Photo Credit: Silver Tassie Hotel & Spa/Columbia Hillen
In terms of raw natural beauty, there are few places in Ireland more stunning than Donegal in the northwest and few places better for starting one’s journey of discovery than the Silver Tassie Hotel and Spa. Situated roadside near the beginning of the picturesque Fanad Peninsula, the four-star hotel is accessible in less than a day’s drive from either Northern Ireland (Belfast or Derry) or other parts of the Republic of Ireland (Dublin, Galway or Cork).
The Silver Tassie (meaning the silver goblet and also the title of a play by Irish playwright, Sean O’Casey) took its name from a well-known hostelry in Dublin where a youthful Teddy Blaney, present owner of the Silver Tassie, sampled his first taste of the hospitality industry in the 1960s. Originally known as the ‘Halfway,’ it was owned and run by the Boyce family since the late 1800s. When it became home to the town of Letterkenny Rugby Club, it changed its name slightly to the ‘Halfway Line.’ The present owner took it over in the late 1980s. The family still lives in the area and works closely in the operation of the hotel, with Ciaran and Rose as the primary managers.
Expanded and renovated many times since, the hotel is quite extensive, combing country and traditional motifs, with 36 rooms, a large ballroom for major events such as weddings; a formal restaurant where breakfast is also served; a more informal café with stone walls and bookshelves in one corner; and an atmospheric pub, with an open fireplace, an upturned oak barrel as one of the tables and a dartboard evoking a classic sense of Irishness. The car park is equally extensive, with room for around 350 vehicles, mainly to cope with the hotel’s popular Sunday carvery lunches, so there is little problem finding space, even at the busiest of times.
The entrance to the hotel facing Lough Swilly displays a strong Alpine feel, with bare pine wood décor both in front and above. Reception is small and cozy with a sitting area immediately beside it. The restaurant lies just beyond. A walk to the bedrooms along narrow, interconnecting corridors takes one on a ‘path of artistry,’ past a series of evocative photographs and paintings, mostly depicting various aspects of the local area such as scenes from the graceful Errigal Mountain, Portsalon, Ramelton and Glenveigh, home to a national park. The diversity of the subjects captured by lens and brush indicates the pristine nature of the surrounding area. Most of the works are those of Rose Blaney.
Rooms are sedate, country in taste, with heavy swing curtains and deep carpets in subdued colors (though a more modern honeymoon suite with a four-poster bed and shades of deep purple on bed and furnishings breaks with this traditional style). Some of the rooms look out into the rolling fields beyond. "We try our best to create a family atmosphere around here, and I think we have succeeded,” said Tracy McKeague, sales and marketing manager.
Realizing the interest in, and potential for, beauty treatments, the Blaney family has opened the ‘Seascape Spa,’ offering a wide range of services, from massages, scrubs and wraps to seaweed baths. A hairdressing salon, Atomic Hair, is open every day, inside the hotel.
Food at the Silver Tassie Restaurant is a combination of freshwater and sea fish from nearby waters and meats of various kinds. Appetizers range from gratin breaded mussels to deep fried brie and creamy seafood chowder; with main dishes including chicken enchilada, vegetable korma, New York steak with peppercorn sauce, paupiettes of whiting and Cajun salmon.
One doesn’t come to rural Donegal for shopping sprees or multi-faceted cinematic or theatrical entertainment (though it does offer a little of this), but, in effect, to leave that, and all other trappings of modern consumer life, behind. Aside from the inspirational beauty of the Fanad Peninsula and Lough Swilly, less than an hour’s journey away is Glenveagh National Park, recent home to families of golden eagles; the Ards Forest Park, which provides gently-sloping walking pathways beside the sea; and ancient Celtic sites such as the Beltany Stone and Grianan an Aileach.
Several castles can also be visited in the area including Doe in nearby Creeslough and that of the 16th century seat of the O’Neill chieftains in Donegal town. Museums and exhibition centers also abound, including Inishowen Maritime Museum in Greencastle, the Doagh Island Famine Village in Inishowen and the ‘Flight of the Earls’ Heritage Center, depicting the exile of the last of the Irish chieftains, in Rathmullan, to name but a few. There are also several golf clubs within an easy drive. (Photo courtesy of Inishowen Maritime Museum)