Situated just outside Ballina amidst 1,000 acres of woodland and forestry, on the banks of the River Moy, Paul Doran’s castle was the ancestral home of the Earl of Arran and, with a 16th century armoury, big open fires and massive chandeliers among many quirky features, it now makes an unusual small hotel.
This is a wacky place for those who enjoy something out of the ordinary and it would be great fun for a group get together. The Armada Bar is a recreation of the Captains Ward Room from a galleon in the Spanish Armada - partly constructed from timbers salvaged from the galleons of the ill fated Castile Squadron wrecked off County Mayo four centuries ago, it should provide plenty of talking points to pep up your drink.
Belleek Castle is as different from a standard modern hotel as it is possible to be (it is registered as a three star hotel), but it manages to combine old world charm with modern comforts - bedrooms will vary according to their position in the house, but the best are bright and spacious, with four-poster beds and views out over the grounds.
It makes a romantic wedding venue (the banqueting room is in medieval castle style), and the many activities to choose from nearby include championship golf, walking, surfing, and salmon and trout fishing on site; or, with its informal and friendly ambience, the castle simply makes an unusual base to explore this beautiful area.
Conferences/Banqueting (20/200); business centre; free broadband wifi. Rooms 11 (6 executive, 1 family, 2 single, 5 shower only, all en-suite & no smoking). B&B from €80-95 pps, ss €20. Midweek DB&B from about €76pps. Children welcome (under 5s free in parents room); no pets; room service (all day). Fly fishing, garden, walking. Surfing & golf nearby. Closed Dec-Feb.
Orders are taken in The Armada Bar or in the adjoining sitting-room which, with its large open fire of turf and timber logs, gives off a warm comfortable feeling - as does the welcome of Restaurant Manager Daniel Mayr and the mainly local staff.
This is carried into the restaurant, which is full of character and illuminated by candles of all shapes and sizes. Oak panelled walls, a ceiling of oak baulks (also from the Armada salvage), large rustic floor tiles and the flickering shadows created by diners and staff all add to the atmosphere.
But there is more than atmosphere to this appealing restaurant. Head Chef Stephen Lenahan, who has been in charge of the kitchens for well over a decade, is committed to local suppliers and produce - meats, game in season, seafood, organic vegetables from nearby Enniscoe House; admirably seasonal menus include a predictably amusing quotation from Brillat-Savarin (on how to spot a potentially congenial dining companion by their appearance), but they begin in the best possible place, with warmly worded thanks to 'Respected Suppliers'.
Stephen’s enthusiasm for keeping it local extends to the Castle’s back garden, where he is developing a kitchen garden which includes the neatest polytunnel you’re ever likely to come across as well as an area for outdoor crops. While not very extensive yet, this is a work in progress and the plan is to extend it gradually and keep on top of it. The kitchen team have enthusiastically engaged with the garden project, finding it adds a new dimension to the concept of freshness and seasonality that underpins their daily work.
Depending on the time of year, starters may typically include Mayo lamb tartlet, roasted quail,or a basket of local shellfish; and, as the area is renowned world-wide for its salmon, don't miss this treat - Stephen takes pride in hot-smoking them and making gravlax in-house. Main courses may well include loin of roast suckling pig, local seatrout from the Moy and the chef's signature dish, "The Drunken Bullock". Consisting of a large fillet of prime local Angus beef flambéed at the table - on a 15th century Spanish Armada conquistador sword, no less - in a generous measure of Jameson whiskey, this is quite a show-stopper in these theatrical surroundings.
In the Guide's experience, the cooking is faultless with the West Coast Shellfish Selection (a nage containing fresh crab, mussels and pasta wrapped prawns scented with a saffron glaze) coming in for special praise.
An impressive choice of menus includes a 5-course Market Menu; an à la carte; a 5-course vegetarian menu (with 3 choices of starter and main course); and an 8-course Gourmet Menu - which is a tasting menu, also available for vegetarians. These vary so it would be wise to check what is on offer when making a reservation. Prices are generally very fair for the standard offered, although desserts may seem a little steep at €12.90.
An extensive wine list is on the expensive side with few bottles under the €30.00 mark, but house wines are €26.00; six wines are offered by the glass at about €6.50, and there is a fair selection of 1/2 bottles.