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A Shining Gem in Western Ireland | Ballynahinch Castle

Jan. 11th, 2013 | Comments 0 | Make a Comment   
Ballynahinch Castle Hotel
Photo Credit: Columbia Hillen/Ballynahinch Castle Hotel
Try as I might, it’s hard to imagine a more tranquil retreat than Ballynahinch Castle, tucked away among the hills, rocks, turf bogs, rivers, lakes and forest glades of central Connemara in western Ireland. Reached after an hour or so journey from Galway city, this 14th-century castle lies snug off the road behind wrought-iron black and gold gates, past several impressive chalk-white buildings and along a narrow driveway, bordered by boulders, that winds its way past a stone bridge and pleasant copses.
gates of Ballynahinch Castle Hotel

First glimpse of the castle are the crenellations along its walls. There is plenty of parking out front and at one side a babbling river flows by. It is home to colossal trout and salmon that tantalize fishing aficionadas, who travel far and wide for a glimpse, and hopefully, a catch or two. If further evidence is needed to solidify the property’s undoubted rustic visage, then the ivy that clings tenaciously to its walls is more than enough.
 Ballynahinch Castle Hotel Lounge
Columbia Hillen

Inside, a hunter dressed in full regalia—no doubt awake since before dawn—lies fast asleep on a soft couch before an open fire, his open mouth poised to catch generous numbers of flies, if there had been any. Thankfully for him, it’s not the season. An array of framed paintings featuring various outdoor scenes, both mountain and river, adorn the walls. The floor beneath our feet is of sturdy brownstone. A polished mahogany table stands between twin sofas and the reception desk is directly in front at the head of several steps.
 Ballynahinch Castle Hotel Breakfast Nook
Columbia Hillen

Narrow carpeted corridors radiate in all directions, giving one an even greater sense of disappearing into utter privacy, retreating from the sounds and stresses of modern living into a world of quiet and relaxation. One such passage leads to a parlor-style room with large windows opening out on to the surrounding 350 acres of forest and fields beyond. The hotel offers walks led by Noel, an experienced guide, to allow guests to fully appreciate these natural attractions. We enjoyed a warm welcome tomato and basil soup here, accompanied by three kinds of home-baked breads followed by a creamy cappuccino. Beyond lies the main restaurant, an expansive, country-style dining room with polished-wood floors, candles on every table and a window-series surround.
 Ballynahinch Castle Hotel Fireplace
Columbia Hillen

Upon registering, we were ushered in by a friendly, talkative porter, a transplanted Hungarian, along a third corridor, which led to another, and beyond to yet another, as well as down several short flights of carpeted stairs, all the way to our room in a far wing with a perfect view of the flowing river. Along the way to our designated room, we listened to the story of how Mike had ended up at this river amidst the rural beauty of western Ireland from the capital city on the banks of the Pest. On our trek through the maze of passages, we passed scores of photographs, paintings and drawings depicting scenes from the last 100 years of the life of the castle. These included photos of an avid Indian fisherman proudly displaying his exceptional catch. This, we later learned, was the Maharajah Ranjitsinji, also known as the ‘Ranji’, Prince of Cricketeers, a former owner of the estate.
 Ballynahinch Castle Hotel Guestroom
Columbia Hillen

The best way to describe our room was sumptuous—cozy, rather than spacious, but with the added luxury of a polished-mahogany, four-poster bed with an overhead canopy. The sandy-colored décor was enlivened by a bluebells and butterflies motif. A polished wood writing desk fronted the bed and a modern television stood in one corner. Aside from the four-poster, the highlight of the room was its location, offering a wonderful view over the flowing Ballynahinch river just below and the wooded areas beyond.
 Ballynahinch Castle Hotel Dining Option
Columbia Hillen

Food at Ballynahinch Castle is as one would expect for such a beautiful location. In fact, it surpassed our expectations. We started with Carpaccio of wood pigeon, which was even nicer than the description indicated, for rather than thinly-cut slices, ours were slightly thicker than the norm, permitting, with every bite, the heavily-wooded taste to be generously released. Interestingly, it was presented on a slim slab of dark slate with a smear of Jerusalem artichoke and truffle emulsion, slices of rust-colored Girolles mushrooms and a sprig of green for added visual zest. The soup that followed was simply superb—the white bean variety with a strong suffusion of parmesan permeating the thick—without being stodgy—liquid. A hint of caraway and cumin simply enhanced the flavor.
 Ballynahinch Castle Hotel Dining area
Columbia Hillen

My main dish consisted of thick roulettes of venison smeared with juniper juice accompanied by Dauphinoise potatoes, creamy and moist, and a shallots tart tatin, a Crème brûlée-like delicacy. Need I say more? My partner’s main dish was Wellington, the meat being pheasant. The crust was suitably crispy, and once again added spices—coriander this time—did the trick in enhancing the flavor. Deep, dark servings of fig puree were the perfect companions.
 Ballynahinch Castle Hotel Dining Options
Columbia Hillen

An unexpected pleasure added to our dining experience was the uplifting sense of internationalism in the room, a surprising characteristic in such a remote part of the Irish countryside. Our serving staff included a lady from Germany and three gentlemen from France (a former zoo-keeper from La Rochelle no less), Nepal and Burma respectively. A rich array of desserts included pecan pie, Bailey’s parfait and butterscotch sauce as well as dark chocolate fondant with white chocolate and Malibu sorbet, orange jelly and langue de chat. Exquisite. Hats off to Chinese-born Head Chef Xin Soung.
 Ballynahinch Castle Hotel Lounge lounge

Ballynahinch Castle provides ample scope for leisurely wandering, an occupation we found most relaxing during our two-day stay. Tucked away, to the left of the main lobby as one enters from the outside, is a lovely study, emanating old world charm. This room is named after a personage linked closely to the estate, Thomas Martin, as evidenced by his name carved in bold letters above the door. Son of former owner, Richard Martin, reputedly founder of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Thomas died in 1847 during the Famine.

Just inside the room hangs a photograph of a quite well-known, now deceased, contemporary Irish writer and frequent visitor, John O’Donohue, author of the thoughtful, non-fiction book Anam Cara (1997), which offered fascinating insights into Celtic spirituality, universal energy and the human condition. A wicker basket full of logs lie near the open fire, an invitation to linger a little longer—which I promptly did, a scrumptious Bailey’s coffee in hand, while gaining valuable insights into the politics of modern Ireland from John, waiter and friendly local.
 Ballynahinch Castle Hotel Dining
Columbia Hillen

As you leave the Thomas Martin Room, walk directly ahead past the reception desk, down a couple of steps and along a short corridor. This leads to a cozy snug of a pub, again with the ubiquitous open fire. Here, the décor is simple yet attractive, matching the rustic nature of the outside environment, with plain, polished-wood tables and chairs, and, of course, a well-stocked bar. Illustrative evidence of fishing prowess line the walls. And not just in photographs. Inside two large glass-fronted containers attached to opposite walls are displayed rather life-like fish, stuffed for preservation purposes. One is a salmon weighing in at 18.5 pounds, caught in 1988. The other, a 15.4 pound brown trout caught in 2011.
exterior view of  Ballynahinch Castle Hotel

Want a complete Travel Quote including airfare, special hotel rates and FREE upgrades? Contact our Travel Specialist today!If you’re lucky, Damien, the barman, will show you photographs on his mobile of himself with actor Gabriel Byrne and also with his former Liverpool footballing hero, Kevin Keegan. He might also make you jealous, as he did me, by telling you that Jennifer Aniston had also been here, perhaps feeling slightly lonely and vulnerable after her break-up with Brad a few years back. Then, she and Owen Wilson, were starring in the 2008 movie, Marley & Me, the honeymoon scenes of which were shot in an area around the castle. Ah well, one can’t have everything in life.
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