Monday 26 February 2018

An idyll, to the manor born

SUMMER EDEN: The scenic splendour of the Connemara countryside, including Kylemore Abbey, is enchanting
SUMMER EDEN: The scenic splendour of the Connemara countryside, including Kylemore Abbey, is enchanting
STATELY: Rosleague Manor is a wonderful setting for a wedding, from the grand interior to the fantastic views

Hilary A White

AT least a hundred times I must have driven past that forested gateway between Moyard and Letterfrack. There, just beyond the bad bend in the road, a navy blue sign with the four gold stars simply says "Hotel". I'd only ever careen past, the road taking me down and around the waterfront and up into the village of Letterfrack. The closest I'd get would be a quick glance at the salmon pink pile lounging up in the trees watching back at me.

Rosleague Manor always seemed too grandiose, too special to just rock up to for a casual visit. No, I'd need a good reason, I always told myself. The hope was that somewhere in the mists of future years one of my western kinspeople would one day use Rosleague in the manner it has become famed for – a wedding venue of spectacular orientation.

It took 32 years of a part-time life in Connemara for that house to invite me in and to brush away its mystery. Lo and behold, a wedding was announced and I found myself driving up the tree-canopied driveway and onto the forecourt of the Georgian country house, finally armed with an excuse to set foot inside.

There it was; a hidden jewel on a far-west peninsula and, with or without the co-operation of the notoriously spiteful Connemara climate, one of this island's most spellbinding situations.

Built in 1820 by the Brown family, back when tarmac roads and round-the-clock hot water would have been the talk of make-believe, the original six-bedroom house has since been augmented to 20. This has been pulled off with remarkable sensitivity and taste by the local Foyle dynasty of hoteliers, which purchased the building in 1968 and added a dining room wing. It is from here, as you breakfast on stewed rhubarb and smoked-salmon scrambled eggs, that your eyes are served a feast of equal potency.

Out of the window, through the grounds' explosions of fiery azaleas, bluebells and rhododendrons, over the rippled surface of Ballinakill Bay, the ridges and rumps of Kylemore rise up in the distance. Supervising the entire townland is Letterfrack's omnipresent Diamond Hill.

The weather has been freakishly good to us. Smatterings of cloud cause shadows to crawl along the sunny hills, an unforgettable backdrop for the well-wishers assembled for the front-lawn ceremony. Afterwards, oysters and champagne are enjoyed, while a cuckoo and a curlew compete for the title of most evocative birdsong.

The newlyweds retreat indoors, as if tired of vying for attention with so much natural beauty. Within the house itself, log fires, lemongrass and warm efficiency permeate the air. A spacious Victorian-style conservatory, rebuilt in 2009, houses a bar and leads out to a leafy, sun-bathed patio that is today doing a fine impression of the south of France.

Down the bright hallway and up the staircase, past antique artwork, I find my room. It's huge, with furniture that could tell many tales and a colour scheme that acts like soothing sorbet on the sun-dazzled brain. Rear doors bring you out on to a private back patio and there is a classy eggshell bathroom that is spotless and, like everything about Rosleague, substantial.

The inspiring view enjoyed from the dining-room that morning may have faded in the dark, but as an evening venue its terracotta walls, chandeliers and period portraits make for a stately atmosphere. Once all the ladies and gentlemen have been upstanding and toasted the bride and groom, waiters pour out from twin doors to serve the cuisine. Nothing is so-so or average; it's all sumptuous, and it's great to see that local producers have played a starring role in its preparation.

The following day, the weather has deserted us but there is still enough clarity to make Diamond Hill and Connemara National Park a realistic proposition. We follow the path up alongside the notorious Letterfrack Industrial School (now a furniture design college) and enter the park, where the unique natural history of the region is brought to life in animated ways. Continuing past the interpretive centre, we come to the track that gently snakes its way up and up, past a meadow of Connemara ponies, past the trilling skylarks and croaking ravens, to a well-earned vista. On the rocky crown, there's plenty of perches to look down on to the Kylemore lakes behind or out to Inishbofin's alligator snout and the silver Atlantic.

On our descent, it's decided that an afternoon pint is needed to steady the ship. We make for the Bards Den, the cornerstone of Letterfrack, where creamy chowder, Connemara lamb and a bottomless skillet of fresh Killary mussels await.

The mossy woodlands of Kylemore, its Abbey and award-winning Victorian walled garden looked appetising from atop Diamond Hill, and besides, it's too close to pass up a visit. Built unusually on bogland, the garden is cleaved in two by the peaty waters of a mountain stream, a streak of Connemara wildness among man's attempt at order. Both succeed in their intention with flying colours, and have done more or less since the mid-1800s.

Back at Rosleague, dusk is settling in and fireplaces are drawing people to sit close by. The conservatory, however, is the natural fulcrum of the manor, you feel, a perfect place for post-wedding day afters to take place. A chef mans a barbeque out on the patio while a buffet is arranged down the far end of the room and there may or may not be a bottle of champagne left over from last night.

The memory of yesterday's sweeping sunshine is still being turned over in the minds of all the guests. Connemara in such weather is accepted as one of the most beautiful places on earth and if that fiery orb in the sky does decide to come out and play it is important to applaud from the best seats in the house. As such, Rosleague Manor's Summer Eden is a hard stage to beat.

Staying There

Rosleague Manor is open mid-March to mid-November, and sleeps up to 50. Weddings are hosted on an exclusive-use basis where the couple take over the house for one to two days with a maximum of 100 guests. For normal bed and breakfast rates, see rosleague.com or call 095 41101 for enquiries. Rosleague Manor is a member of Ireland's Blue Book.

Sunday Independent

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