May 1, 2014
By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
Elegant but comfortable, formal but relaxed, a place for the famous but also for the average Joe (and Joanne) – lovely Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara is all these things and more.
Even if the accommodations were dreadful – which they most certainly are not – the location alone is well worth the price of admission. Perched at the ocean’s edge, this grand dame of the Renvyle Peninsula has a storied history and is a perfect choice for singles (no single supplement), couples, or families.
“A SEA GREY HOUSE”
In his fascinating book, “A Sea-Grey House, The History of Renvyle House,” Guy St. John Williams writes, “On the verge of Ireland’s West Coast, overlooking on one side a small peaceful lake, and on another the vast, wild Atlantic, stands a long, low, grey house. Over several centuries it has been built, pulled down, rebuilt, burnt to ashes and rebuilt once again. Its often turbulent history has mirrored the vicissitudes of the troubled history of Ireland, but its most precious asset has been its resilience, its capacity to survive.”
And, indeed, survive it has and flourished, winning many awards over the years including Georgina Campbell’s “Family Friendly Hotel of the Year,” and a listing in Bridgestone Guide’s “100 Best Places to Stay in Ireland.”
A friend and I visited this spring and were warmly welcomed by Ronnie Counihan, the chief executive. A great ambassador for the hotel and for Ireland, he regaled us with stories about this property that he clearly loves and told us about its fascinating past.
Renvyle House was once home to the Dublin poet, surgeon, and statesman Oliver St. John Gogarty, who opened it as a country house hotel in 1930. As you might imagine, the hotel attracted many luminaries of the day including W.B. Yeats and his sister, Lily Yeats, a famed embroiderer. Several of Lily’s framed pieces still grace the walls along with numerous other works of art.
Executive chef Tim O’Sullivan has earned numerous culinary awards for the Renvyle House Hotel and it’s no wonder. Even though we only stopped for lunch, it was an outstanding meal and I plan to return sometime for an overnight and dinner, which I know will be superb.
We ate lunch in the spacious long lounge where séances were once held by the likes of Yeats and his wife to summon the 14-year-old red-haired ghost who rambled the halls. Undaunted by such tales, we enjoyed a delicious and beautifully garnished crabmeat salad plate accompanied by a green side salad. Thankfully, there was not a ghost in sight. My friend and I agreed that there were few condiments, like mayonnaise, added and the crabmeat salad was, without a doubt, the very best either of us had ever eaten. Fish, game, and meat is locally sourced for the restaurant and the crab was as fresh as could be.
After lunch, we walked around the hotel with Sabina Flaherty, the front office manager, who talked about the hotel and the many upgrades and showed us views from some of the wonderful bedrooms along the front of the building. Absolutely breathtaking!
The assets of Renvyle House Hotel are many – a heated swimming pool open from May to September, children’s playground and assorted activities, including zip-wire, high ropes, and other activities in conjunction with nearby Killary Adventure Center, nine-hole golf course, trout fishing, boating, canoeing, cycling, croquet, lawn bowls, clay pigeon shooting, two tennis courts, yoga classes, Simran treatment rooms, herb garden, infrared sauna, and an outdoor hot tub. The grounds were awash in daffodils when we arrived and the grounds were absolutely spectacular and very well maintained.
You can book for a night or more or sign on for one of the many breaks such as a healthy living weekend, scuba diving break, murder mystery or opera arias weekend, adventure or painting, cycling, or mid-week walking breaks. You can also take sean nos dancing classes and participate in live performances. Prices for most of the breaks include accommodation, breakfast, and dinner.
For more information, visit the website: renvyle.com
So what is there to do in Connemara once you have left the hotel grounds? Renvyle is on the Connemara Loop and there are numerous activities, sights and adventures along that route.
Visitors can stop by Connemara National Park or Kylemore Abbey, take a trip on a glass-bottomed boat out of Ballinakill, cruise Killary Harbor on a catamaran, or visit the small town of Leenane where the Blackberry Café and Restaurant serves delicious lunches and dinners. Step across the street and do some shopping at The Forge or pop into one of Leenane’s pubs for a pint.
Down the road is the lively and happening town of Clifden where there’s plenty to do. Clifden boasts great pubs and restaurants (my favorite restaurant is Mitchell’s on the main street), an excellent bookstore (the Clifden Book Shop), and several lovely gift and clothing stores.
Nothing is very far away in this part of Ireland and it’s easy enough to take a spin from Clifden down to the charming little fishing village of Roundstone for lunch at O’Dowd’s Seafood Bar (run by the O’Dowd family since 1906) or to stop at Roundstone Musical Instruments inside the walls of an old Franciscan monastery and enjoy the exceptional gifts and clothing collected there for sale by Gifty Kearns, and the amazing bodhrans handmade by Malachy Kearns. You can buy special bodhrans on site with Celtic designs or your coat of arms.
Heading back toward Galway from Roundstone is a special treat if you travel along the beautiful coastline. We stopped one day for lunch at the Carna Bay Hotel in Carna and enjoyed excellent seafood chowder and then went on to Glynsk House to indulge in a little (tax free) shopping therapy. Glynsk House also opens a restaurant specializing in local seafood during the tourist season.
THINGS TO DO
If you happen to be in Connemara from May 2 to 4, be sure to stop by the Connemara Mussel Festival in Tullycross. It’s a celebration of Killary mussels and includes mussel cooking demonstrations and competitions, music, children’s activities, drama, heritage walks, and a country market.
Also scheduled from May 2 to 4 is the Leenane Mountain Walking Festival. See details at Leenanevillage.com.
Connemara Bog Week is scheduled from May 23-June 2 in and around Letterfrack. For details, visit Connemara Environmental Education & Cultural Center at ceecc.org.
Just up the road from Connemara is Co. Mayo and what could be more fun than spending time at Westport House in Westport? A Pirate Queen Festival is scheduled for May 3-5 and a Darkness into Light 5K walk on May 8. Westport House has adventure activities and a caravan and camping park. And a tour of Westport House itself is a definite must. The Browne family built the original house in 1730 on the ruins of the Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley’s 16th Century castle. Westport House opens daily at 10 a.m. from March to early November. For more information, visit westporthouse.ie
The Burren’s wildflowers have blossomed and the Burrenbeo Trust’s “Burren in Bloom Festival” will celebrate throughout May. Nearly 40 events are planned, including walks, talks, and cultural events, with something for all ages. Topics range from butterflies to bats and farming to flora. There are also exhibitions, a photography workshop, book launches, a family book picnic event, and the Burren Ecotourism Network’s food and adventure trail events. To download a festival brochure, visit burreninbloom.com and for more information contact email@example.com.
Whenever or however you reach the Emerald Isle, there will be lots of fun and lots of things to do. Be sure to visit your favorite travel agent or go online to Ireland.com for all the information you’ll need to have a perfect trip.