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, the largest being The Sauna Suite, in a converted outhouse. Others include the William Landers room, which has views across the sea to Achill and is a twin (and the only room with both bath and shower); one room 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 a local woman, Bridget (who is a font of knowledge about the island), 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.
On arrival at the Lighthouse, aromas of freshly brewed BeanWest coffee and warm scones signal a warm welcome. Seated around the huge table in the working kitchen, with a view across the sea to Achill, guests and hosts chat about all the possible walks and places to visit on the Island. Guests are encouraged to make the Lighthouse their home for the duration of their stay. Pre dinner drinks in the drawing room at 7 o’clock starts the evening nicely and guests are seated at one large table for communal dining. The success of the communal dining depends of course on a harmonious combination of guests.
The hosts are well known restaurateurs, Richard and Tricia Hudson, who bring 25 years of hospitality experience to this unique location. Dinner is prepared by Richard and it’s a leisurely affair - a six course meal in the traditional Irish Country House style, with an emphasis on fresh local ingredients.
Next morning, a hearty and healthy breakfast of freshly squeezed juice, home-made granola, fresh fruit salad, brown bread with eggs to order, locally smoked salmon, artisan cheese and baked ham should be enough to send any guest out to the hills in search of exercise.
This is a special experience and the minimum stay is for 2 nights. In the spring shoulder season (Apr-May) guests can stay for Wed/Thu and Fri/Sat nights and in summer (Jun-Sep) Mon/Tue night stays are also possible. (The lighthouse is closed on Sunday except for Easter Sunday.)
There is one two bedded room (the William Landers room), a one room suite with a double bed and large day bed (The Tower House) and four double rooms, the Jackie O Grady, Cliff Corner, Sauna Suite and Achill View.
The hosts are central to the operation and Tricia will go to great lengths to make sure all guests have a memorable and comfortable stay. On departure day, Bridget collects guests from the lighthouse again, and sees them safely back to the ferry. A lovely way to round off a very unusual break.
*Killadangan House (www.killadanganhouse.com), a residential Activity, Health and Learning Centre in a Georgian property near Westport, is a sister project.