For many people holidaying in Ireland, an island stay is the ultimate escape - so a stay in a clifftop lighthouse at the northern tip of a mountainous island four miles off the rugged west coast should fulfil the dream very nicely. Especially when the island was once home to the pirate queen, Gráinne O'Malley.
Romantic history aside, Clare Island Lighthouse now makes an unusual and atmospheric place to stay on the largest island in Clew Bay, which is a unique destination for artists, walkers and nature lovers.
The only lighthouse in Ireland to have two towers (both of which are in use), this wonderful, historic property dates back to 1806 and has been in private ownership since being decommissioned in 1965. The current owner, Hamburg native Goesta Fischer, bought the property in 2008 and, together with local business partner and interior designer Roie McCann, renovated it to a high standard and opened for guests in 2013.
The main living area is in the former lighthouse keeper's home, where the kitchen, drawing room and dining room/library provide communal space for dining and socialising, as would have been the case when the lighthouse was manned.
The style throughout is spare and arty, with original flagstones, bare wooden floors and a lot of white; traditional bright red paint and original artwork provide some visual warmth, while underfloor heating, open fires and stoves ensure that all areas are kept cosy.
The six guest rooms are all very different, ranging from the Banshee Cottage, where the Guide stayed, to the largest room, The Sauna Suite, in a converted outhouse. Perched on the edge of a sheer cliff with spectacular views are from every window, the Banshee Cottage has granite floors, white walls, a wood burning stove and easy chairs in the sitting room; in the bedroom a very high bunk bed allows for a view and there’s an immaculate ensuite shower room.
Other rooms include one especially romantically located in the tower, and the Jackie O’Grady room, named after the last lighthouse keeper, who still has a holiday home on the island and whose lovely book “The Green Road to the Lighthouse” is available to guests. No television but rooms have Wi-Fi and iPod docking stations, along with hair dryers and tea and coffee making facilities.
Guests are met on the pier by the house host to be transported to the lighthouse, stopping for some wonderful views of mountain and sea on the way. The drive is on a tarred road for the first part and then a sand road brings you to the white stark building with its cylindrical masonry Lantern Tower and five white cottages with their red doors and black roofs.
After being welcomed and shown to their rooms, guests meet at 7pm for a Prosecco reception before dinner is announced with gong is at 7.30pm. All are seated at one large table, with traditional Irish background music.
The house hosts (an enthusiastic and warmly hospitable young couple, Rory McCabe and Cora Keating, in the 2013 season), cook and serve a simple, seasonal meal, reflecting the produce of the region. The Guide enjoyed a perfectly seasoned beetroot soup; poached Clare Island Salmon on a bed of courgette and broccoli with a perfect hollandaise; a delicious goat’s cheese salad with greens from a local farmer; a perfect pannacotta; cheese board with Milleens and Cashel Blue and crackers; coffee in the drawing room...just lovely.
Next morning brings a very good hot breakfast (although fruits, juices and cereals may disappoint), but comings and goings can mean that the breakfast chef has to juggle things a little too much for comfort, as he also drives departing guests to the ferry in the jeep.
This is a special experience and it is probably best to stay for two nights if possible. While the attractions are obvious, downsides to bear in mind include the fact that there are no twin rooms (all beds are double and they are not zip and link), and that the success of communal dining depends on a harmonious combination of guests.
The hosts are also central to the operation, and they are contracted annually.