Renvyle House, to quote another famous poet William Butler Yeats and friend of its most distinguished owner Oliver St John Gogarty, is where ‘travelled men and children will find contentment and joy’. Rolling up on a damp, to say the least, inclement day, towards the end of the summer I was met with the warmest of welcomes. Although an earlier indication of the type of establishment which enjoys a 60% rate of repeat business, was ‘stress free zone’ written on a sign on the avenue. People have always found solace in nature and you can not get further ‘away from it all’ than here on the furthest edge of Europe. Wild, soft rain and relentless winds have battered this coastline forever. The Atlantic ocean rolls in here unimpeded for 1000’s of miles which no doubt accounts for the jagged outlines of Inishboffin, Inishturk and Clare Island away off in the distance, all nice boat trips and days out, on a fine day of course....
But, inside the pannelled reception area turf fires were lighting, with families and wet dogs grouped around enjoying tea and scones, warming hot whiskies and frothy pints either there or in the bright, red geranium filled conservatory which overlooks the gardens and heated swimming pool where a few hardy bucks were splashing about. Renvyle House Hotel is a different kind of place where families and groups can get together and everybody down to babies and dogs are catered for and made welcome. Accommodation is 3 star, clean and comfortable and in fairness a little dated, but then what would you expect in a house that has been an inn since 1683 and is possibly the most historic place you can stay in Ireland.
The O’Flaherty’s who owned the ruined castle further along the seashore, built the first house here which was a long low 60’ x 20’ thatched dwelling. They were followed by the Blakes, one of the tribes of Galway who turned it into a gentlemens residence adding an extra storey, slate roof and deep Elizabethan style casement windows. Here famous Victorian visitors such as Edith Somerville and Violet Ross who wrote the "Through Connemara on a governess cart" came to take the air, swim, fish, go boating and play tennis or golf and confessed on an "infantile ardour to run on the beach, build castles and paddle!". Similarly when Oliver St John Gogarty, a poet, surgeon and statemen bought Renvyle Castle for its remoteness, he entertained lavishly the all the great name of Irelands literary revival. Not that it’s been plain sailing for Renvyle House which has been burned to the ground, resurrected and then devasted again by a terrrible storm in the 1980’s but still it has endured and indeed is thriving under the co-ownership of the Coyle’s since 1950's.
And while the spectacular coastal setting hasn’t obviously changed in millennia what is really remarkable is Renvyle House's reputation for hospitality and great food. Connemara lamb remains the signature dish at Renvyle House, that has been praised the world over by food and travel writers, although there are plenty of other meat and fish options to choose from as well as starters and deserts. Tip don't miss the Pear & Celeriac soup if it's on the menu it's divine. Front office manager Sabina, who has worked in the Renvyle Hotel since she was old enough to see over the counter told me that chef Tim O'Sullivan refuses to compromise on quality with all of the ingredients being sourced locally, with herbs from the garden and freshly baked bread and cakes daily, he has continued to hone his craft and Renvyle House’s reputation over the last 25 years. They have even published their own cookbook although alot of the most popular recipes are available on the website.
But, what about the wondrous lamb which I have to tell you tastes so much better than anywhere else in Ireland I asked? well it’s Connemara Blackface, sourced from Finnerty's Butchers in Oughterard and if I wanted a leg they, would ring up and order one especially for me to pick up on the way home, how’s that for service?