STAY­CA­TION: BALLYNAHINCH CAS­TLE

If breath­tak­ing scenery, re­lax­ing lux­ury and ex­pert guides are on your to-do list, a trip to Con­nemara is just the ticket

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The drive alone is enough to take your breath away. Me­an­der­ing through the Con­nemara wa­ter­ways, you start to re­lax be­fore you even get there. Then as you travel up the sweep­ing drive, where the trees clear and the cas­tle ap­pears into view, you leave all thoughts of the out­side world be­hind.

Ballynahinch Cas­tle is a true re­treat, with beau­ti­ful walks, com­fort­able snugs and bed­rooms you won’t want to leave. It’s the kind of place where de­cid­ing where to sit to read your pa­per is as stress­ful as it gets.

The lux­ury ho­tel is set on the Owen­more River and the rooms and walks take ad­van­tage of the in­cred­i­ble scenery that this and the nearby Twelve Bens moun­tain range of­fer.

We ar­rived, thank­fully, the week be­fore the re­cent snow – though I am slightly en­vi­ous of those who man­aged to take some stun­ning pic­tures dur­ing the bliz­zards. It was the cold be­fore the storm, so we took up res­i­dence by one of the many log fires dot­ted through­out the ho­tel and en­joyed a fab­u­lous meal in the Fish­er­man’s Pub be­fore we were en­ter­tained by a night of tra­di­tional Ir­ish mu­sic. Even the bar­man Chris – ap­par­ently well-known in the lo­cal area for his tal­ents – joined in the singsong. I en­vis­age him en­ter­tain­ing the judges on Ire­land’s Got Tal­ent in the fu­ture.

Now I know I said your stress lev­els be­gin to lower as soon as you en­ter Con­nemara, but mine def­i­nitely went up a bit more dur­ing our clay pi­geon shoot­ing les­son the fol­low­ing day – al­thought that is com­pletely due to my very com­pet­i­tive na­ture. Our in­struc­tor Shane Wer­ner was hard to miss as he met us in the lobby – in a bright green tweed jacket and trousers tucked into long socks and shiny brogues, he was the quin­tes­sen­tial coun­try gent.

And what a gent he is. Pa­tient and in­cred­i­bly in­for­ma­tive, Shane had both my­self and my part­ner smash­ing clay pi­geons within 20 min­utes – I can’t tell you how sat­is­fy­ing that ‘thunk’ is when you hit your first one.

Shane’s cre­den­tials are sec­ond-to-none. He has trained ev­ery­one from Olympians to Siberian hunters to mil­lion­aires’ wives with some time on their hands – and is happy to tell you tales about them all. Be sure to ask him about his fa­mous mu­si­cian stu­dent – let’s just say his shoot­ing prob­a­bly looked Won­der­ful Tonight.

Shane’s shoot­ing skills may be the rea­son peo­ple flock to visit him, but his sto­ry­telling skills are just as im­pres­sive. And not just about his fa­mous pro­tégés ei­ther. His own per­sonal sto­ries are equally en­thralling and his ob­vi­ous love for his late wife will warm your heart.

The shoot­ing range is worth a visit, even if you don’t fancy tak­ing up a ri­fle. The lo­ca­tion is so pic­turesque, it’s no won­der I couldn’t con­cen­trate enough to hit more than four of the prob­a­bly 15 clay pi­geons I shot at. That’s my ex­cuse any­way.

No visit to the cas­tle is com­plete with­out a river­side walk. We whiled away hours tak­ing sev­eral dif­fer­ent routes, all of­fer­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent. Make sure to bring your cam­era as you’ll be snap­ping away the whole time.

There’s 5km of wood­land, lakeshore and river­side walks avail­able – for all lev­els of abil­ity. If you veer to­wards the hik­ing level, the Twelve ➤

Bens and Maum­turk Moun­tains are close by and ready to be tack­led. Walk­ing guides can be hired via the ho­tel.

Once all that walk­ing has worked up an ap­petite, it’s time to try the food. Af­ter­noon tea is avail­able on week­ends – we en­joyed it while perus­ing some of the hun­dreds of books lo­cated in nooks around the day rooms, be­fore a game of Scrab­ble that brought that com­pet­i­tive spirit out again.

We later had what will go down as one of the most de­li­cious meals I have ever en­joyed in the cas­tle’s Owen­more Restau­rant.

The menu changes reg­u­larly to tie in with sea­sonal pro­duce, but if on of­fer, I can highly rec­om­mend the wild pi­geon breast starter and the guinea fowl main course. The staff are in­cred­i­bly help­ful while you’re mak­ing your choices, so use their ex­per­tise.

Break­fast is also served in the Owen­more and con­sists of a con­ti­nen­tal buf­fet as well as cooked a la carte op­tions, in­clud­ing eggs Bene­dict, a full Ir­ish and lambs’ liver. Get down early to se­cure a win­dow seat – the alarm call will be worth it.

It’s also home to works by artists such as Ger­ard Dil­lon, Louis le Broc­quy and Jack Yeats, among oth­ers, so take time over your af­ter­break­fast tea to soak up the ge­nius that sur­rounds you. Great art­work is scat­tered through­out the cas­tle, so be sure to ask if you see some­thing you’d like to know more about – gen­eral man­ager Pa­trick O’Fla­herty is a dis­tant de­scen­dant of the O’Fla­her­tys who owned these lands orig­i­nally, one of whom mar­ried Grace O’Mal­ley, the pirate queen.

If a lux­u­ri­ous, re­lax­ing break is on your radar, there are few ho­tels in Ire­land that can com­pare to Ballynahinch. Just don’t ruin the am­bi­ence by get­ting too com­pet­i­tive!

ONE night get­aways at Ballynahinch cost from €153 pps, B&B with din­ner in the Owen­more restau­rant. Spe­cial of­fers are also avail­able, in­clud­ing the fun new ‘Vinyl’ pack­age which of­fers a per­sonal turntable in your room and your choice of records from the Ballynahinch li­brary. An overnight Vinyl pack­age stay with bed & break­fast and a room ser­vice din­ner is avail­able from €235 pps, with the ad­di­tional treat of a drink to match your choice of mu­sic – maybe a smooth whiskey on the rocks if Si­na­tra is the record you’ve cho­sen or a glass of fine Ital­ian red if you are lis­ten­ing to Pavarotti. Visit ballynahinch-cas­tle.com or call 095 31006. For de­tails on clay pi­geon shoot­ing lessons with Shane Bis­good, ask at the ho­tel, visit con­nemara shoot­ingschool.com or call 086 279 5118

The river­side walks will take your breath away – in a good way!

Linda gets ad­vice from Shane as she takes aim

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