By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
Is there a truer (or cuter) sign of spring in Ireland than the fluffy young lambs that run, jump, and frolic in the emerald green fields? It’s a sure sign of the new year and rebirth of the world after an often long, dark, and dreary winter.
A poll I saw recently asked what travelers to Ireland liked best about their visit. I was somewhat surprised to see how many answered “the sheep,” but I’m with them on that answer, so I get it.
The most common sheep in Ireland are the blackface mountain sheep and the lowland sheep, which are often Suffolks, according to Irish farmer’s journals. Figures collected in 2017 show that there were more sheep in Ireland than people, which is not really surprising. At that time, the total human population was just under 4.8 million compared with some 5.2 million sheep.
Here’s some interesting trivia, for those who love fun facts: As of 2017, there were almost a million more cows in Ireland than there were people who spoke Irish, the native language. There were 2.5 million dairy and suckler cows and only 1.8 million people speaking Irish.
Among Ireland’s many attributes are the castle hotels dotted across the country. Most travelers know about Ashford Castle in Co. Mayo and Dromoland Castle Hotel in Co. Clare, but how many are familiar with Lough Rynn in Mohill, Co. Leitrim?
We stayed at Lough Rynn last autumn for a wedding and were impressed by the beautiful, manicured grounds, the efficiency and friendliness of the staff and the spotlessly clean rooms and bathrooms (and there was great water pressure in the shower.) Food prepared by head chef Clare O’Leary and her staff was beautifully presented and delicious. O’Leary has been head chef at Lough Rynn for nine years.
Ruth Conlon, sales and marketing manager, says, “Co. Leitrim is an undiscovered location where you can experience true Ireland.” And, with some 300 acres, there is plenty to experience right there on the grounds of the hotel.
Lough Rynn and the surrounding area has a storied past beginning 3,500 years ago with the Druids who used the high ground southeast of the hotel as a burial ground. The site is known as Druids’ Hill and is marked by the dolmen they built.
Succeeding centuries brought various clans and families who clashed, built homes, and acquired some 10,000 acres around Lough Rynn. The last family, the Clements, sold Lough Rynn in 1969 with much less land. The property lay vacant and in disrepair until 1990 when a visitor attraction center opened there. In 2005, Alan and Albert Hanly (The Hanly Group) bought the hotel and a new chapter began. They also own Kilronan Castle Hotel and Spa in Co. Roscommon.
Lough Rynn, according to Conlon, offers not only an experience in real Ireland, but also an opportunity to enjoy peace and tranquility in the grandeur of a castle hotel. Guests are individually escorted to their rooms and tea is available in the four drawing rooms.
The hotel, Conlon added, “is very popular for weddings and oozes romance.” About 130 weddings are held at Lough Rynn every year, she said. The treatment bridal couples receive there makes them feel so special that many have said to the staff, “We feel like we’re the only people who ever got married here.”
Future plans for the property include 50 additional bedrooms and a spa/leisure center. “We have a high end product here that is so much more affordable than some other castle hotels,” Conlon said.
She added that the Lough Rynn team is passionate about its work and creates a friendly atmosphere that is not at all stuffy despite the elegance of the surroundings. Travelers to Leitrim who would like to stay at Lough Rynn, she suggests, might want to book midweek when there is better room selection than on weekends.
Visit loughrynn.ie for more information and special deals.
SAVING THE EARTH
The Achill Island (Co. Mayo) Half Marathon and 10K – July 6 this year – annually attract as many as 1,200 participants. The runners need hydration during the day, and in the past, some 12,500 bottles of water have been offered along the route.
In an effort to reduce the negative impact of such large events on the environment, AchillTourism.com and the Achill Half Marathon committee teamed up with a local secondary school to come up with an alternate solution – reusable cups.
With the help of Refill.ie, reusable cups will be collected after the event, steam cleaned and reused at other places around the country. Organizers hope other groups will follow suit and ultimately remove millions of bottles annually from such events.
IRISH GIN TASTING
Gin has certainly become the drink of the day in Ireland, a land more noted over the centuries for whiskey, beer, and stout. Distilleries are popping up across the country and gin drinkers can sample an interesting assortment of gin here and there.
Ashford Castle in Cong, Co. Mayo, recently announced that the hotel had formed a collaboration with The Shed Distillery to offer guests Ashford Castle’s Gin Tray Tasting Experience. Guests can compare some of the world’s finest gins from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Scotland, and the UK with Ireland’s distinctive Drumshambo Gunpowder Irish Gin, which came on the market in 2015.
The Gin Tray Tasting Experience must be booked in advance and costs 65 euro per person with an added 15 percent service charge. For more information, visit ashfordcastle.com.
The Connaught Telegraph recently carried an interesting story about Ireland’s rural regeneration and development fund, which aims to revitalize rural areas by supporting self-sustaining projects in towns and villages with fewer than 10,000 residents.
Included in the funding was 2.3-million euro for seven projects in Co. Mayo including:
• Town regeneration in Ballinrobe with 825,000 euro earmarked for development of Market House, the town library and grounds, and an upgrade of Bowers Walk.
• More than 800,000-euro for capital works by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Ballycroy National Park and elsewhere in the county and support for the development of a Dark Sky Planetarium project in the National Park.
• Almost 1 million euro to assist in development of a Global Geopark for the Joyce Country and Western Lakes area of Co. Galway and Co. Mayo.
• More than 850,000 euro to support the Western Development Commission’s establishment of rural digital hubs in Swinford, Tubbercurry, Tulsk, and Stranolar.
• Development of a cycle network from Leenane to Sligo county boundary will be funded with 75,000 euro.
• A Lost Treasures Trail, linking Westport and Cong in Co. Mayo, will receive 56,000 euro to highlight heritage assets along the route.
Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring is quoted as saying, “A total of 86 million euro nationally has been allocated to towns, villages, and outlying rural areas throughout Ireland under Rural Regeneration and Development Fund.
“I believe that it is vital that we make our towns and villages vibrant places for families to live. It is also particularly appropriate, with Brexit approaching, that we continue to strengthen the rural economy and support sustainable development. The projects that this fund supports are targeting areas where they can have the greatest economic and social impact,” Ring said.
Enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you go. Try different areas and seek out attractions that are not on the usual tourist trail and you won’t be disappointed. There’s much to see and do in this vibrant country!
By Judy Enright