Ballyconneely is a small village just south of Clifden, the capital of Connemara, at the entry point to the Errismore Peninsula – an ideal place from which to explore the most tranquil, unspoilt, and interesting landscape to be found anywhere in our little country. Kathy McCallion spent much of her childhood here before relocating to New York City where she met her husband, Dean Gibson. After moving back to Ireland to expand their family, Ballyconneely drew them back home, an ideal destination for both family life and work. It's still early days for the first-time hoteliers, who are making their mark on the area after 16 years in the States, bringing new life to the former Mannin Bay Hotel in Ballyconneely after it had been closed for six years.
The Connemara Sands is a gem along the Wild Atlantic Way coastline where the beaches are white and the water is a tranquil turquoise blue. The untouched beauty of the landscape is steeped in history, and it boasts unrivaled panoramic views. In 2015 The Connemara Sands Hotel opened its doors to bring travellers from across the country and the world to this hidden gem. Designed with style and comfort in mind, the reception and bar have a quirky New England style but the view through the window is picturesque Connemara countryside. The juxtaposition of the funky design and the rural location is a feast for the senses.
The hotel is one of very few beachfront hotels on the west coast of Ireland, located next to the Blue Flag-awarded, white sandy beach of Mannin Bay. The nearby golf club is a star attraction in the area with its international reputation. The location is also perfect for weddings and civil partnerships and allows for couples to plan a unique celebration. The hotel can provide that something different each couple is looking for, up to a capacity of 110 people. With 23 rooms, and 10 holiday homes, The Connemara Sands Hotel has opened a seaweed spa offering guests a tranquil space to fully unwind, detox, and recharge with a choice of therapeutic massages, scrubs, and hydrating body wraps using only certified organic seaweed products. While it may seem that they are positively encouraging you to go into complete switch off mode, don't panic — there is high speed wifi available throughout the hotel.
Despite all of this, it is family stays that The Connemara Sands really excels at, it is probably is one of the most family friendly hotels in Ireland. It has a customised two storey mezzanine children's play area upstairs offering a Teen-Zone with beanbag cinema, Xbox, Wii stations, and board games, and downstairs is the kids' zone which is equipped with a fully functioning kitchen, arts and crafts station, and loads more. In the high season the hotel has a supervised Kids' Club daily and kids' movie night every evening. The suites and holiday homes are ideal for families and all holiday homes are pet friendly, so your cat or dog will not have to miss out on all the fun. They are fully equipped for the great outdoors and guests can avail of complimentary bikes to explore the surrounding areas, walk past the resident ponies onto the beach, enjoy paddle boarding and kayaking, or simply take a walk along the unspoilt coastline.
A stay at one of the hotel apartments is like a home away from home where one can enjoy all of the comforts the hotel has to offer, free wifi, tennis courts, private beach, and great food in the Erriseask Restaurant or casual snacks and drinks in the bar where you can bring the kids and enjoy the atmosphere. The bistro style restaurant at the hotel has daily fresh fish specials, locally sourced produce and in-house baked treats. From breakfast to lunch and dinner, it is a real taste of the best produce the area has to offer.
Fresh local produce with its focus firmly on flavour is the calling card of Dean Gibson, chef patron at the Connemara Sands. Since taking up the reins himself in the hotel kitchen earlier this year, he has moved the menu away from fiddly foams and fussiness back to basics. He recognises that Connemara has an abundance of great produce, from freshly caught fish to organic vegetables and Connemara hill lamb, and this is what he highlights in his dishes. Meat and fish is all sourced locally, and Gibson seems keen to build up further relationships with local suppliers. His passion for food translates to the table and as he is a hands on chef patron, you are as likely to meet him after dinner service in the dining room as making a stack of fluffy pancakes for the breakfast buffet the next day. It is Dean and Kathy's hands-on approach that sets the Connemara Sands apart from the rest — a family run hotel that understand the needs of family.
The boutique Connemara Sands Hotel continues to go from strength to strength with its award of a four-star rating by Fáilte Ireland due to its high standards of food and service. The hotel’s jewel in the crown is its helpful and efficient staff, under the watchful eye of general manager Niall Dalton. The Connemara Sands Hotel may be a hotel that offers exceptionally good value, but it has a luxury hotel attitude. This is one to keep an eye on. They have the best of everything at the Connemara Sands, and it won't take long for the word to get out. A must visit for the New Year.
Connemara Sands Hotel, Restaurant, and Bar, Mannin Bay, Ballyconneely, Co Galway. Tel: 095 23030.