We arrived at the castle well before check-in. Our plan was to stroll the grounds and explore the castle until our room was ready. Our drive through the Connemara region had been as breathtaking as promised by the locals and our family and friends who’d traveled Ireland, but we were ready to be out of the car and exploring! We wanted to enjoy every moment we possibly could taking in the beauty of Ballynahinch’s riverside acreage. I still couldn’t believe my childhood dream of staying in an Irish castle was coming true!
Amazingly, our room was ready even though we arrived early, and we were warmly welcomed and shown to our room. It was a bit of an awkward transition for us, as the bellhop waited patiently next to our car while we hurriedly chose what to bring into the castle out of the huge pile of camping gear and the other contents of our exploded backpack. We had been sleeping in the back of our rental SUV, or camping the past few nights, and we didn’t exactly look like people one might associate with a castle stay. I was looking forward to a shower, and the transformation into our luxurious honeymoon treat.
Fortunately, the weather began to clear. There had been a fair amount of rain during our travels in Ireland, with the genial locals always quick to apologize on their weather’s behalf. So, we were feeling grateful for the brilliant blue skies, puffy white clouds, and sunshine gleaming on the swiftly flowing river. We packed a picnic of wine, cheese and crackers, and set off to explore the grounds. We meandered along the river, crossed old stone bridges, and wandered along a dirt path through the forest. It felt like the property was our very own!
As we walked, we both noted that the reflections on the water looked remarkably like Monet paintings. We truly felt like we had stepped back in time, and relaxed into this unique adventure. There was a small isthmus of dirt jutting out into the river where we decided to sit and sip our wine and enjoy our snacks. We fell into a conversation about life, our thoughts on the pace of it, and what makes us happy, and what does not. We shared a lot of thoughts like this on our honeymoon because, as it is meant to be, it was a beautiful time to reflect on our lives together, while being so far away from everything that we knew to be the norm.
We walked back along a different path and found ourselves near the stables. A beautiful structure that called to me, and made me want to slink away and write for hours. So much of the property was inspiring. Two horses were standing far off in a pasture with large, old trees, whose leaves dripped low, skimming the tall grass. Underneath the trees looked so inviting, I wanted to lie in the pasture all afternoon. We spent some time petting the friendly horses before finding our way back to the castle. The different path back led us through a thicket of trees that ended in a clearing with a beautiful view of the castle piercing the blue sky.
When we arrived back at the castle, we stopped in at the cozy Fisherman’s pub. While the warm hearth of the seemingly ever-burning fireplace looked inviting, we opted to luxuriate in a warm bubble bath before dinner while watching a favorite film of mine set in Ireland which had contributed to my travel lust for Ireland. It was a strange feeling mixing the comforts of a film that I’ve watched many times at home, with such a new experience in a foreign country. Then we got all dressed up for dinner, which felt extra fun after weeks of wearing our backpacking clothing!
The dinner was absolutely delicious, but I think the setting was our favorite part of the experience. Candles were lit, and reflecting back against the panes of the windows where there was just enough light outside from the moon to make out the reflecting river. We enjoyed delightful conversation with the General Manager, Mr. Patrick O’Flaherty, as he made the rounds at dinner, warmly welcoming the guests. Another wonderful touch of Irish hospitality, that we truly treasured during our travels in Ireland!
The end of dinner hit us hard as we realized we would be leaving the next day. We’d fallen in love with being in love at Ballynahinch, and we weren’t ready for the night to end! We retired to one of the living rooms with an inviting, crackling fire. The room was all our own, and a waiter came to take our drink order. Hot toddies seemed appropriate for a fireside nightcap while we flipped through the various books on art and history that were carefully placed on the table in front of us.
With the warmth of the fire deep within our bones, and the warmth of the Irish whiskey settled in our stomachs, we wandered slowly up the wide, wooden staircase to our quaint river view corner room. As we settled into the comfort of our bed fit for a king, we took heart in the fact that Ballynahinch still had one more incomparable experience to share with us: Clay shooting on the castle grounds!
We awoke late in the morning to a knock on our door. The sun was glowing gently through the windows, and highlighting the Owenmore river as it snaked its way past the castle, and through the lush greenery of the Connemara. We were grateful for our 1 am decision to order room service and have breakfast in bed so we could enjoy the tranquility of our room, and the view.
After breakfast we hazarded a guess as to what would pass for appropriate shooting clothes, and packed our rain gear as a gaggle of grey clouds had gathered on the horizon. Downstairs we met an impeccably dressed and distinguished looking older gentleman named Shane. He wore a plaid olive green, wool suit and jacket with pants tucked into high-rise dark green embroidered socks, and shiny brown leather shoes. We had dressed as we would for a high-impact sporting event, and our teacher was one of the classiest dressed men we’d ever encountered. He appeared to embody the poise of a forgotten time.
Our instructor, Shane Bisgood owns the Connemara Shooting School and our afternoon with him could likely be an entirely separate blog post. Shane himself is an invaluable asset to the Ballynahinch experience. He is an incredibly accomplished gentleman who has helped write firearms laws for Ireland, and traveled the world teaching shooting, all the way up to the Olympic level. All of these accomplishments are impressive, but it was truly his kindness, patience and erudition that quickly garnered our respect. In fact, since we had a honeymoon budget to stick to, we began the day hesitant to spend the asked price for clay shooting, and ended our session with Shane feeling like we could never place a value on our time and the lessons we learned from him.
That’s because Shane doesn’t just teach shooting, he teaches life lessons using shooting as a metaphor. Furthermore, he taught us that shooting is an art, and has value as a couple’s interaction as well as a constructive way to get to know oneself and one’s approach to life. He’d say, “don’t be a spectator, be a dictator of your life.” He also welcomed us warmly into our new phase of life as a married couple, seeming to admire our choice of honeymoon activities and regaled us with heartfelt stories of his own marriage and stories of clay shooting with his wife.
It was hard to tear ourselves away by the end of our stay, and even harder to believe we’d spent little more than 24 hours at Ballynahinch castle. Somehow, the magic of our rich experience, made it feel like we’d stayed a whole week!
Couple a Wanderers
(Camille and Niels)
–>To experience the wonders of Ballynahinch yourself, book here:
–>Whether staying at Ballynahinch, or driving through Connemara, be sure to book an hour with Shane and take home the souvenir of the memory of clay shooting in Ireland!