Belleek Castle, in County Mayo, has authentic style and passageways to all sorts of hidden rooms
Not far south from the beaches of Killala Bay in County Mayo is Ballina (Beal an Atha) a town that still has the “old Irish feel." It is also home to Belleek Castle.
Asked what the place is famous for, the owner of a pub we went to for dinner there said, simply "Ballina is a good place to be." Most of the pubs in town are still family-run, the streets are clean, and with a bit of luck you'll see the two local minstrels strolling around playing fiddles, tin whistles or whatever other instrument they've settled on that day. The River Moy runs through Ballina town, and fishing is very popular. When we visited recently, we found the fishermen there very serious about the task at hand. At a local pub, we found a number of them having dinner with their Wellies and hats on, so they could rush right out and fish some more after dessert.
Just outside town is one of Ireland’s more unusual castle-hotels. Belleek Castle is the ancestral home of the Earl of Arran, and its oldest parts date back to the 14th century. Today, Belleek is a luxury escape that seems grand and intimate at the same time.
Belleek’s 1,000 acre estate is well-maintained, and the castle feels extremely secluded. Driving up the lane, your first glimpse of it is a Kodak moment. I felt as though I was driving into a movie set. But as big as the place seems, it only has 15 guestrooms. The owners have obviously lavished a great deal of care and money on their hotel, without losing any of its relaxed, authentic feeling. Old, comfortable furnishings, fireplaces left and right and the castle’s unusual layout combine to create an enchanting atmosphere.
The main entryway features a huge fireplace, surrounded by a hand-carved wooden and marble mantle that reaches up to the 20' high ceiling. The old chandelier has been electrified, but still looks like it’s from a different era. A passageway out of this room leads to a library, a sitting room and a private pub, or so we were told. It's as private as the bar-keep wants it to be. On the night we stayed there, several of his fishing buddies were in, singing wonderful pub songs late into the night. Fortunately, the stone walls are so thick that when we slinked off to bed, we didn’t hear another sound.
The guest rooms all have different décor, with many featuring old, four-poster beds. Almost all rooms are ensuite. When we went down to breakfast the next morning, we were confronted with another spectacular room to sit and gawk at. The breakfast room is done in "sportsman's paradise" style. Trophy fish and all manner of beasts hang on the walls. They’re a bit dust ridden, but beautifully done, and impressive looking on the ruby-red walls with walnut trim.
You simply can’t resist the urge to explore the place. We wandered down one passageway, to find yet another lounge. A set of steps from that room led down to “King Arthur's Grand Hall," a huge room (primarily for weddings, we found out) with swords, spears and all sorts of other weapons adorning the walls. The tables were made of huge oak planks with benches to match. There was an area set aside, obviously for the King, or Bride, where the furnishings were much finer and more comfortable. This place was awesome! The castle also houses its own small museum, open by appointment. Children are not allowed in the castle.
For about $122.00 per person we slept in a castle, felt almost royal, sang and drank and topped it off with a wonderful breakfast the next morning.
For more information, visit www.belleekcastle.com, or call 011 353 96 22 400 (though the proprietors warn: "We are a large building so you may need to allow time to answer.")