Luxury with old-fashioned service: My stay at the Lodge at Ashford Castle
IT'S not The Truman Show - that 1990s sci-fi romp where Jim Carrey grew up on what was essentially the set of a reality TV show, a town populated by actors where Truman Burbank was the only one not in on the secret as television viewers followed his every move.
No, Cong is no Seahaven, but it does resemble a theme-park dedicated to the iconic 1950s Hollywood film, The Quiet Man. And why not? The setting is nothing short of stunning and the quaint streets, pubs and shops appear untouched since John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara immortalised Sean Thornton and Mary Kate Danaher.
And the locals? Well, they're not actors, but they do play their part. During our brief visit, there was no shortage of American tourists following in the footsteps of some of their most acclaimed citizens. And if they drop into a pub for a glass of something and a bite to eat, they can enjoy the feeling of being transported back in time. The easy charm of the locals adds to the experience and if they ever tire of hearing the same observations or being asked the same questions, they don't show it.
We were not, unfortunately, blessed with the best of weather for our visit to The Lodge at Ashford Castle, so we were denied the pleasure of walking any part of the 350-acre estate, we were unable to enjoy the nine-hole golf course, cruising on Lough Corrib was a pleasure denied to us and even enjoying the magnificent views had to be done from indoors.
That sounds like a bit of a damp squib you might think, but you'd be wrong. There's an old saying that no one goes on holiday in Ireland for the weather and a slightly newer one that hails the three most important attributes of property as location, location and location.
So even if the sun refuses to shine, you can still bask in the warmth of the hospitality of your hosts. It sounds simple, but it's not an easy thing to get right. The staff at some hotels, in an effort to ensure your comfort, can be a little bit, shall we say, overbearing. But not here.
The Lodge at Ashford Castle must be a great place to work because the staff never give the impression that they would rather be somewhere else. They are available without being intrusive, interested without seeming to pry and basically just being friendly and helpful in a way that never seems forced.
With our car parked for us and our bags brought to our room, it was time to settle into our accommodation. Our Quay Suite, uniquely designed and furnished and with a separate sitting room, offered plenty of space to stretch your legs. The bathroom boasts luxurious facilities, including a rainforest shower that you won't want to leave, while the king-size bed with down pillows and duvets is the last word in comfort.
There are plenty of places within the hotel to sit and read or enjoy a quiet drink and there is a choice of eating options. Wilde's Restaurant was voted Hotel Restaurant of The Year in 2018 and offers fine Irish cuisine, while the Quay Bar and Brasserie promises a more informal experience with views over the lake and the comfort of a turf fire.
The easy charm of the staff was extended on a trip that took us out towards the Connemara National Park, where around every bend you see a sign welcoming you to Co Mayo, or back to Co Galway as you straddle the border all the way to Clonbur on the shores of Lough Nafooey and the Joyce Country Sheepdogs. If there's a more spectacular location to live and work then we'd like to know about it.
Joe Joyce can stand at his front door and gaze across the vast expanse of water to the mountain beyond that is home to his 200 sheep.
There was a time when sheep farming would support his family, but those days are over. In an entertaining and informative talk, he told us that his flock's fleeces last year yielded the princely sum of €35. That's not €35 each, that's €35 for all 200.
The lambs are not much more lucrative. He sells them on for around €30 each to be fattened on better land. So the farm works thanks to the Government and EU subsidies and Joe's skill as a breeder and trainer of border collie sheepdogs. And what a job he does at that.
In a very enjoyable demonstration you get to learn how the dogs' natural herding instincts are harnessed to do what the farmer requires and when he requires it. It's a joy to see these animals at work, doing something they clearly love and it serves as a valuable reminder of the importance of farming to the maintenance of the countryside.
Without the sheep to graze the hillsides, they would quickly become overgrown, unmanageable and inaccessible to the general population.
It may not please animal activists or the increasingly vegan-leaning cohorts in our society, but this old-fashioned meat-eating, fresh-air loving relic of the past found it fascinating and the Americans, Germans and other nationalities in our group were clearly enthralled. Our countryside and the people who tend it and keep it alive, is a rich and valuable resource which we should nurture and cherish for future generations. And nowhere is Ireland's rugged beauty more splendid than in our wild west.
The hotel had equipped us with a packed lunch which would have been perfect for a picnic on a sunny day, but sitting in the car with the radio on looking out over a lake was the next best thing.
There are many other things to do during a longer stay at The Lodge, including cycling, fishing, falconry clay pigeon shooting and archery. But most of all it's simply an ideal place to get away from it all and enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside - while we still have it.
Secret Sunday Package
Escape to The Lodge at Ashford for some true Irish hospitality. Enjoy dinner in the Wilde’s restaurant on Sunday evening and a luxury overnight stay, followed by full Irish breakfast the following morning and a light lunch in the Quay Bar before you depart.
• Luxury overnight stay
• Dining experience in Wilde’s restaurant
• Light lunch in the Quay Bar
• Full Irish breakfast
• Complimentary 1pm late check-out
• Complementary green fees, nine-hole golf course
Prices per room from €299
NB: This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.