Seven reasons to fall in love with Ballynahinch Castle, Connemara, West Ireland
With its brooding Victorian architecture, Ballynahinch Castle is certainly impressive to look at, but there’s no doubt that the stately house is outshone by its ruggedly beautiful setting. Located in the heart of Connemara, on Ireland’s west coast, the 48-room mansion stands proudly in 450 acres of untamed countryside. You’ll roam through magical woodlands, while away the hours by picturesque rivers and be awed by the majestic Twelve Bens Mountain Range.
The team of personable staff is led by Patrick O’Flaherty – an archetypal Irish gent who has been the general manager at Ballynahinch for the past 17 years. Your bags are whisked off you and you are welcomed as if you are his personal house-guest. Later, over freshly-caught oysters and a pint of Guinness, he’ll regale you with tales of past celebrity guests (Jennifer Aniston liked to shake off her security men for lone rambles; Edna O’Brien frequently checks in to finish her books). Give him half a chance and Des Lally, manager of the in-house Fisherman’s Pub, will also join in with his amusing tales of literary greats and famous artists who have also stayed here.
ITS AUTHENTIC HEART
While the newly renovated bedrooms give a nod to the latest luxury hotel trends – think whimsical wallpapers, marble bathrooms and oversized, cloud-like beds – here it is all about authenticity. Nothing is particularly fancy, but everything is wonderfully cosy. Walls are lined with beguiling photos of past owners, roaring fires beckon you to sit beside them, and on Saturdays the place comes alive with traditional Irish music.
SHOOTING, FISHING AND MORE
With the famous Ballynahinch Salmon River running through the estate, it would be a crime not to try your hand at fly-fishing. Book a crash course with gillie Cyril Biggins and then cast off from one of the 72 piers spaced out along the river. The enigmatic Shane Bisgood is also on hand to teach you all he knows about clay pigeon shooting (he was once hired by the American Olympic team, so you’re in good hands). For adventures further afield, you can book a day’s sailing along the coast and out to one of the unspoilt islands, such as Inishbofin (inishbofin.com).
Homemade Irish stew, pork belly and creamy mash – the soul food on offer at the Fisherman’s Pub is a heartwarming treat after a windswept day. Meanwhile, at the more formal Owenmore Restaurant, you’ll be seduced by chef Ultan Cooke’s take on locally-sourced, seasonal produce. The highlights? The wild salmon gravadlax followed by black sole, fennel and caper butter. The white and dark chocolate mousse with apple jelly is a cheeky must.
Creeking with history, Ballynahinch Castle dates back to the 1750s but it is the Victorian era’s stamp that is largely retained within its walls with many original features preserved. Past owners include the 16th century pirate ‘queen’ Grace O’Malley and the Indian Maharaja, Ranji, who bought the estate in 1922.
As well as the fishing, hiking, shooting and cycling on offer, the hotel offers a changing calendar of events with a discernable foodie focus. There’s foraging with estate experts who will take you searching for mushrooms and edible flowers. While the Lens and Larder workshops are innovative food styling events in collaboration with food bloggers Cliodhna Prendergast (breakingeggs.com) and Imen McDonnell (modernfarmette.ie).
HOW TO BOOK
Stay at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel & Estate from £158 per room, per night for a Classic Room (ballynahinch-castle.com).
Round trip transfers from Shannon Airport with Pat Keogh Chauffeur Service from £201 for a Mercedes E-Class (pat-keogh.com).
Fly from London Heathrow with Aer Lingus from £49.99 per person (aerlingus.com)
A version of this article is out in this month’s Sainsbury’s Magazine