Western Ireland’s Owenmore River, the site of a pristine wild salmon run, is a tame outlier in the harsh yet beautiful region known as Connemara. The small waterway usually meanders, just barely catching the reflection of the Twelve Bens Mountains and Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, a dramatic manor not far from where Oscar Wilde once kept a small summer fishing lodge. But the day after a relentless downpour, the banks have burst, and the flood is a vivid illustration of just have unpredictable nature can be here.
This is not the Ireland of rolling green pastures populated by plump cattle and bouncing lambs but rather a mournful terrain of bare mountains, craggy coastline, and shimmering bogs punctuated with Celtic crosses. To reach the fertile valley that’s home to Ballynahinch, about an hour’s drive northwest of Galway, is to arrive at a kind of Irish oasis, a place where the lights are always on, as much a community beacon as a shelter from the elements, hemmed by encroaching wilderness and a tangle of rhododendrons and fruit trees that have been left to fend for themselves. The 260-year-old castle was already a draw for travelers in 1842, when the British novelist William Makepeace Thackeray praised its owners as offering “frank, cordial hospitality.” Today, it’s an elegantly understated hotel where the rooms have four-poster beds with tufted headboards in neutral tones, chocolate-leather wingback chairs fill the public spaces, and the in-house pub keeps a fire roaring late into the evening.
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Photos: Pablo Zamora © Condé Nast Traveler October 2016