BY JUDY ENRIGHT
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
Would I ever steer you wrong about Ireland and all things Irish? No, I never, ever would.
So, I love it when I mention my favorite tourist attractions and accommodations and others agree. For instance, Ireland’s hospitality industry magazine, Hotel and Catering Review, recently chose my favorite hotel – Lough Inagh Lodge in Connemara – as the best country house for 2012. This was the second consecutive year that Lough Inagh won the Gold Medal, the top award. They were also runner-up another year.
Lough Inagh is simply wonderful and more like a home than a hotel. Everyone who works there is welcoming and charming and they make you feel as though you are the only guest who ever checked in.
The hotel’s 12 bedrooms – all ensuite – are spotlessly clean, large, and comfortable. The bathrooms are currently being updated to include walk-in showers – a real bonus for older folks who don’t like climbing over the edge of a wet bathtub to get out of the shower.
Lough Inagh’s meals are delicious and sourced locally. You can eat in the cozy bar or elegant dining room. Be sure to try my favorite appetizer –raw oysters served with a Guinness shot.
I make a point to include Lough Inagh in my Ireland plans every time I go and have taken friends and family members there. All have raved about the hotel, staff, food, ambience, and the magnificent setting in the unspoiled, undeveloped Inagh Valley.
Because the hotel is small, residents often interact if they are so inclined and I’ve made several close friends there over the years. One couple is from Hampshire, England, and we meet up at Lough Inagh whenever we can. We have become such good friends that the wife knitted gifts for my newest grandson and sent them from England to Ohio.
There’s a lot to do in the Inagh Valley. You can walk, hike, fish, cycle, or choose from many other outdoor activities. The hotel is among a select group of grand houses in Great Fishing Houses of Ireland (irelandflyfishing.com) and is noted for a fishery that offers outstanding salmon fishing.
One guest wrote this of Lough Inagh: “In the most remote hotel of Connemara, surrounded by a landscape all lovers of the Very Ireland dream about, the luxury of a marvelous manor house together with the warmth and simplicity of a village pub in the rare old times that seem eternal there.”
Sarah Grennan, editor of Hotel & Catering Review, said, “Our Gold Medal Jury can’t help but fall in love with Lough Inagh Lodge each time they visit. This cozy country house offers an idyllic base to escape from the rat race, with a charming team led by owner Maire O’Connor and general manager Dominic O’Morain, who impress with their naturally warm and friendly hospitality. We crowned Lough Inagh Ireland’s Best Country House in 2011 and we were so awed when we visited again this summer that we had to return the Gold Medal for a second successive year.”
For details, see the website: loughinaghlodgehotel.ie
While you’re in Connemara, do stop by Connemara Blue, Market Square, Clifden, to see the beautiful work done by Ben Crow in his gallery there.
I discovered Ben’s fused glasswork last fall while walking down the street to my favorite Clifden restaurant – Mitchell’s Seafood, also on Market Street. I was struck by his window display of brightly colored glass coasters, each adorned with a lamb. Of course, I had to bring those coasters home. Ben and his wife, Pauline, carefully packed my purchases and, believe it or not, all arrived home in my suitcase in good shape – probably packed inside shoes.
It was interesting to hear that Ben worked for 30 years in the UK police service, primarily in inner city Birmingham, before moving to Connemara. “Just being here reawakened my long-submerged artistic feelings,” he said.
The shop is open seven days a week, Ben added, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. See his work at connemarablue.com and also on Facebook at facebook.com/connemarablueglass.
After visiting Ben’s gallery and having a bite to eat at Mitchell’s, I keep walking down Market Street and stopped at Derval Joyce, a small shop with the most interesting cards and gifts. I also make a point to visit the Clifden Book Shop on Main Street, where I also find outstanding cards and books on local topics.
I admit it. I love Aer Lingus – for so many reasons. There are, of course, many other airlines that fly to Ireland but I always choose Aer Lingus because they fly direct from Boston to Shannon (another favorite), have an amazing safety record, and a website that’s thorough and extremely easy to navigate.
I have flown back and forth with Aer Lingus many times but never had a female pilot until last October. The trip was seamless and the flight as smooth as silk and I decided to find out more about Aer Lingus’s pilots.
Rosemarie Curran from Aer Lingus responded to my query, saying, “We are very proud of our history! Grainne Cronin was the first Aer Lingus pilot to be recruited, in 1977. In 1978 and 1979, two more female pilots joined Aer Lingus, making it three female pilots for the next 10 years. Aer Lingus was the second airline in Europe, after SAS, to introduce female pilots.”
Rosemarie added that there are now 40 female pilots – 17 captains, 23 first officers, and two cadet pilots in training. All told, Aer Lingus employs 476 pilots.
I mentioned earlier that Shannon is my favorite airport. You can often fly Boston-Dublin more easily but there’s something so “Ireland” about Shannon: It’s small, comfortable, friendly, and it’s fast and easy to collect your luggage there (free carts are available.) Rental car counters are close by in the arrivals hall and there’s a Londis shop there ,too (for that much-needed cup of coffee after the dawn arrival.) Stepping outside and breathing in the crisp, early morning Co. Clare air says “Ireland” to me somehow. Even in April, there’s still a refreshing nip in the air.
And, the roads leading to wherever you’re heading are not Dublin’s clogged commuter arteries, but country roads that make it so much easier to acclimate to driving on “the wrong side” of the road.
And, here’s a message to Aer Lingus, which appears to be cutting back on flights into Shannon, which serves the magnificent West! Please never cut Shannon out of your Aer Lingus loop. The economy of the West needs Shannon and some of us weary travelers also need Shannon to make our voyage that much more pleasant.
Another favorite, while we’re at it, is Dooley car rentals. I have been hiring cars from Dooley for at least five years and have never, ever had any kind of problem. Cars are new and well maintained (I always ask for a Skoda) and the staff is friendly and accommodating. There might be cheaper rates elsewhere, but I trust the quality of Dooley cars and have never been disappointed. I collect my lovely Skoda at Shannon and enjoy it for the duration of my stay.
We hear that property prices here in the US are turning around but is it the same in Ireland? In The Irish Times on Dec. 26, we read about Bellingham Castle, a 17th Century castle (now a 21-room hotel) outside Dundalk, Co. Louth, that recently sold for 900,000 euro. On 17 acres with fishing rights on the River Glyde, the castle went on the market in 2008 for 6.75 million euro! The buyers – the Corscaddens, who also own Cabra Castle in Co. Cavan – got quite a deal, didn’t they?
Bellingham is currently undergoing a four-million euro refurbishment, the story said, and is expected to re-open this July as a 22-bedroom four-star boutique hotel. The family hopes to add 40 more bedrooms within the next four years. The Corscadden family also runs Ballyseede Castle in Co. Kerry.
A popular wedding venue, Bellingham, which is about halfway between Dublin and Belfast, already has three marriage events booked this summer, beginning in August.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock in the back of beyond, you have probably heard about Tourism Ireland’s marketing initiative, “The Gathering,” designed to boost visitor numbers in 2013. More than 2,500 events, including large festivals and a new show from the makers of Riverdance, will be organized throughout 2013.
The Gathering is probably as good a reason as any to visit Ireland but if the planned events don’t convince you, how about the news that as many as 2.5-million lambs will be born on 30,000 sheep farms across the Republic over the next three months? Is there anything cuter than a green field full of white frolicking lambs? Spring is a wonderful time to visit Ireland – but then so is summer, fall and winter.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Co. Clare at the end of this month, be sure to visit Doolin for The Russell Weekend that honors trad musicians Micho, Packie, and Gussie Russell. The weekend (Feb. 22-25) promotes the musical heritage of Clare and this year includes a Friday night talk about the history of traditional Irish music and song. For more, visit michorussellweekend.ie
How can you get to Ireland? Great deals are available online and through travel agencies and also from the various airlines that fly there. So enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you go.