If you’re thinking of getting away from it all for a staycation this holiday season, then Ballinalacken Castle Country House Hotel & Restaurant is the perfect destination away from the bustle of towns and cities, and slap in the middle of the Wild Atlantic Way.
The County Clare hotel sits in the shadow of Ballinalacken Castle itself, on a sprawling country estate in the midst of the Atlantic Coast and the Burren, and has been in the O’Callaghan family for three generations now.
Owners Cecilia and Declan O’Callaghan pride themselves on creating an experience that is true to the history of the area, and unique to the culture and landscape of the west of Ireland.
It’s not uncommon in Ireland to see the foreboding silhouette of an old castle on the horizon, sitting proud on the crest of a hill. But at Ballinalacken, guests can get a bit more intimate with the local history, as the country house hotel lies right at the foot of the castle, so close that guests could practically reach out their windows and touch it.
The tower house dates back to the 15th or 16th century, originally built by the O’Connor family, and later passing to the O’Brien’s in the late 16th century. Ballinalacken was one of the fortresses spared following the Cromwellian re-conquest of the region in the 17th century. On a good day, the O’Callaghan’s are happy to take guests up the short walk for a tour of the ruins.
It was the O’Brien family who later built the country house near the castle, at a time when luxury became more important than defensibility.
Respecting the historical fabric of the estate has been an important part of the O’Callaghan’s management style, creating a guest experience that reflects the old school luxury of the country house for the gentry, but updated with modern conveniences.
The stunningly designed and furnished rooms are full of classical elements such as four-poster beds, wingback armchairs, open fireplaces, and antique furniture that call back to an era of rich indulgence, except now that same experience is easily available to all.
“We wanted to keep it in line with what was always here,” Cecilia explains, “A minority of people might say we’re dated, but in actual fact we’re not just another shiny hotel, we’re a hotel with a sense of history.”
“We have some old rooms from the time Lord O’Brien lived here. And then when you look out the windows you have the views of the Atlantic Ocean, the Cliffs of Moher, and the Aran Islands. So we have the history on one side, and the views on the other.”
That historical design has another benefit in this current age, in that it simply provides more space for guests to distance from one another. The high ceilings and plentiful windows of Ballinalacken provide plenty of room for air to circulate. And with 12 bedrooms, guests aren’t stacked on top of one another.
The Wild Wild West
Getting away from it all has always been a mantra of taking a holiday, but rarely has it been more literally meant, and Ballinalacken Castle Country House Hotel is truly a place where a family could enjoy a holiday away from any crowds.
Beyond the 100 acre estate itself, there are a huge number of opportunities nearby for guests to enjoy nature, and the scenery of the Atlantic coast, without necessarily having to come into contact with another person.
The hotel sits at a nexus of attractions on the west coast of Ireland. It’s just a few minutes away from Doolin, the gateway to the Aran Islands in County Clare, and the majesty of the Cliffs of Moher, a truly unmissable experience for anyone who finds themselves in Clare.
There are many ways to enjoy the unique scenery of the Burren that sits practically at your feet here, such as walking the Burren Trail, or going horse riding through the hills of Slieve Elva.
Or if you’ve gotten a bit sick of stunning vistas clogging up the horizon, and want to indulge your inner agoraphobe, then a trip to the Doolin Cave. One of the best kept secrets of the Wild Atlantic Way, here you can experience that goes so far beyond human stories, with stalactites that have been growing for hundreds of millions of years.
Wined and Dined
An essential part of enjoying a holiday evening at the end of a long day stretching the legs to take in as much as possible, is sitting down at the table for a delicious restaurant meal. But these days, people are feeling a bit leery of going out to eat Cecilia says, which is why they’ve kept their restaurant open seven days a week since the hotel reopened this summer.
“Especially since the pandemic started, people just refuse to go out to eat. So they wine, dine, and stay here.”
Every meal at Ballinalacken prepared by chef Michael Foley is its own little trip around Clare, right on your plate, with a menu prepared using the finest local suppliers.
“We have the Burren Smokehouse, we have St. Tola’s goat’s cheese, we have the Clare Lamb,” Cecelia says, listing just a few of the many local suppliers they work with.
Consistency is key to good food, so Ballinalacken can trace all of their food back to a single supplier. The restaurant menu, which is appreciated by tourists and locals alike, changes throughout the year to take advantage of the freshest seasonal ingredients that are found locally.
A Family Hotel
While the hotel chain is increasingly becoming the industry standard, with large hospitality companies owning hotels around the country, or the world, Ballinalacken has been a family business for three generations now, and the O’Callaghan’s feel that it’s important it stay that way.
The house, castle, and lands were originally owned by the O’Brien family. The country house has its origins in the 1840s when it was a country destination for the gentry owned by Lord O’Brien.
Daniel O’Callaghan, the grandfather bought the house, the castle ruins, and the entire 100 acre estate off Lord O’Brien in 1938, and began running it as a hotel. Daniel eventually passed it on to his son Dennis, who ran it together with his wife Mary. This then brings us to their son Declan, who is the co- owner with his wife Cecilia.
The family tradition is in no peril of dying out anytime soon Cecilia tells me, as their own son Daniel loves the place, and enjoys working there. The 18 year old has already worked in the hotel in the past, with great enthusiasm, and has just taken up hotel management at GMIT.
That joy in the experience is an important part of any family business, but especially one that is so focused on creating good experiences for others. “It’s different if you have to do it, but he wants to do it,” Cecilia explains.
That family history carries with it an attention to detail and pride in their hotel that pays off for guests. Declan and Cecilia aren’t just the owners, they’re your hosts.
Little touches like helping put together a sightseeing itinerary for guests that aren’t familiar with the area, or flapping jaws with a someone who’s enjoying an evening at the bar are part of what elevate a stay at Ballinalacken from a holiday, to a true experience of Irish hospitality.
To enquire about staying at Ballinalacken Castle, call 065 7074 025,text /WhatsApp Cecilia at 0863613719 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.