Most Famous Residents & Guests: Grace O’Malley (Grainneuaile), Daniel O’Connell, U.S. President Gerald Ford.
Consistently rated as one of Ireland’s best luxury hotels, the first thing to recommend about the four star Ballynahich Castle in Galway is the superb location: It has 350 acres of peaceful, mature woodland that sit below the Twelve Bens Mountains like a green oasis in what is very much the heart of Connemara, one of Ireland’s most beautiful natural landscapes.
It will also impress with its extremely high levels of service, comfort and facilities, its salmon lake, its top class restaurant and welcoming bar, and also with its interesting, rather eclectic history.
The castle hotel has a range of luxury rooms and suites in both the castle and the newer Riverside Lodge, you can check your options on the booking page here.
The pick of the bunch, for those with the means, is the Lettery Lodge; a four double/twin bedroom private self catering lodge one minute’s walk from the Castle. It offers privacy, and supreme luxury and comfort, as well as tremendous views of Ben Lettery mountain from the ground floor master suite.
You will find all of the accommodation choices extremely comfortable and stylish, with an elegant, early 20th century ambience. Some of the rooms, but not all, also have four poster beds to take you back a little further in time, and most have stunning views over the salmon river or the Twelve Bens mountains behind.
All of them have en-suite bathrooms equipped with Voya therapeutic seaweed products, satellite TV, and various amounts of seating space, with some of the luxury rooms and suites being extremely spacious indeed.
The main draw with Ballynahinch Castle though is what lies outside the rooms. Firstly in the castle itself there is a top class restaurant, The Owenmore, and a friendly, sociable pub, The Fisherman’s Bar, which has an inviting open fire and also does good food but in a (much) more informal atmosphere.
There are also a few lounges and drawing rooms around the castle with a relaxed ambience, books and a supply of daily newspapers.
Outside the door you have the walled gardens, the labyrinth and tennis courts, and beyond that there is a really terrific natural environment to explore. Over four kilometers of marked trails along the river, the lake and through the mature woodlands where you might spot some of the numerous local wildlife which includes some very rare pine martens.
Apart from the on-site tennis court there are various other activities that can be arranged on the grounds too; from boat trips and some of Ireland’s best fly fishing, to clay pigeon shooting and mountain biking.
The castle is an ideal base for exploring one of Ireland’s most iconic regions, Connemara. The main town in Connemara is Clifden, about 15 minute drive away, a scenic place that sees many visitors, it has plenty of good shops, pubs and cafes. Roundstone, one the prettiest fishing villages around is also about 15 minutes away and nearby you’ll find two of Connemara’s best beaches at Dog’s Bay and Gurteen Bay.
Kylemore Abbey is another interesting and picturesque diversion, a convent home to Benedictine Nuns, it is a beautiful Victorian era building with lovely grounds and a particularly scenic location. Nearby you also have Letterfrack and the Connemara National Park to explore.
Connemara is a beautiful, very inspiring landscape and to appreciate the scenery fully you really should head for the hills. There is some fantastic hiking to be done around the above mentioned Connemara National Park, or right by the castle, around the 12 Bens and the Maamturk/Maumturk Mountains. All of this you can do on guided hikes from the hotel if you so wish or just go it alone.
A trip to one of Galway’s many Islands is another memorable day out, with the Aran Islands just south of Galway City or Inishbofin far off to the west being the most popular with visitors, but there are many many more to be explored off the beaten track.
Golfers will be taken care of here too, with perhaps Ireland’s most scenic course, the Connemara Championship 18 Hole Links being about 20 km to the west in Ballyconneely, and three more courses around Galway City at Barna, Oughterard and Oranmore. The hotel will be happy to arrange golf course bookings for you and can also arrange such things as horse riding or pony trekking along the beach, as well as various other tours and activities, be sure to ask at reception for tips and advice.
To get to Ballynahinch Castle Hotel from Galway City takes about an hour, just follow the N59 road north out of the city until about five kilometers after the village of Recess where you should see a sign for the turn off left for the hotel. If you haven’t got your own transport shuttle services can be arranged from pretty much anywhere around, including airports, just contact the hotel in advance.
Ballynahinch has a strong connection with two important West of Ireland families, from at least the 15th century onwards it was the home of the O’Flaherty Clan who controlled most of Connemara, or what was then known as Lar Connaught.
As the power of the O’Flahertys and the other old Gaelic clans became diminished by the increasingly dominant English, by the late 16th century it had fallen into the hands of the Martins, an originally Anglo-Norman family, and one of the 14 Tribes of Galway.
The O’Flahertys had a castle at Ballynahinch but not the castle hotel we see today. Their castle was on Ballynahinch Lake, the ruins of which are still there and which was the once the home of one of Ireland’s most notorious historical figures; the wife of Donal O’Flaherty, Grace O’Malley more commoningly known as Grainne Uaile, or the Pirate Queen of Connaught.
After her husband was killed in a feud with another local clan, the Joyces, Grainne returned to O’Malley lands to the north west where she would begin her career as a pirate queen. While in about 1590, as part of the forced Anglicization campaign underway in Ireland, the lands and the castle on the lake were granted to Richard of the Martins, one of the first of the Anglo-Norman Tribes to move in to Connemara from the traditional safety of Galway City.
The castle hotel we see today, being more manor house than castle, was first built by them as an inn sometime in the late 1700’s, before Richard Martin a somewhat famous M.P., and heralded early pioneer of animal rights, converted it back to a family home.
Richard was famous too for having a short temper and involving himself in dozens of, probably completely unnecessary, pistol duels. He also had a love of the high life, and he was to reside at Ballynahinch before the long but fun process of whittling away the Martin family fortune was complete, and he escaped to France to avoid debtors prison.
After his death in France the estate, and the castle, were sold through the courts and it passed hands a couple of times before being bought in 1924 by another famous figure of the time, known to locals as Ranji, but also equipped with the much longer and more exotic title of Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanager. He was an Indian nobleman, the ruler of the state of Nawanager and was renowned as one of the world’s best cricketers.
He was also extremely wealthy and bought the castle and the estate after admiring it during one of his many fishing trips to the West of Ireland. He was somewhat revered by locals of the time due to his seemingly endless generosity and down to earth nature, and would spend practically every summer there until his death in 1933.
The castle was opened as a hotel in the late 1940’s under the auspices of the Irish Tourist Board but it wasn’t to really get going as a business until a consortium of American businessmen took it over and, led by Raymond K. Mason, the castle underwent a major upgrade to become the luxury four star hotel we see today. Not long afterwards it would start to see some illustrious guests, as it still does today, including former British Prime Minister James Callaghan and former U.S. President Gerald Ford.
WHAT OTHER GUESTS ARE SAYING:
“As you wind your way up a driveway to the main house at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, it feels as if you are entering another world. The gardens and surrounds are second to none. As you walk the many paths available to you, around each corner there is another awe inspiring nook or vista of garden or river to discover…”
“Our recent stay at this top notch Hotel was nothing short of spectacular. Top notch staff, incredible grounds, excellent food and spirits — I have been to many highly rated hotels in my life and this experience is second to none. Highly recommended!..”
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