Review of Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway
> For contact details, availability and booking, see greentraveller's full listing of Ballynahinch Castle
Connemara teases my senses. The barren landscape, with its shades of brown grasses and scatterings of old stone walls, looks as if it is teetering on the edge of death when, bang, suddenly there is a splash of green on the mountains and yellow gorses in a field, and it jumps back to life again. The 18th Century Ballynahinch Castle offers more than a splash of splendour, however, grandly located right in the heart of this region’s roller coaster trip on the eye.
Inside, the portraits and landscapes paint Ballynahinch’s rich history, while Patrick O’Flaherty, the General Manager, delighted in telling me tales of his ancestors, the O’Flaherty clan, some of the Castle’s many residents. The shelves of its splendid Thomas Martin library also retell the story of the Castle and its surrounds. Take the famous Ballynahinch resident and infamous Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley, who married into the clan. Or the builder of this fine abode, Humanity Richard (Dick) Martin, who founded the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in the 1800s. And it was good to see his portrait over one of the great roaring fireplaces, rather than some hunting trophy.
Today, however, the heart of the Castle is the Ballynahinch River and Lake, and Patrick talked passionately of his teams' continuing efforts to conserve fish stocks. The Castle’s fishery conservation team has fought hard against fish farming and drift nets and, so far, is winning the battle, with salmon stocks doubling since the closure of the Irish drift net fishery in 2007.
Over two thousand Oak trees have been planted recently, and visitors who want to contribute to this scheme are given a certificate with the tree’s GPS coordinates, so that they can locate it in years to come.Guests can also take advantage of the fantastic walking guides who give fascinating walks with insights to the hotel’s habitat work, geology, flora and fauna and history of this unique landscape. The majority of the hotel’s hot water and heating is generated from solar panels and wood-pellet burners, and they recycle as much as possible. You can also eat at the Castle’s own Fisherman’s Pub or Owenmore restaurant. The same chef prepares the food for both spots, where the words homemade, organic and local feature heavily on the menu.
If the Armada bedroom is free, book that one for the views. It is on a corner, so you really get your money’s worth, with views of the Twelve Bens Mountains on one side and the river on the other. But the river was where I was drawn to where, in April, the brown trout were starting to break the water of the lake:Connemara was springing to life once again.
Take a boat from Cleggan, 11km from Clifden, to the island of Inisbofin. The island is a breeding ground for the rare Corncrake birds and two seal colonies can also be found, one near Stags Rock and the other on the island of Inishgort, just west of Inishbofin Harbour. The latter is only accessible by boat. This island has been habited for over six thousand years, and its Heritage Centre is a must. Before heading back, treat yourself to some crab or lobster, at one of the island’s hotels. Take your swimsuit. The clear water and white sands are irresistable. See www.inishbofin.com and www.irelandsislands.comfor details.
Ireland knows how to do castles well. Great for history and fishing buffs. They take their wildlife seriously here, with daily guided walks around the estate so you can brush up on Ballynahinch’s birds and bees. Bargain at €30 including lunch. See Ballynahinch Castle's listing on greentraveller.
Bus or train to Galway and then one hour Citylink bustrip to Clifden getting off at CanalBridge. The hotel will pick you up from the bus stop.
Catherine Mack is the author of ecoescape: Ireland, £8.99 (+£1.50 UK p&p).
For contact details, availability and booking, see greentraveller's full listing of Ballynahinch Castle