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Tucked away just outside the town centre in Ballina is this magical, historical, lovingly restored castle. Heavily influenced by the Spanish Galleon that stood in its gardens for years, much of the current indoor woodwork (such as one of the bars and various parts of the restaurant) have been constructed from wood salvaged from one of the ships of the the Spanish Armada, the Castile Squadron, which was wrecked off the coast of Co. Mayo soetime in the 1500's. Indeed, several artefacts have been recovered from the wreck and now stand proud at Belleek Castle for all too see.
Not only does the hotel use artefacts and great oak balks from the ill fated Spanish Armada, but comme forward a couple of centuries to the "Tween Decks" area of the castle which has been crafted from the remains of a 17th century Spanish war vessel which was also shipwrecked inn the area.
The property is many things - a small hotel, a spectacular gourmet restaurant, an armour museum, and so on. The tousand acre grounds are also very lovely. The house is reached via a long and winding driveway where, in true fairyland fashion, the trees meet overhead. It is magical indeed by day, but at night it's like driving through a fairytale forest as badgers and foxes run across the path of your oncoming headlights.
In the grand entrance hall a huge open log fire awaits and stray dogs, long since domesticated, loll peacefully on the warm rugs and greet only those who want them.
The Castle boasts a superb restaurant of the highest gourmet standards; it also serves as an excellent hotel. With just a small number of rooms, overnight guests can be assured of a very personal experience more of a guest house nature than that of an impersonal hotel.
Updated Jul 31, 2009
Address: Ballina, Co. Mayo
Phone: 00 353 96 22400/21750
A Dolmen is an ancient Irish burial site. It consists of two or three stones standing upright with a flat stone across the top.
The story behind most of the Dolmens has been lost over time, but the story of the Dolmen of the Four Maols remains to this day.
The Four Maols were the brothers of the imposter to the throne of the King of Connaught. The rightful heir to the throne had necome a Bishop, but he was murdered by the Maols. They were brought to trial, hanged, and buried here at Primrose Hill.
This Dolmen is perfectly preserved. A little trail leads from the main road to the site and you can go right up and touch the monument.
The main down side is the large industrial complex that has been built behind it, spoiling the lovely image.
Written Jul 13, 2009
The river Moy that runs through Ballina is famous for its salmon and brown trout fishing. As you travel through town you can see the fly fishermen in waders fishing the river. While I was in Ballina, I just worked all day, so I never got a chance to see what was being caught or to try myself. This is one of the disadvantages of business travel.
Updated Dec 27, 2006
This is the sad but telling story of Frank Stagg who had been jailed as an IRA member in an English prison. Like other IRA inmates before and after him, he went on hunger strike in order to achieve the status of a political prisoner. The British authorities not giving in, Stagg died on February 12 1976 becoming either a martyr for the Republican movement or a suicidal criminal, depending on the viewpoints involved. Stagg hailed from Ballina, like his IRA comrade Michael Gaughan who had also died abroad on hunger strike. The transfer of Gaughan's coffin to Ballina had been turned into a big propaganda coup for the IRA with thousands of people watching the procession-like transfer from Dublin to Ballina. It was Stagg's last wish to be buried in the same way and in the same grave as his buddy Gaughan, but the Irish authorities were determined not to let another IRA triumph happen. They secretly brought the coffin to Ballina and covertly brought Stagg under the earth -- sealing off the grave with a massive layer of concrete in order to prevent any attempts to dig him out again. This proved to be a very justified concern, but also very faulty work: A couple of months later, the IRA managed to unearth Stagg's remains and put him in the Republican plot where they thought he belonged. What about Stagg's family? They were bitterly split over this, and some family members blaming the IRA had to receive police protection against harassments from the IRA sympathisers. As Tim Pat Coogan writes in his book about the IRA, today there are 3 tombstones with Stagg's name on it: The Republican one, where he supposedly is buried now, the concreted grave with a tombstone erected by his mother and widow and another empty grave bought by his brother George.
Up to this day, Sinn Fein anually makes pilgrimages to the grave holding political speeches praising the martyrs who died for the Republican cause.
As long as they do not tell the whole story acknowledging their own ugly role, there comes a foul breath out of their mouths IMO.
Updated Jul 16, 2004
Address: Leigue Cemetery, off the Killala Road in Ballina
Pier is the name given to the wonderful restaurant attached to the quirky Ice House hotel here in Balllina.
It's situated in the basemend of the original Ice House and a stunning extension has been built almost entirely of glass to take advantage of the amazing views of the river outside.
The restaurant is designed so that banquettes, suitable for large groups and families, occupy the conservatory area while the more intimate tables are set under the arched ceiling of the original ice house. Wherever you sit you will have the benefit of the wonderful views outside.
The theme here is upmarket with superb food. The hotel is a sister of the famous Wineport Lodge in Athlone. Wineport is most famous as it is the setting for a very popular TV cookery programme. Ice House Pier restaurant aims to follow in the footsteps of Wineport and serve up only the very best of food and the most interesting presentations.
Favorite Dish: The amuse bouche was a tiny cup of piping hot cauliflower soup. It was so hot that I burned my tongue, but it cooled quickly enough to allow me to enjoy thi very tasty soup!
Next I had a half lobster thermidor - delicious, just the right size for a starter, and reasonably priced at around €14.
A mandarin and cognac sorbet was welcomed next as an excellent palate cleanser - just the right balance.
My main course was a plate of half a doze absolutely amazing scallops, beautifully presented with six green asparagus and plated in a perfect mix of seafood sauces.
Finally, my lavendar creme brulee was just a tiny bit disappointing because it was cold and solid, not warm and runny with a crispy top.
With this meal we drank a bottle of Australian Lueewin Estate 2004 Margaret River Chardonnay. It wasn't cheap bt was worth every cent.
Very much to be recommended about this place.
Updated Aug 3, 2009
Address: Ice House Hotel, The Quay, Ballina.
Phone: :+353 (0)96 23 500
If you like your food to be the very best, gourmet in nature, and with a large dollop of drama, then you will not find anything to beat Belleek Castle.
Traverse the long winding driveway, canopied by ancient trees, and pull up in front of the very stately home that is Belleek Castle. Not to be confused with the China of the same name, this architecturally and historically captivating building will wrap youy in the warmest of welcomes and soon you will find yourself ensconced in a comfortable velvet chair sipping a pre dinner drink as you peruse the mouth watering menu.
A bit like Pavlov's dog, I salivated as I decided between the a la carte menu at €58 a head, or the eight course gourmet tasting menu at just ten euro or so more. As my companion was opting for the a la carte, I did so also, as all parties at the table must choose one menu or the other. In the end I was relieved that I had not the opportunity to go with the eight courses, as I simply would not have had room for all of that yumminess.
Favorite Dish: The first course is a little amuse bouche - a miniature crown of filo pastry filled with the most delicious, piping hot lamb hotpot. It's clear this has been made with the ultimate loving care as the rich flavours disperse evenly throughout the dish and the meat dissolves and melts in your mouth. Superb!
I followed this with an incredible starter of king prawn lasagne - in essence this is a very pretty dish consisting of one folded strip of home made lasagne pasta with succulent king prawns tucked into the pasta folds. This was laid on a base of seafood foam filled with little pieces of prawn and vegetables. It tasted even better than it looked, and that cannot have been easy.
Our main course was surely the piece de resistance of the entire meal - we both ordered the fillet of beef and, with great aplomb, the chef arrived at our table with a long sword in one hand and a saucepan in the other. The sword was one of those 15th century ones with the large bowl at the wrist. Cleverly, the beef was skewered on the blade of the sword and, as we watched transfixed, the chef gently tipped the bowl so that brandy ran down the blade and coated the beef. This he ignited with a flame which erupted into a blaze aloong the sword. It gave a totally new meaning to the word "flambe". The beef was then served on a cake of root vegetables with bowls of freshly picked garden new potatoes. I thought I had died and gone to gourmet heaven.
Dessert was a selection of four or five different temptations, one nicer than the next.
Chef Stephen Linehan is a Master Chef in every sense of the word. In all of my travels I have seldom come across a meal so sublimely perfect.
As I left the stately building that night, I drove along the now darkened driveway and a badger ran across my path. It was like driving through a faery forest, perhaps having come from the Gingerbread House, though one where I would not mind being held captive!!
Updated Jul 19, 2009
Address: Belleek Castle, Ballina Town.
Phone: +353 (0) 96 22400/21750
Paddy Jordan's pub has been voted the best pub in Co. Mayo for a number of years, so I simply had to pay it a visit while I was in the area.
You can't miss it - a quaint looking black and white place on the main road into town.
We went straight into the Lounge area, though there's a photocopy of a big write-up by the legendary Pub Spy about how much he loved the Bar area. The front room of the lounge is warm and welcoming, but I advise you to venture just a little further to the back lounge and spend an hour or two enjoying the fascinating memorabilia hanging from the ceiling overhead and also on the walls. Needless to say, the decor is old fashioned Ireland. This is the country pub at its best.
The pub is apparently famous for its food, but we were here just for a light lunch, so I ordered the seafood chowder. A large deep plate of sea-salty chowder was quickly brought to my table together with a plate full of brown soda bread. I enjoyed the soup immensely - it was mainly a shellfish soup with some smoked fish.
My friend had the chicken and mushroom vol au vents, which she complained to me to be a little stale and with very little filling. I think she just made a poor choice and I'd be happy to go back.
Prices were reasonable enough, at €22 for the two light meals plus two soft drinks and a gin & tonic.
Outside, to the side of the property, there's a barbecue area with a huge built in barbie. This adjoins an outside seating and smoking area.
Favorite Dish: I'd like to go back to try the dinner menu. I took a quick look at it and was surprised to see a heavily Asian/Indian influence with a lot of Indian meals. Not really what you might be looking for in an Irish pub.
Updated Jul 12, 2009
Address: Station Rd., Ballina.
Phone: Phone/Fax - 096 - 21916
Ross Beach is hard to find, but well worth getting to, as it is stunning and one of Ireland's Blue Flag beaches.
I hit on it by accident, as I was driving around looking for somewhere else. When I saw the sign for this beach (and as I so very much love the seaside) I took a turn off the main road and followed the little side road. As it got smaller and smaller, and eventually turned into a dirt track with grass growing up the middle, I almost gave up and turned back, convinced I had taken a wrong turn. As it was so narrow at that point I could only go on in one direction - forward - and after 3km I came upon this amazing place.
Here one perfect beach leads to another. I rolled up my skirt, took off my shoes, and paddled in the water letting the gentle little wavelets lap at my ankles. The sun was shining warmly, but not hot, and it was just like heaven.
The water is crystal clear and the sand is clean. Highly recommended.
Written Jul 12, 2009