Review: Ballynahinch Castle
Gareth Murray explores the unspoilt beauty of the west during a romantic weekend in Connemara
Connemara, famed for its brooding, unspoilt beauty, bare hills, black bogs and ever-changing light has long been on my wish list. So there was no hesitation when the last-minute chance of a weekend getaway in the wilds of the west came about.
Where did you stay?
Our home for the day was Ballynahinch Castle, a hotel set in the heart of 450 acres of woodland, rivers and estate, nestling under the magnificent backdrop of the Twelve Bens. It's an oasis within the countryside.
Is it easy to get to?
It's around 60km from Galway city, taking an hour through the winding roads of Connemara. Print out directions or use the Sat Nav because some of the road signs have gone awry.
How was your welcome?
Magnificent. We were met by general manager Patrick O'Flaherty, from a family of hoteliers, who has made Ballynahinch his home for the past 17 years. He's a quintessential country gent – warm, knowledgeable and passionate about his homely castle.
Were you itching to explore?
Absolutely. Patrick took us on part of the 2km Railway Loop walk, one of three in the grounds and one which meanders along part of the old Galway to Clifden railway line, before it brings us back along the river with the fairy tale castle coming into view.
That must have worked up an appetite?
Oh yes. A buffet of oysters, lobster salad, pork belly and crackling was waiting when we returned, washed down with a Guinness in the Fisherman's Pub.
And outside the estate?
We were taken on a drive to Roundstone, a harbour-side village looking out across towards the Twelve Bens. A thunder storm necessitated taking shelter in O'Dowd's, a charming pub overlooking the harbour, where a glass was enjoyed by candlelight after the storm knocked out the electricity.
Once the skies brightened, it was on board Nancy Lee II, under the skippering of John Sullivan, a fisherman from the island of Inishnee, and out to Roundstone Bay.
Had the storm not intervened, we'd have had time to explore the island. Definitely one for the to-do-list.
How was the dinner?
Fantastic. The Owenmore restaurant, overlooking the river, is a heavenly spot. Head chef Xin Sun provided a tantalising three-course menu with amuse-bouche surprises between courses. One – a mussel croquette – had all the guests purring. My girlfriend, Viv, was mesmerised by a tender, melt-in-the-mouth beef cheek with butternut squash to start, while my main of wild turbot was savoured with every mouthful.
How were the rooms?
Yes, we were shattered after a busy day. We stayed in the Humanity Dick suite, named after the MP and 19th century animal rights activist who was born in the castle. The stately room is large enough to fit the ground floor of my semi-detached. It is cosy and classical, with a four-poster bed, several large oil paintings, plenty of chairs to relax in, and a flat-screen TV. The en suite bathroom is modern with a double shower and a separate deep bath with a TV at one end.
Is breakfast included?
It is and it's back in the Owenmore restaurant. A nice selection of cereals, pastries, breads and cheeses, plus five choices cooked to order in the kitchen from a mixed grill.
We had a crash course in fly fishing with gillie Cyril Biggins before taking off to one of the 72 casting piers along the river, but my only catch was a few brambles. The salmon and trout were left to swim another day.
Dinner, bed and breakfast packages start from €150pp sharing. Sea fishing is €75pp and fly fishing from €140.
How do I get in touch?
Phone 095 31006, www.ballynahinch-castle.com.