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
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