Review of Cnoc Suain, Spiddal, Connemara, Ireland
Catherine Mack has a true cultural immersion in the Gaelic way of life high up in the peat boglands overlooking Spiddal’s coastline, 22 km from Galway.
In a nutshell:
A family-run hillside homestead in a restored 17th Century village.
Rooms: several cottages for 2 guests (1 room)
Price: From £600 for 4 nights minimum
Meals: Self catering
Open: Year round
Good to know: It’s only 5km from Spiddal, so if you don’t have too much luggage, it's great to walk up to Cnoc Suain as it will give you a wonderful introduction to the beauty of this increasingly rare, blanket bogland.
Good for green: Walkers Welcome; There's geothermal, underfloor heating; owners have focused on rewilding the landscape, reestablishing a native woodland of alder, ash, rowan and holly. Creating awareness of bogland ecology and the environmental importance of peatland during climate change are at the heart of Cnoc Suain's raison d’etre.
Catherine's Review of Cnoc Suain:
Cnoc Suain is located high up in the peat boglands overlooking Spiddal’s coastline, 22km from Galway, in the heart of Connemara and Ireland’s Gaeltacht area. Aptly named Cnoc Suain, meaning ‘the restful hill’, this family homestead which has been sensitively and most lovingly transformed into a cocoon of Irish culture, creativity and wellbeing, overlooks its own Cnoch a Loch, or lake, as well as 80 hectares of wild bogland. In short, Cnoc Suain is in its own league of uniqueness, charm and beauty.
You could never sum up Cnoc Suain as a collection of rooms because it’s more like a tiny village really. The founders, Dearbhaill Standún and Charlie Troy, dedicated years restoring lichen-covered stone walls and cottages, fallen into ruin, into a hamlet of small homes for guests who were lucky enough to find themselves on their restful hill.
With a team of heritage experts and Irish cultural aficionados they rebuilt and thatched four dry-stone wall cottages, installed geothermal underfloor heating, and furnished them in a traditional, simple, and comfortable way. Two of these cottages are available for self-catering guests who are seeking seclusion in the most peaceful of environments. You can always avail of a private guided walk around Cnoc Suain with one of the expert family members.
If you are taking part in a residential course, you will never go hungry. With locally sourced ingredients, and there is no shortage of local fare to delight those of every dietary disposition, you will feast on the likes of local salmon, home-grown salads, hearty soups and the omnipresent homemade Irish soda bread.
For the best places to eat along this coastline, part of the now branded Wild Atlantic Way, don’t travel without this book: The Wild Atlantic Way, Where to eat and stay, by Ireland’s best food writers and devotees of local deliciousness, Sally and John Mckenna.
Dearbhaill and Charlie created Cnoc Suain because they wanted visitors to stop and absorb Connemara culture, instead of just glimpsing it through a coach window. Dearbhaill is a celebrated traditional musican and Charlie a natural scientist, and so together they had a lot to bring to the table of cultural treats. Sign up for a residential course in anything from wellbeing to watercolour painting, ecology to photography, with plenty of Irish language and traditional music thrown in.
Cnoc Suain has been such a success story that Dearbhaill and Charlie’s daughters, who grew up watching the transformation of this magical spot on the hill take place around them, have now joined the business and are growing the range of activities on offer with a new generation of experiential travellers in mind. At Cnoc Suain, the giant fireplace is always glowing, toes tapping and (if that’s your ‘poison’) whisky flowing. With a team that is switched on to sustainability in the way that they are, they will be for a long time to come.
Cnoc Suain ticks so many boxes in terms of green and responsible tourism it is hard to know where to start. As well as renovating ruined cottages using traditional methods and then installing geothermal, underfloor heating, they have focused on rewilding the landscape, reestablishing a native woodland of alder, ash, rowan and holly. Creating awareness of bogland ecology and the environmental importance of peatland during climate change are at the heart of Cnoc Suain's raison d’etre.
The owners source food locally, employ local staff and encourage people to travel using public transport, or at least in one coach, when they are organising retreats and workshop weekends. The input of a multi-generational family into a remote Irish area is, perhaps, one of the most striking aspects of Cnoc Suain. They strive to protect local cultural heritage in this equally magnificent area of natural heritage for generations to come. Want to know the best local artists, walking guides, pubs, musicians, cycling trails, artisan cheese makers, wild swimming spot….you name it. They know it.
Spend the day at the stunning Brigit’s Garden in nearby Roscahill. There are four gardens created and landscaped to represent the four seasons according to Celtic mythology and tradition of festivals: Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasa. This is a place of serenity, spirituality and beauty, where each sculpture, shrub and shrine has been carefully created and installed to represent different aspects of ancient wisdom. Their superb café mirrors the general spiritual ethos of stillness, with a slow (and fine) food policy.
I love everything about Cnoc Suain. Sustaining local culture is a vital part of developing a green tourism business. What makes this place unique is that it is not preserving Irish language, music, cookery and crafts in order to enshrine them. This fantastic family is keeping them alive and contemporising them, while also epitomising fine Irish hospitality. Cnoc Suain is no theme park. There is nothing tacky or commercial here. It is a place of living culture, oozing with pride and determination to protect and share some of the joys of its natural and cultural heritage. They are also all brilliant storytellers, deeply connected to the biodiverse beauty of their landscape and all round fonts of knowledge. All delivered with heartfelt passion and ever smiling Irish eyes. I didn’t want to leave.
Take a train to Galway, and then take a taxi or bus to Spiddal where you can get a taxi to Cnoc Suain. Best thing is to walk up to Cnoc Suain, however, if you don’t have too much luggage. It’s only 5km from Spiddal and it will give you a good introduction to the beauty of this increasingly rare, blanket bogland.
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