At almost 200 years old, THE QUAY HOUSE in Clifden exudes the kind of AUTHENTIC CHARM modern homes STRIVE TO REPLICATE
Paddy and Julia Foyle, owners of the Quay House, like to tell their guests that they can throw a pebble into the Atlantic from their bedroom balcony. All but two of the 14 stylish rooms have sea views, so it is easy to put their claim to the test. The bow-fronted harbour master’s house was built in 1820 and is the oldest building in Clifden. It has had many incarnations: now a chic townhouse bed and breakfast, it was once a Franciscan priory, then a convent – one assumes there was no crossover between monk and nun.
Clifden, the capital of Connemara, is proud and self-sufficient. Only 77 kilometres from arty bohemian Galway city, it takes an hour an a half to drive. Passing through Oughterard and Moycullen down the two-lane windy N59, the landscape becomes spectacular. There is no rush – on a clear day you may want to take hours to pass through slowly and marvel at the breathtaking scenery unveiling its raw beauty before you. Belfast-born Paul Henry (1877–1958), Ireland’s fine post-impressionist, depicted the beauty of the west. In 2012, RTÉ listeners voted his brooding canvas of “The Twelve Pins” (“Na Beanna Beola”) mountain range and thatched cottages the nation’s favourite painting. Irish nationals and visitors from all over the world come to the far west coast for its stunning scenery and beautiful beaches, to hike, play golf, to cycle and fish or to ride.
Connemara is the largest part of the Gaeltacht. Post 1916, the new free state designated areas of the country as Irish-speaking, with the aim of restoring Gaelic as the national language. Irish is still taught in all schools, road signs are in English and Irish. It is this culture that attracts artists and musicians so it is no surprise there is a thriving traditional music scene in Clifden. Like many Irish towns, there is no shortage of a good pub in Clifden, and many of them – including Mullarkey’s bar in Foyle’s Hotel (a family establishment where Paddy was born and reared) – have regular sessions. Since 2010, the annual Clifden Traditional Music Festival, which takes place in March, has attracted top-notch musicians from across the country and all over the world.
Choosing to stay at the Quay House is all the more perfect if the great indoors is also your kind of landscape. Paddy and Julia have created their own unique world, displaying their collected art, antiques and artifacts in an exuberant manner. A traditional collection of 18th and 19th-century family portraits in the double drawing room is very much part of the character of the house. The large collection of encased taxidermy fish in the hall along with skulls and antlers are all fine specimens. A regular Chanel-clad Parisian guest is most at home in the panelled Napoleon chambre. If you are very lucky – depending on your views on the supernatural – a ghost of friendly disposition may appear in your bedroom, usually in a monk’s robe. He then vanishes just as quickly as he appeared and may not be seen again for several months.
The youngest Foyle, Toby, is showing a keen interest in becoming more involved in the running of the house and is proving to be a talented cook. Breakfast, the only meal offered, is an award-winning extravaganza, served in the green conservatory. Toby bakes a mean loaf of brown bread – very popular with the guests, save the Parisienne, who always travels with her weighing scales for fear of gaining a pound during her stay. ^
From Hidden Ireland: Discover Ireland’s Most Beautiful Houses, published by Blackstaff Press €29.99, from all good bookshops and online retailers.
Images by James Fennell. Styling and text, Josephine Ryan
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