activities to offer (tennis, clay pigeon shooting, biking and boat trips are all available), but for those who are more concerned with a good book − and an even better pint − there are plenty of cosy nooks by the fire at the Fisherman’s Pub in which to unwind.
The hotel possesses the perfect balance between elegance and modern comfort.”
Indeed, it’s in the Fisherman’s Pub where I meet the hotel’s debonair general manager, Patrick O’Flaherty, for lunch. During my time with Patrick he’s full of stories and anecdotes regarding the estate and the surrounding area. His passion for this vocation is evident as he informs me of the hotel’s world-renowned reputation as a salmon and sea trout fishery and its prominence as one of the most idyllic settings in the West of Ireland. Incidentally, Patrick himself is a distant descendant of the O’Flahertys who originally owned the grounds.
Detached from reality
The impressive history of the hotel is outdone, however, by its hospitality. The warm welcome from the staff was genuine, and the service throughout my stay was excellent.
Upon being shown to my room − named Athry – along the maze-like, winding halls of the hotel, I am suitably impressed. As I overlooked Ballynahinch River from a floor-to-ceiling window within my splendid ensuite room, I felt detached from the ‘real’ world. A world of constant information and hurriedness had been replaced by one of serenity and grandeur. Occupying Athry is some quirky art and furniture that differentiate this hotel from most others I’ve resided in. That’s the thing about Ballynahinch: it’s all about the little things, none of which are neglected here and the hotel posesses the perfect balance between elegance and modern comfort.
It had been pre-arranged that I’d try my hand at fly fishing shortly after my arrival. Not being the most skilled angler at the best of times, I met fly fishing enthusiast Cyril with some trepidation. However, Cyril’s cheerful demeanour put me at ease immediately. “Are you much of a fisherman, or are you a city slicker?” enquired Cyril. “I’ve done a little bit of sea fishing, that’s about it,” I responded. Cyril advised: “Forget everything you know about sea fishing for the next few hours.”
It was a joy to spend two hours with Cyril while absorbing his local knowledge along one of the river’s beats (allocated areas for fishing) against the backdrop of the Twelve Bens. But, he was right; fly fishing is hard! I did catch a fish, but not the salmon we hoped for, whose frequent leaps from the sea were almost mocking my skills, or lack thereof.
There are also acres of peaceful walks to amuse oneself with during the day. The railway walk follows the route of the old Midland-Great Western Railway, meandering along the riverbank and allowing mesmeric views of the castle.
Food is an important element to any stay at Ballynahinch and the culinary excellence on offer at the Owenmore restaurant succeeded in whetting my appetite.
Using the finest local ingredients and produce, head chef Xin Sun and the Owenmore team have succeeded in mirroring the marriage of old and new seen throughout the hotel.
The restaurant itself is a delight with its old-fashioned wooden floors, stunning river views and traditional food with a modern twist. My main course of choice at the Owenmore was John Dory with mussels and a curry coconut sauce: heavenly.
On the final morning of my stay, after a hearty full Irish breakfast, I left the grounds and headed further west to Roundstone pier.
There, I met experienced skipper and lobster fisherman John Sullivan who took me around the picturesque islands surrounding the pier of this lively town. The boat trip was the ideal way to complete my first visit to Connemara in many years, and included a visit to a seal sanctuary and − unbelievably − successful mackerel fishing!
Ballynahinch has endless opportunities for lovers of the outdoors to enjoy. It’s a throwback to times past and the ideal location in which to unwind over a few relaxing days of ambling.
Ballynahinch Castle Hotel & Estate: a unique destination full of character at ease with itself and its environment.
Best in the West
Some of my top picks for a trip to the West, whether you have a weekend or a week to spare.
- Westport: buzzing nightlife and plenty of entertainment for all ages and tastes.
- Clifden: slightly more relaxed than Westport, but still a thriving local town with a highly rated restaurant scene.
- Achill Island: stunning coastal drives and panoramic views. Ideal for camping.
- Louisburgh to Leenaun: quite simply one of the most spectacular drives you’ll ever experience. The only problem is you won’t want it to end.
- Connemara National Park: explore 3,000 hectares of mountains, bogs, grasslands and woodlands.
- Inishbofin Island: a small island off the coast of Connemara with fascinating history and geology.
- Roundstone: bustling village on the west coast that’s worth investigating.
- Glengowla Mines: discover a way of life long abandoned buried beneath the mountains of Connemara.
- Croagh Patrick: test your endurance with a climb or simply gaze in awe at this beauty.
- Cong: quaint little town on the Mayo/Galway border. Cong was the filming location for 1952 Oscar-winning film, The Quiet Man.
Sample Ballynahinch for yourself!
One night getaway rates from €150pps including overnight stay, dinner and breakfast. For more information, log on to ballynahinch-castle.com