It is no secret that the Irish love their tea. We drink more of this hot beverage per capita than any other country. The presence of tea making facilities is considered essential in any hotel or bed & breakfast room and it is offered at breakfast, elevenses, lunch, dinner, and any time in between.
We have even fully embraced that very English tradition of afternoon tea. Legend has it that the ritual of afternoon tea owes its origins to Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford. As a young woman in the early 1800s, it was common at this time to eat two large meals a day, a breakfast scheduled in the morning and dinner taken late in the evening. When kerosene lamps were introduced in wealthier homes, eating a late dinner became increasingly fashionable, widening the long wait between meals even further.
Troubled by the daily hunger pangs, the Duchess very sensibly decided to schedule a time to take tea and a snack each afternoon, at first eaten furtively in her bedroom. Over time well-heeled acquaintances joined her and the idea of an afternoon tea gathering spread across high society and became a favourite pastime of ladies of leisure. Nowadays, tea rooms and hotels in London and throughout the UK offer permutations of this tradition. Not to be left out of an opportunity to have another cuppa, here in Galway we have some excellent afternoon teas of our own. You can take your tea while enjoying the old world elegance of the Hotel Meyrick in Eyre Square. The g Hotel offers a stylish tea in its three lavish lounges during the day. But one of the very best places to enjoy this most elegant of mini-meals is Ballynahinch Castle.
Connemara, situated at the very edge of Europe, is one of the most beautiful corners of the world. From the rugged mountain ranges, through lake-rich boglands to the golden beaches reaching out into the Atlantic Ocean, you will know you are in Connemara by the light that constantly dances, painting the mountains and lakes like a watercolour and changing the mood of the landscape. This natural terrain and unspoilt environment presents a wonderland of sights, experiences, and adventure. It is here that you will find the fairytale Ballynahinch Castle Hotel and Estate, nestled in the woods, overlooking the river.
Ballynahinch is one of the finest four star luxury castle hotels in Ireland and is set in a 450 acre private estate of woodland, rivers, and walks. It stands proudly overlooking its famous salmon fishery, with a backdrop of the majestic Twelve Bens mountain range. Over the years it has been the house of the O'Flaherty chieftains, Grace O'Malley, Humanity Dick Martin, and an Indian maharaja, the Maharajah Ranjitsinji. The castle was built in the 17th century for the Martyn family and has been used as a hotel since 1946. It is now a part of billionaire Denis O’Brien's portfolio and many improvements have been carried out since he acquired it in 2015.
Afternoon tea at Ballynahinch Castle is both a traditional high tea and a showcase of Connemara’s finest products, using the best seasonal produce available. The menu offers guests a selection of teas, or a glass of prosecco or champagne for those who want something a little more celebratory. To complement the finest local flavours, Jorg Mueller of Galway's Solaris Tea has helped compile the all important loose tea menu. We ordered the signature house tea blend, using foraged herbs from the Twelve Ben mountains. Our waitress added the leaves to the pot at the table and a timer was provided to indicate when the tea was sufficiently drawn. The Assam tea's complementary ingredients of juniper berries, horsetail, and oat straw give the blend a delicately aromatic top note, a perfect foil to our meal.
The helpful staff flit among the tables of the Owenmore Restaurant with its beautiful river views, busying themselves with the blue and white delft, pretty tea service, and the all-important two tiered tea stands. As always, the kitchen at Ballynahinch does not disappoint. The first stand arrives with its cargo of dainty sandwiches, generously filled, open rounds of egg and watercress on Irish soda bread, and bright yellow coronation chicken on a circle of walnut and treacle loaf on the top deck; sourdough finger sandwiches of crayfish, dill, and cucumber, and Connemara lamb with mint yogurt dressing below. The second stand holds plain and fruit scones, warm from the oven with excellent homemade jams and clotted cream. The final tea stand arrives with delicious pastry creations, lemon macaroons, mini eclairs filled with crème patisserie, chocolate mousse, tiny strawberry pavlovas, and chocolate cake, all exquisitely presented and scrumptious to boot.
Ballynahinch is the most 'Instagrammable' venue ever, a magical setting that really comes into its own each festive season. It is renowned for its tradition of hospitality, service, and food and no more so than at this time of the year. As one of Connemara's most iconic buildings, the luxurious four star hotel really sparkles at Christmas. It is the perfect setting to while away an afternoon relaxing with family, catching up with friends, or simply watching the magnificent view from the window.
Sink into one of the Owenmore Restaurant’s relaxing chairs and enjoy afternoon tea, served every Saturday from 1.30pm to 4pm. It costs €25 per person or €40 per person with champagne.
Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Recess, Connemara, Co Galway, Ireland. Tel + 353 95 31006. Email [email protected].