BALLYNAHINCH Castle is a rarity in Ireland, with a uniqueness that I have never found in any other hotel I have stayed at before.
With Valentine’s Day just a few days away, it’s hard to think of a better place to escape to for a truly magical, romantic break.
For starters, the hotel is a four-star Victorian castle that is nestled in the most immense natural beauty I have ever seen.
If you have visited Connemara you will understand but if, like me, you have never been, it will quite simply take your breath away, whether at Valentine’s or, indeed, any time of the year.
Ballynahinch Castle is situated on the banks of the Owenmore River between Clifden and Glynsk, close to Recess.
The castle dates back to 1756 and when you arrive into the reception you immediately feel the deep history of the hotel, with its high ceilings, beautiful paintings on the walls, fishing rods and warm log fires.
The hotel has a country feel while still remaining elegant and luxurious.
My partner and I met with sales and marketing manager Carol Hinch, who warmly welcomed us and offered us tea or one of the many aged whiskeys the hotel proudly display in their Ranji room next to reception.
We were shown to our room in the River Wing part of the hotel, and while walking through the newly refurbished corridors, Carol explained the history of Ballynahinch and the many intriguing visitors they have had over the years.
Our room was spectacular, with a four poster bed, a walk-in wardrobe, a very large bathroom and a view from our window of the Owenmore River, which was a beautiful sight to behold.
After we had settled ourselves in, we met with Noel Joyce, the hotel’s walking guide, and he brought us on the 3km riverside and railway walk around the grounds of Ballynahinch Castle.
He taught us about foraging in the local area, the history of the castle, and the types of fish to be caught in the river during different seasons.
The walk took about two hours and we had the pleasure of taking in the scenery all around the castle, culminating in a walk along the banks of the Owenmore River where we could see Ballynahinch Castle in the distance, nestled in front of the Connemara mountains.
It was a view I will never forget, as the colours of the sky and the mountains against the backdrop of the castle was simply stunning.
Noel ended our tour by bringing us to a little lodge that fishermen use along the banks of the river, where wine and canapes were waiting for us.
Later that day we met with Cyril Biggins, the hotel’s famed fly fisherman. He taught us how to fly fish, initially on the grounds of the castle before we got to try the real thing at the river.
I hoped for a little nibble on my rod but my luck wasn’t in that day. It was, however, a great experience and Cyril was a very patient teacher as it was my first time fly fishing and I wasn’t quite a natural at it!
Later that night we dined in the Owenmore restaurant run by head chef Ultan Cooke, who previously won a Michelin Star for his cooking at Aniar in Galway.
He explained that the menu uses the freshest ingredients and is regularly changed to reflect the seasons.
Our dinner was beautiful and every course was paired with a particular wine to suit the dish. A particular mention has to go to the duck heart starter, as it was a gorgeous example of a dish well executed. The service was excellent and very attentive too.
Throughout the meal, the general manager of Ballynahinch, Patrick O’Flaherty, entertained us with stories of the many poets, playwrights and authors who regularly visited and stayed in Ballynahinch over the years.
One of the most notable people that Patrick knew well was poet Seamus Heaney, who was a regular visitor to Ballynahinch over the years. It was clear that he had a strong bond with the poet.
As a result, Heaney wrote a book – Captivating Brightness – specifically for Ballynahinch Castle, containing only original works dedicated to the beautiful scenery and charm of the castle and its surroundings.
That book was on our coffee table in our room when we arrived at Ballynahinch. It is a beautiful read, and one that I will treasure forever.
The following day, before we departed back to reality, we were treated to a boat trip out to Inis Lacken.
If, like me, you have never heard of Inis Lacken, it is a little island that lies off the coast of Roundstone in Connemara.
Our boat brought us along the beautiful coastline of Connemara to the island and while on our journey we tried out some sea fishing.
Luckily the weather was very calm that day but still, I couldn’t quite manage to hook that elusive fish!
We did, however, pull in a lobster pot from the sea on our way across to the island where there was a beautiful lobster that we kept and were treated to later on the island.
Inis Lacken itself used to be inhabited by people who have long since departed, as it is so remote. It is now a gorgeous little island surrounded by small sandy beaches, with lots of old, crumbling cottages dotted around the land.
Goats and donkeys wander the island, and they will happily come up to investigate who you are when they see you.
We walked most of the island, as it is not very big, and then retreated to an old schoolhouse. There we had our cooked lobster, enjoyed some sun and learned about the history of the island.
Overall, my experience at Ballynahinch is one that will always stay with me and I will be back again in the future. That is a definite.
It is a place filled with character, history and something special that is hard to put into words.
For me, it is probably the most beautiful and undiscovered part of Ireland that before now I never had the pleasure of experiencing, but I’m very grateful to all at Ballynahinch for opening my eyes to the beauty that exists in our fair little island.
If you’re unlucky enough not to be able to visit Ballynahinch Castle for a wonderful Valentine treat, the hotel is running a mid-week deal in March, which includes a two-night break with dinner for €215pp.
For further information, see www.ballynahinch-castle.com or call 095 31006.