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Beer Pairing and Four Poster Beds at Castle Grove House

Beer Pairing and Four Poster Beds at Castle Grove House

The snow is falling incessantly outside my bedroom window this morning, tiny flakes tapping at the glass to remind me how much things can change in a matter of days. Only a week ago Andrew and I were on our way to Donegal for the night, arriving at Castle Grove House under blue skies and bright sunlight that only fed false promises of Spring. Oh to feel just a wee bit of heat again!

We had been invited to Castle Grove by Ireland’s Blue Book as part of a beer-pairing night the hotel were hosting in their award-winning restaurant (with local brewery Kinnegar’s providing all the pairings!). This was one of the first events I have ever been invited to as a blogger so I was unashamedly very excited about being there! It’s no secret that Andrew and I are lovers of Donegal since we usually visit the county every few months so we were never going to turn down a chance to spend a night in digs on the north coast, especially when there were craft beers involved!

Neither myself or Andrew had been to Castle Grove before and as we pulled in to the beautiful country lane that took us to the banks of Lough Swilly where the house is nestled, it felt as if we had crossed in to a different era completely. The manor house sits proudly as it would have done when it was first built in 1695 except the Grove family have been and gone and now the Sweeney’s are holding the fort and welcoming in fresh faces in to their home.

Inside it felt like not much had changed either; fires were crackling in grand fireplaces in numerous rooms downstairs, beautiful antiques decorated corners that I am sure had heard plenty of stories and old paintings hung on the walls above the sweeping staircase that led to the bedrooms upstairs, all of which were named after Irish literary legends (we were in the Jonathan Swift room which was just a bit fitting what with his connection to our hometown of Armagh!).

The room itself was not just a room but more like a suite straight out of Downtown Abbey equipped with a four poster bed and a cabinet full of crystal I was too terrified to touch. There were parts of the suite that were a wee bit dated (the bathroom for example looked like it hadn’t been updated in a few years) so lovers of modern finishes may not feel quite at home here. Personally I loved the quirky charm especially the bed since I had never slept in something that was so like the bed of every princess story I had ever read.

Though what struck me most about the house was it’s warmth. Everything about Castle Grove exudes the feeling of being so welcome, of being looked after and mollycoddled the minute you step through the door. Irene Sweeney, the manager and figurehead of the house, could always be found mingling with guests, tending to the fire and ensuring that everyone’e needs were met. She was genuinely delighted to have people coming to visit her wee part of the world and hosting events like the beer-pairing night was a way for her to showcase the house and everything Donegal has to offer.

Which as it turns out, is a lot. The beer pairing event delivered more than we were expecting, each course having been meticulously curated by Chef Brady and the head of Kinnegar Brewery, Rick LeVert. The Donegal oysters specifically were a sensation for me (Andrew is still sitting on the fence when it comes to oysters) and the dessert was practically licked off the plate. Each beer was introduced by Rick allowing us to understand why the flavours on our plate were designed around the flavours in our glass. It was obvious that great care had went in to the night which, judging by the hum of contentment around room, was a complete success.

I practically had to roll myself out of the dining room after we finally finished eating, only having enough energy for a few moments by the fire before collapsing in my fairytale bed. Next thing I knew it was morning which I welcomed by opening the shutters of my sash windows half-expecting cartoon birds to flutter around my head. We woke up slowly leaving just enough time to meet in the dining room for breakfast (are we the only one’s who leave it until the last 10 minutes?) which was the obligatory full Irish breakfast and lots of tea.

The sun was streaming in and not wanting to miss another moment of Donegal fresh air, we said our thankful goodbyes to Irene and the staff after a quick stroll around the grounds. We were told to make a beeline for Portsalon where we could find blue flag beaches empty of crowds (and in true Donegal style it over-delivered). We drank in the salty air and when the Atlantic winds settled for just a moment we could feel the head of the late-February sun on our backs, a sensation I can barely remember feeling now it’s snowing outside!

Not wanting to end things with Donegal just yet, we took a drive to Glenveagh Castle (so I could play princess just a little longer) which surprisingly neither of us had visited before. It’s actually younger than Castle Grove but looks like it’s been hidden on the lough for centuries longer. There’s a great trail for walkers and cyclists from the visitor centre to the castle but for those with little time or patience (or unruly kids) can hop on the minibus which saves a fair amount of time.

The views are incredible once you reach the castle with Scot’s Pine trees decorating the edge of the lake, providing plenty of magical forest walks. There are beautiful gardens to stroll in too which I can only imagine are even more outstanding in the summer. The views reminded me of Connemara, another essential destination in Ireland where Glenveagh Castle could be compared to Kylemore Abbey as a diamond in the midst of a wild landscape.

There is a real rawness to Donegal that I think has percolated to the people who live there. The people are as open as the land and the sea that batters it’s north and west so it’s only natural to feel yourself open up once your feet are on the ground there. For me there is a collective sigh from my mind and body when I’m Donegal, I release everything I’ve been holding within me and I feel instantly lighter, more open. It’s no wonder I felt so welcome by everyone at Castle Grove, it’s doors are open like the people inside, happy to invite anyone in need of a warm meal and cosy bed or even just a drop of tea by the fire.

10 Pubs To Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

10 Pubs To Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

Lá Fhéile Pádraig shona daoibh! Or Happy St. Patrick’s Day for those of you who aren’t as familiar with the Gaelic language – ye poor sods. Today is the day we celebrate the shamrock, the day we paint ourselves green and the day we permit ourselves to drink bucketfuls of Guinness (even though a lot of us out there don’t even like the taste that much).

Personally I actually love a pint of the black stuff and plan to consume several over the weekend while I act the young thing with my best friends. We’re headed south for our girl Louise’s hen party and I’m a big ball of excitement/fear for the activities ahead of us. What I’m most looking forward to is being wedged in between the gals. roaring over our drinks while we listen to the same traditional music that’s been listened to for generations.

It’s a cliché I suppose but there is no greater place to be in Ireland than in a pub on St. Patrick’s Day. When you pick the right one you find yourself not wanting to leave, soaking in the atmosphere that’s thick around you while trying to say sober enough so you remember it all. It doesn’t even have to be a session, it may only be for a wee sensible skiff of a drink but it’s sure to be enough to fill your heart with as much patriotism as you need.

As well as being lucky enough to be born here, I’ve also been lucky enough to have had my fair share of pints across the island so I’ve decided to share some of my favourites from over the years. Obviously there are hundreds of establishments that are stupendously wonderful so please share if you have any tips of your own but for now, here are mine. Wishing you all of the luck this St. Patrick’s Day wherever you find yourself!

Fitzpatricks – Carlingford, Co. Louth

This is the best place to go for a pint with your Granny. It’s coming down with old artefacts from across the years and it even has a pet farm out the back to keep the kids entertained! If you don’t make it this Paddy’s Day be sure to pay a visit over Hallowe’en. The owners go all out with decorations and spooky scenes across the whole site – definitely something to be seen!

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Kelly’s Cellars – Belfast, Co. Antrim

As a new local to Belfast I could list a load of pubs here that are good enough to pay a visit to but for now I’ll choose my favourite. Kelly’s Cellars is a great spot for a lit fire and when you walk through the doors it feels like you’re in the middle of old Ireland. It’s a great place to escape the city pace and slow down over a few cold ones.

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Singing Pub – Downings, Co. Donegal

This is a gem to be found on the Wild Atlantic Coast and well worth the trek to. The place is family run and the manager, Tony, makes you feel like a local anytime you drop in. Whatever you do, please order the seafood chowder. It’s without a doubt the best chowder I’ve ever tasted and the portion size will surely soak up whatever you’ve been drinking.

 

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Matt Molly’s – Westport, Co. Mayo

I remember walking in to this place after stopping off on a road trip. We walked to the very back of the pub to pick out a seat and found ourselves parked beside the local musicians who had dropped in for a session. More and more players joined and soon the entire place was filled with music so amazing my eyes filled with tears. It’s a place I can’t wait to go back to.

 

Peadar Kearney’s – Dublin, Co. Dublin

This place has been hiving both times I’ve been in it but the live music was sensational. It’s a good place to start a night out but I wouldn’t blame you if you found yourself still there at closing time.

 

Tig Cóilí – Galway, Co. Galway

I was in this pub on St. Patrick’s Day in 2013. The sun was splitting the trees that day as we sat by the windows that were open on to the famous Shopping Street of the city. The pub was jammed with people and we were delighted to have scored some seats when all of a sudden the crowd fell silent. An aul fella who was propped up at the end of the bar had started singing an old Irish song, the words of which I can’t remember. What I do remember was the feeling in the room as every man, woman and child had been hushed by these gorgeous lyrics. Once he finished, the pub erupted and it was probably the best St. Paddy’s moment I ever had.

 

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Tynan’s Bridge House Bar – Kilkenny, Co. Kilkenny

This pub is off the main street but I loved it for it’s simple charm. The floors were uneven which did nothing to help the inebriated among us but it was quiet and had plenty of dark corners to hide in. Sometimes the best pubs are the quiet ones; where you’re free to have a relaxed chat and the whole place is yours to fill with forgotten conversations.

 

Red Ned’s – Armagh, Co. Armagh

Of course I had to include Ned’s – a pub I’ve frequented since I was a child with a Club Orange upper lip and wee legs swinging from the benches. The pub has plenty of familiar faces for me but it also has some fantastic live music that would attract any from outside the town. Definitely a recommendation if you’re about the Orchard County.

 

The Mutton Lane Inn – Cork City, Co. Cork

We were in Cork for the Jazz Festival in October and this was the pub that stuck out for me. It’s one of the oldest establishments in the city which is just bursting with tradition. You’re really spoiled for choice though around the Oliver Plunkett area so you can find yourself doing a pub crawl that could last for days.

 

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McDermott’s – Doolin, Co. Clare

A class wee pub that I stumbled upon once with friends while visiting the Cliffs of Moher. Doolin is a really sweet village and this place is perfect for resting the hooves and whiling away an hour two with some drinks in hand. It’s also a great place for a feed if you find yourself staying on for dinner – which no doubt you will!

 

Where are your favourite pubs in Ireland?? Will you be celebrating this year?? 

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